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Sands of Time

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When Link dreamed, the Song of Time always played in the background. When he dreamed of the Moon falling, of Impa whisking Princess Zelda away, of the darkness stripping Ganondorf’s mortality away to reveal a monster, the song always played, like the Goddess of Time stood beyond his sight with the Ocarina of Time at Her lips. When he was bored or restless, Link’s fingers moved, playing the notes in the wind.

Link heard it now as he struggled to open his eyes. A noisy rush of wind almost drowned it out, even as he felt nothing on his skin. It rang out in time with what sounded like a baby crying. He thought he heard a woman whispering but he couldn’t make out the words, lost amidst the other sounds. Did she say his name? The sounds faded as with each refrain, the Song of Time grew softer and softer. Was there someone out there? Did someone need help? Somewhere, a wolf howled, and the song and the baby and the wind and the woman fell into silence.

One howl, then another, and Link’s sharp ears perked. Time to move. Find the woman and the baby? Wolves...where was he? It didn’t matter. Heroes were just flesh and blood and as tasty as anything else to hungry wolves.

More howls. A pack. Link struggled to open his eyes but exhaustion settled deep him in like he had been fighting for days. Had he? He ached , muscle and bone screaming in protest with each fumbling motion, and for the life of him, Link couldn’t remember why.

Not important. Assessments could wait until he wasn’t about to be eaten. Link dragged his eyes open and blinked at the tan, sandy stone beneath him. It was pale, bleached by moonlight, but Link had traveled through the desert far too many times to not recognize it.

Another howl and Link grunted, pressing a knee under him and pushing up. His knee shrieked at him. His body shook with the strain. Later, later. Another howl, too close. Link wobbled to his feet and looked up.

Even after years of separation, Link recognized the suspension bridge leading to the Gerudo Fortress. How did he get here?

Later. Link looked around and saw the moonlight glinting over too many pairs of eyes, all looking down at him from the valley walls. Survive countless trials to end up as wolf food. Sometimes, Link thought the Goddesses were laughing at him.

Legs as weak as a newborn foal’s, Link ran for the bridge. The bridge itself acted as a good defensive point, with sanctuary just beyond it. Nabooru would help him. He could stay there while he figured things out and not get eaten.

Link flinched when he heard the thud of the wolves leaping to the desert floor behind him. He tried to run faster but he only stumbled, legs too damned weak. He did a quick inventory of his gear. He still had the Silver Sword he gained from helping the Zora in the far east. He still had a forest bow and some regular arrows in his quiver. He still had his bags on his belt, and he knew at least one contained two potions. If only he had time to take one.

If only he had Navi or even Tatl with him to help him fight…

Adrenaline gave him one last push, and he stumbled onto the bridge. Muscle memory had Link whipping out his bow and arrow even as he turned, firing into the face of a wolf leaping forward. The arrow caught the wolf between the eyes, and it fell without a sound.

Six wolves stalked behind the fallen one. They made no move to get closer, eyes and fangs gleaming in the dark. Link cocked another arrow and kept it steady as he crept backward on the bridge. Six turned into twelve turned into six again. Link blinked and the wolves blurred, grey fur blending together before separating again.. Beneath him, the suspension bridge seemed to sway.

If he passed out, he would die. The wolves would be on him before his body hit the bridge, if he even fell onto the bridge itself. Link had not survived everything to die here.

As if sensing his weakness, one large grey wolf began to growl and stalk forward. Link aimed the arrow for what he hoped was between its eyes. Inspired by the lead wolf’s bravery, the others began slinking forward.

Link just needed to make it to the other side. That was all. Just to the other side.

Suddenly, the wolves stopped and cocked their heads. Link paused and didn’t move his aim away from the lead wolf, even as his arms began to ache from the strain. Just as he heard the faint sound of hoofbeats, one wolf yipped and then they all sprinted off into the shadows.

Only thing worse than dying from wolves was getting trampled because he was blocking the bridge. Link’s hands shook as he slid the arrow back into his quiver and put his bow away. The muscles in his legs were cramping as he made it to the other side of the bridge. He crumpled to the ground just in time to see a small group of riders galloping toward the bridge.

I can ask one for help. They all knew him, some more intimately than others. Link squinted as he watched the group approach. Six riders, faces hid by the dark and his own dizziness. Just needed to flag one down without getting ran over. Get to the fortress, rest, find Nabooru, figure out what was going on. Link started to raise a hand, only to drop it when the first rider hit the bridge.

Link knew that face. He had been his executioner, and he had been there in another time when the Sages acted as executioner in his stead. This was impossible.

Link knew he should grab his sword or his bow and arrow or something, but instead he sat, still and numb, as Ganondorf, King of the Gerudo, led his group across the bridge. Link watched as Ganondorf almost rode past him before the Gerudo’s head jerked around, catching Link’s eyes.

He looked young, Link noted as Ganondorf called to the others in his own tongue. He looked different than he did when Link first saw him and definitely different from when Link last saw him. Link tried to wrap his mind around him, but he couldn’t think. He could barely breathe as the Gerudo circled him, similar to the pack of wolves they had just ran off.

Ganondorf was dead. He was defeated twice over . Link had done it, the Sages had done it… Link bowed his head and tried to breathe. He stared at his hands on the ground, and they wavered before his eyes. Ganondorf was dead . This was just a dream. This was only a dream. He was done with this .

“You must be brave, Hylian, to travel this far,” Ganondorf said. Even his voice sounded different from Link’s memories, still deep and rough but without the edge. Link looked up in time to see Ganondorf raise a glaive, slipping it under Link’s jaw. Link held very still as the blade tucked under his chin and pressed up, raising Link’s head so he faced Ganondorf. Like this, Ganondorf on his horse and Link on his knees on the ground, Link flashed back to Ganondorf riding after Impa and Princess Zelda. He had batted away Link like he was nothing. It was that moment of weakness more than anything else which prompted Link to go to the Temple of Time.

He had been too weak to wield the Master Sword then, and he felt far too weak now as he stared into those familiar eyes. Except...they weren’t that familiar. Just like everything else, there was something different about them. Link tried to place it but his head ached dully and there was a sharp blade too close to his throat.

“Are you a spy for the Hylian King then?” Ganondorf demanded. “You have made it farther than any of his others.”

Hylian...King? Link blinked, more confused than ever. There hadn’t been a King in years --

Ganondorf looked young, far younger than Link could recall. He looked as old as Link was, physically.

Something about Link’s expression gave Ganondorf pause. To Link’s surprise, Ganondorf pulled his glaive away from his throat and stared at him with those odd eyes. Link could only blink at him when Ganondorf jumped off his horse and walked toward Link. There were several other Gerudo, and they all pulled out their weapons and aimed at Link like he would leap at Ganondorf. Maybe he would rip out the Gerudo’s throat with his teeth? He dreamed of being a wolf sometimes…

Link had to close his eyes and breathe for a moment. When he opened his eyes, Ganondorf knelt before him, studying his face. “Can you speak, Hylian?”

Link nodded, then grimaced when the world wobbled around him. Ganondorf scowled at him. “Can you speak this tongue, Hylian?”

Link scowled back and nodded again. This time, he had to close his eyes until the dizziness went away. He heard the Gerudo speaking in their own tongue above his head, and he wished he had taken the time to learn their tongue. Nabooru taught him some words, but none worked here.

When Link opened his eyes, Ganondorf glared at him. “Hylian,” he snarled, reaching out to grab Link.

His touch was like playing the Song of Time, was like entering the Shadow Temple, like putting on the Fierce Deity’s mask. Link’s breath caught in his lungs and his hand burned. Around him, the Gerudo began to shout, and Ganondorf’s hand tightened painfully around his bicep. Everything lurching sickeningly around him, Link opened his eyes and looked down at Farore’s mark glowing on the back of his hand.

One of the women whispered something, and Link recognized those words: Marked by the Goddesses. He knew that one in all of the Hyrulian languages.

Link looked up to meet the shocked eyes of his worst enemy, and then he closed his eyes and passed out.

In his dreams, the Song of Time began again.

Chapter Text

When Link awoke again, he was in a dungeon. Being thrown in a dungeon was familiar in a way Link told himself wasn’t odd. It was even better than many of the dungeons he had been in: spacious enough for him to pace, with a chamberpot in the far corner and lit by torchlight from the hall. He rested on a small futon on the ground with a thin sheet draped over him. Really, it was comfier than sleeping outside, with fewer concerns about something killing and/or eating him while he slept.

Link stared at the ceiling. He focused on his breathing just like he was about to make a difficult shot with his bow. It was a comfortable Gerudo dungeon, so he hadn’t been dreaming. It also meant that he was still alive and would probably remain so for the immediate duration. He had some time to figure things out.

Time. Link rubbed his face. By the Goddesses, when was he?

Link ignored how his hands shook when he pulled them away from his face. He sat up and focused . This was not a good situation, but that was fine. He never knew what to do in a good situation. He did have plenty of experience with “odd” and “bad,” so Link pushed away the mind-numbing horror building in his chest and assessed the situation.

He seemed physically unharmed, even better than he started. An overworn exhaustion dragged at his limbs, his mouth and skin felt too tight and dry, and hunger clawed at his gut like an angry beast, but Link could manage all that. His familiar forest clothes were gone, replaced by a pair of simple tan trousers. His feet were bare, with a long, fresh scab on the top of his right one that Link couldn’t recall obtaining. The room itself was bare with nothing resembling weaponry unless he grew very creative with his chamberpot, sheet, and futon. Link wasn’t at that point of desperation yet.

Pulling his legs against his chest and wrapping his arms around them, Link looked around the room again. No windows. There was a single barred door, and Link remembered seeing it when he had been trying to free those foolish carpenters. None of them had been in this room, though.

His position made him wish for the solidity and warmth of Epona against his back, a flickering fire before him. Was Epona alright? What happened to her? Link had been in a cave with her, he remembered. They had been in a cave, watching the rain pour outside while a campfire burned inside. And then...and then…

And then he woke up to Ganondorf. The thought alone thrilled his blood, made his hands ache for the familiar weight of his blade. Link ran a hand through his hair and let the harsh tangles there help focus him.. Judging by Ganondorf’s position leading the troop of women and his age, not to mention his question about the king, this was at least several years before Link had met the princess. By how much, Link wasn’t sure. Why had the Goddesses send him here? To kill Ganondorf before he --

No. Link shook his head and gripped his legs. No, he could not preemptively kill someone. He refused. Let Ganondorf attempt his dark reign and then Link could act as executioner once again. He refused to kill someone for something they hadn’t done yet. Even the Sages, knowing about the alternate timeline, had waited for Ganondorf to act before they stepped in.

Even knowing that Ganondorf attacked and killed the Great Deku Tree. Even knowing what Ganondorf did to Jabu Jabu and unleashed in Death Mountain, almost leading to the starvation of the Gorons. Link shuddered and shifted, skin strained over aching bones.

Ganondorf would strike and then Link would go after him again and the mad king would be executed again except not once had it ever succeeded and banishing him had never done anything no matter who did it or where --

Adrenaline pumped through him, fightorflight , except he rarely ran, always fought, target in front of him, but this time there was no clear target. There was no clear anything , just an enemy who refused to stay down.

The sensation of hot blood trickling down his hand caught his attention before the pain did. Link panted, feeling like he had just run nonstop the length of Hyrule Field, and stared at his fist still pressed against the brick wall. Blood slid bright red and thick downward, over brick and down the back of his hand, highlighting the mocking shadow of the Triforce.

Link pulled his hand back and examined it. The light in the dungeon was low, but Link’s eyes were sharp, used to relying on little, so the torchlight was enough. The skin on his knuckles was torn and bruised. His fist ached dully, but he flexed his fingers with minimal issue. Nothing broken. Link exhaled and stared at the far wall.

All right, as he had no clear target to attack, what did that leave him? Escaping the dungeon would be easy. Even without an ocarina, Link’s magic was strong enough that he could still sing one of the songs to warp him to a temple. That wouldn’t help him figure out why he was there, though. After some further thought, Link shifted into a kneeling position and tried to pray to the goddesses.

First, Link prayed to Hylia. He envisioned her statue before him and asked silently for guidance. What was he supposed to do? He was willing to do anything the goddesses asked of him, but he needed direction. The goddesses had provided guides in the past. Could they provide one now?

Silence. Link moved onto the Triad. He prayed for the Wisdom to find his path. He prayed for the Power to fight his way through his obstacles. When it came to Courage, he faltered and forced himself to breathe. He prayed for the Courage to keep moving forward, nothing else. Give him the Courage to not stop no matter how much he wanted to fall.

Link was on the Goddess of Time when he heard footsteps outside the dungeon door. He wasn’t sure if She was answering his prayer or not, but he made sure to offer a quick thank you before he lowered his hands and opened his eyes.

Seeing Ganondorf standing on the other side didn’t surprise Link, but the sight of him so close when Link was unarmed made his heart race. He narrowed his eyes at Ganondorf, who only raised a bushy eyebrow and stared levelly back.

He hadn’t noticed it before, but the Gerudo wasn’t wearing the armor that Link remembered. Instead, Ganondorf was dressed similar to the women, with pants like Link’s but brighter and more adorned, decorated gauntlets, and cloth like armor draped over one shoulder. He looked more like...well, more like a Gerudo to Link.

Instead of being soothed by the difference between this man and the dark king from his memories, it only dizzied Link. It was like when he fell into Termina, with the familiar but alien faces and the Moon which refused to stay in the sky. Feeling sick, Link jerked his gaze away to see Nabooru standing at Ganondorf’s shoulder.

The sight of another familiar face helped nothing at all. Nabooru stood with her hand on a cocked hip, gaze dark as she looked over Link. The pain that suspicion caused also surprised Link, and he had to duck his head to avoid her stare. He threw another quick prayer to the Goddess of Time:

Please, don’t take her friendship away from me. Please don’t take anyone else away from me.

“Hylian.” Ganondorf’s voice rumbled through the room like thunder. Link’s breath caught like an arrow in his chest. “You have been allowed to rest. Now is the time for you to answer questions.”

Link exhaled and raised his head to meet those familiar but not golden eyes. Ganondorf could ask all the questions he wanted, but Link had no idea how he would answer. He didn’t want to answer. He didn’t want to talk about any of it, especially to Ganondorf.

All these years later and Link still remembered fighting so desperately to save the Great Deku Tree, the closest to parent he ever knew, only to watch the ancient spirit grow stiff and dark, nothing but wood. That started it. That started everything .

He wanted to jump to his feet, to brace himself, to find a weapon, but Link kept himself still on the ground. Despite Ganondorf being right there, armed with a rapier at his waist, there was still no evidence that this was a fight. If anything, everything indicated the opposite.

His heart pounding like a Goron’s fist in his chest, Link stayed still and stared hard at the Gerudo.

Behind Ganondorf, Nabooru snickered. Link took the moment to study her. She was definitely a teenager and younger than Ganondorf, although Link couldn’t guess beyond that. She had been his Second in Command once. Was she now? “You weren’t kidding about him being quiet.”

Ganondorf glared at her, but there was no malice in it. Link narrowed his eyes. That was what was missing from those golden eyes: malice. Every time Link had ever since him before, it had rolled off the man like poison. Why the difference? Link’s head throbbed in time with his hand.

He wasn’t completely defenceless, Link reminded himself. He still had his magic. Considering Ganondorf also had magic, though, that didn’t make him feel better.

“You indicated before, Hylian, that you could speak and understand the Hylian tongue,” Ganondorf said, turning back to Link. “Is that correct?”

Link nodded, and for some reason, that sent Nabooru into peals of laughter. She didn’t stop until Ganondorf growled at her. Yet still no malice, no signs of the rage which always lingered around Ganondorf like a miasma. Nabooru seemed comfortable and relaxed around Ganondorf, with no rebellion in her laughing eyes. What was all this?

“Are you injured in some way which impairs your speech?” Ganondorf demanded.

Again, Link shook his head. Sometimes his voice would be rough and quiet if he went too long without speaking, but it didn’t count as an impairment.

This time Nabooru didn’t laugh, although she did grin at Link. Link frowned in confusion at her.

Ganondorf closed his eyes and took a deep breath before opening them again. “What is your name, Hylian?”

“L--” The word dragged against his throat like sand, and Link turned to cough into his elbow. His mouth felt dry and his tongue clumsy. When had he last drank something? When had he last spoken? He had been traveling with Epona, Link recalled. They were looking for...something. There had been no villages, so no reason to speak. Epona only expected apples from him, not words.

Link heard Ganondorf say something to Nabooru, and when he looked up again, only Ganondorf stood by the bars, looking down at him. Before Link could speak, Ganondorf raised a hand. “Wait until she returns with water.” He crossed his arms across his chest and studied Link. Link was more than happy to take the time to study Ganondorf back.

He looked like Link’s Ganondorf but...not. Not with the Gerudo clothes, not with the sane eyes. He looked mortal, even if he still looked strong enough with his size and muscular build to fight a Goron. Link remembered that strength being used against him.

“The Elders argue even now if you are a Hylian spy or not,” Ganondorf mused aloud. Link cocked an eyebrow at him. “If not for the sign on your hand, you would have been killed by now.”

Link hummed and closed his eyes, moving back to the position he had been in before he started praying. Perhaps this was during the Civil War? That would explain the worry about him being a spy. If so, he might need one of his songs after all. The second they searched through his things and found the Ocarina of Time --

Wait. Link frowned. He didn’t have it with him, did he? What did he do with it?

If he didn’t have the Ocarina of Time, how would he get home?

When he opened his eyes again, he saw Ganondorf staring at the back of his left hand. Still no malice but the hunger there chilled Link to the bone. Without thinking, Link covered his left hand with his right, and Ganondorf jerked like Link had struck him. Then Ganondorf focused on something behind Link, his frown deepening. What --

“Got it.” Nabooru sounded bright as she stepped behind Ganondorf again, but her eyes were sharp as she looked between the two. She caught onto something in the air. The cockiness of her grin didn’t match the shrewdness in her gaze as she handed Ganondorf a metal goblet. “I suppose you want to do the honors?”

Ganondorf made a noise that reminded Link far too much of his other form ( exploding out of what should have been his grave, Triforce of Power glowing, Ganondorf transforming ) but when he looked at Link, the hunger was gone. He grabbed the goblet before pulling a key out of his trousers and unlocking the door. Behind Ganondorf, Nabooru looked relaxed, the grin still on her face, but Link had sparred with the Gerudo too many times not to recognize her battle-ready stance, the way her hand settled right beside the hilt of her rapier. She remained in that pose as Ganondorf walked to Link and knelt beside him.

Link couldn’t help but flinch away when Ganondorf settled beside him. In the doorway, Nabooru stiffened when Link bared his teeth at Ganondorf, eyes wide and wild. Ganondorf didn’t move an inch during this. He watched Link, goblet of water extended toward him. Link leaned away until his back pressed against the wall. Even kneeling, Ganondorf loomed over him, too close for Link’s speed and agility to mean anything although Din’s fire would help, and Link regretted not standing --

“As long as you are not a spy of the Hylian King, I have no reason to hurt you.” Ganondorf tilted the goblet so Link could see the clear water in it. “Drink. It is not poisoned, and I know you are thirsty.”

Fine tremors raced through Link. When Ganondorf continued to remain still, goblet between them, Link snatched it out of Ganondorf’s hands and pulled it close to him. Nabooru twitched at the sudden movement, but Ganondorf remained still, those cursed golden eyes never leaving Link’s face.

Link didn’t realize how thirsty he was until he started drinking. He took two gulps before Ganondorf yanked the goblet away. Link made a protesting noise and reached for the goblet back.

“Even now, no words,” Nabooru said. “Are you sure he can speak?”

Ganondorf ignored her. His eyes remained sharp on Link’s face as he returned the goblet. “Slowly, or you will make yourself ill.”

Link narrowed his eyes at him but obeyed, sipping instead of gulping. His stomach still roiled in protest, and Link grimaced. He had no idea when he last had a meal. He didn’t even know how long he had been unconscious.

“The healer found nothing wrong with you beyond exhaustion and your foot.” Link followed Ganondorf’s gaze down to the mark on his foot. He still had no idea what happened. Then Ganondorf looked at his torn and bruised hand and then the wall beside Link. Link followed his gaze to see his blood drying on the wall beside him. “Dehydration and malnutrition, as well. After you answer my questions, I will get you food...and a bandage.”

Link wrinkled his nose at the thought of food and ignored the pointed tone in the last several words. He knew he should eat, but the desire for sleep was greater. Perhaps moving so far into the past was the reason. The farthest he had moved before was seven years. He didn’t know if he was even alive yet in this time.

Ganondorf frowned back at him and took the goblet from his hands. Link had no clue what was bothering the Gerudo now. Perhaps it was the Triforce on Link’s hand. He could see no other reason why the King himself would be interrogating a possible spy.

“Your name,” Ganondorf prodded. He didn’t move from where he knelt by Link. Link scowled at Ganondorf. At least he knew that this close, Ganondorf would not be able to dodge Link’s flames.

When Link answered, his voice was low and rough, like he had not spoken in months. For all Link knew, he hadn’t. “Link.”

Ganondorf cocked his head, still kneeling. After the quiet dragged on, Ganondorf asked, “Your accent is foreign to me. What is your family name? Where are you from?”

Link glared at him and jerked his shoulders in a shrug. The only reason he knew anything was the Great Deku Tree. There had been too many fallen for anyone to find his deceased family, and not even trying to track his bloodline helped. His bloodline had been kept quiet, and Impa believed it was to keep it from being found and wiped out. Link doubted it. Considering how few people realized Link was the Hero, it would be easy for the bloodline to continue without anyone knowing what it was.

As far as his accent… well… he was from everyone and nowhere. Even he didn’t know anymore.

He looked up to see Ganondorf studying him again, the intensity of his gaze making it feel like he was looking through Link. Reminding himself that Heroes didn’t squirm, Link distracted himself by looking at Nabooru, who stared back with clear skepticism in her eyes. “So you’re telling me you don’t know your own family name.”

Link shrugged again, frustration simmering inside him. Nabooru barked a laugh. “I can tell you’re going to be a lot of fun.”

Link wrinkled his nose at her. It was disconcerting to look at her and see the youth in her face, the relaxed set of her shoulders. Even changing the timeline didn’t help, as Link still had to fight Twinrova to protect her. His Nabooru never talked about --

Wait. Link diverted his gaze to his knees and bit the inside of his cheek. This meant he would need to fight the twins again but maybe, just maybe, he could save Nabooru from her fate. Maybe he could save the Great Deku Tree, too. This far back…

Was this why the Goddesses had sent him back? Had things already progressed too far by the time he turned ten?

Feeling Ganondorf’s gaze like a touch, Link looked back up at him. Ganondorf stared at him, hard and calculating. “And the reason your hand glowed with the mark of the Goddesses?” Ganondorf’s voice remained neutral. Link tensed. “Do you not know what that means, either?”

Instead of answering, Link looked down at his hand. When Link looked closely, he could see traces of the Triforce, ready to be seen for those with clear eyes, visible even under the now dry blood. Link clenched his fist. He licked his lips and utterly failed to speak. He licked his lips again and opened his mouth and words were clumsy things, meant for other people when they asked him to do things. They asked and he did it and actions rarely required words to back them. Link scowled at his clenched fist, at the tiny scars which decorated the area around the Triforce shadow, and shook his head.

If Navi --

Link shut his eyes.

“...I think you broke him.”

“Silence, Nabooru.”

Courage. He had Courage. What he needed right then was Wisdom. Princess Zelda spoke so eloquently. For her, words could be as deadly as knives. Link never had that gift.

“Is is a mark of the Goddesses, Hylian? Link?”

Link blinked and pulled out of his thoughts. Ganondorf still knelt beside him, empty goblet in his hands, gaze remarkably like Zelda’s. Skin too tight, Link rolled his shoulders before nodding.

“Are you a servant of the Goddesses?” Ganondorf continued.

Link snorted and nodded again. He felt Nabooru watching them, but he couldn’t bring himself to look away from Ganondorf. This conversation felt surreal, like he hadn’t fallen into the past but into yet another alien land.

“Are you a disciple from one of their Temples?”

A head shake.

“Were you born with the mark?”

After a moment, another head shake. The Great Deku Tree said he was special , but the mark came later.

“When did you receive the mark?” When Link held up both hands, fingers splayed, Ganondorf paused before guessing, “Ten? Age ten?” Another nod.

“Why don’t you ask him if he’s a spy?” Nabooru cut in. Link looked away from Ganondorf to see her leaning against the wall, arms crossed across her chest. It seemed like he had been downgraded as a threat. “That is the true interest of the Elders.”

Ganondorf leaned back on his heels and then stood in a slow, graceful push upward. Link craned his head to see the Gerudo tower over him. “Because if he was a spy, he could lie or just not answer. But if he is a servant of the goddesses…” Ganondorf looked down at Link, the shadows hiding all but the glint of his eyes. “That we can test. And no true servant of the goddesses would serve the mad Hylian King. Look what he did to the Sheikah tribes.”

Link looked away and said nothing. The Gerudo watched him, gazes like their glaives.

“We will test him,” Ganondorf said, the finality in his voice so like Zelda’s that something inside Link ached. “We will put him before the Goddess Din. If he survives Her trial, then we will know he is not a spy. If he does not...he will not be a problem anymore.”

A trial of the Goddesses… Link’s shoulders relaxed. That he could do. That he was used to.

“If he survives, then the real fun begins.”

Link tensed again. Perhaps it wasn’t too late to warp to the Spirit Temple?

The pair left, and another Gerudo left him supplies with nothing but a mocking laugh. Link devoured the food like he was starving, fast enough to give himself a stomachache, and drank the new goblet that came with it. He used the bandage to wipe away the blood on his hand rather than actually wrap the scrapes. Feeling a little better, Link returned to his futon.

Link jerked to his feet and reached for his sword before he consciously  realized he wasn’t alone in the room. His fingers clenched on nothing as the air thickened, incense choking him.

“Ho ho ho! Mark of the Goddesses , Koume. Do you hear that?”

Link froze. Oh, no.

A shrill laugh rang off the walls, hurting Link’s ears. He resisted the urge to clap his hands over them. Instead, he shifted into a battle stance, staring into the darkening shadows. They swirled through the room, laughing faces appearing like smoke.

“Oh, yes , I do, Kotake! What an outrageous fellow!”

The torches outside the room lit bright blue and a red so bright it burned Link’s eyes. He gritted his teeth and looked for anything in the room he could use for defense. He never did touch the chamberpot…

“Such an outrageous fellow, coming so boldly into our territory. We should teach him a lesson!”

The smell of incense was overpowering. Coughing on it, Link backed into the wall. It felt icy against his spine. A pair of eyes glowed in the dark.

Fire and ice. He had fire magic through Din but nothing to combat the other sister. He returned the Mirror Shield to Nabooru before he went east. He didn’t even have a sword .

“Ho ho ho! Yes, yes. Nothing will get in the way of our master’s ascension. It won’t be only Din’s trial you face, little one.”

Laughter spiraled through the air, piercing Link’s ears, and he gave in and covered them as darkness fell over the dungeon. He felt the shadows sweep over him like groping hands and then everything was gone. The torches outside the room flickered a normal red once more.

Breathing hard, Link slumped to his knees. He pulled his hands from his ears and stared at his palms. Blood speckled the pale skin. With a growl, he clenched his fists.

Link wanted a clear target. Now he had one.

Chapter Text

If Link hated anything else in the world, he hated waiting. There was a difference between sitting in the shadows with his bow and arrow in hand, waiting for a clear shot, and waiting in a dungeon for someone else to decide his fate.

After having another meal provided to him, an old Gerudo woman arrived, accompanied by a far younger woman who was clearly her guard. The young Gerudo kept her glaive in her hands as the older woman knelt by Link and checked him over. She pinched the skin of his right middle finger and watched it for a reason Link couldn’t guess. She tapped his foot until he raised it and let her examine the healing scab. She examined his left hand and tutted at him until he let her bandage it. She examined his eyes and poked at his bare stomach, scowling in such disapproval that Link found himself bowing his head in silent apology. When she left, another goblet of water and some tasty but cold soup was brought to him. Beyond that encounter, Link was left alone, and he hated it.

The Gorons and Impa (among others) had taught him unarmed combat, so Link practiced some of their moves. He worked out. He prayed. He almost punched a wall but looking at the neat, pointed bandage on his left hand stopped him by the power of sheer guilt alone. He hummed Epona’s song once, and the overwhelming loneliness which ensued quieted him again.

Sometimes, Link gave in and slept, but he hated that more than waiting. He dreamed of the forest, of looking for something and someone, and an endless, agonizing grief which left him in tears when he awoke. He dreamed of being chased by a howling wolf, of running without a single weapon in his hands. He dreamed and always woke up more exhausted than he began.

When they came for him, Link was on the floor, doing push-ups. A guard sat outside, watching and counting aloud. He had reached 42 when she quieted. Link paused. Sweat dripped down his face and onto the floor between his hands. Two Gerudo, both armed with rapiers, waited outside the door as his regular guard jumped to her feet. She nodded at them and looked far more professional than when she had encouraged Link to do handstands.

The Gerudo spoke in their tongue as Link stretched sore muscles. He flexed his hands and touched his toes. When they paused, Link paused, too, eyeing them as he stood back up. All three watched him for a moment before resuming their conversation. Shrugging, Link resumed his stretches.

He heard “Din,” and Link slowed to a stop. One hand resting on his hip, Link watched them as they spoke. At last, his guard opened the door and stepped aside. The other two stepped in, one with her hand on her rapier, the other with a band of cloth in her hands. Not liking where this was going, Link stepped back and glared at them.

“Easy, Hylian,” the one with the cloth said. “King Ganondorf orders for you to be transported to Din’s Trial. No Hylian has ever seen it before, so consider yourself blessed.” Her tone was faintly mocking, but since it wasn’t angry, Link allowed himself to relax.

The one with the rapier remained tense, studying Link’s torso. She said something to the others and nodded at Link. Confused, Link looked down. He saw nothing unusual. He had scars, but the magic of time travel and masks minimized what could have been, with the most obvious being an arrow wound in his shoulder and a ragged scar on his side.

He didn’t like to think about that one.

Link looked up and scowled when he saw the one with the cloth right in front of him. She repeated, “Easy, Hylian,” like he was a skittish horse. That did nothing to improve his mood, but he remained still when she wrapped it around his head, covering his eyes.

It was said that Hylians' ears were shaped so they could hear the voices of the Goddesses. Link didn’t know about that, but years fighting in dark temples and caves had sensitized his hearing enough that the blindfold didn’t bother him. Familiarity with the fortress also kept him relaxed as the Gerudo led him out of the room for the first time since his imprisonment.

The two Gerudo women talked between themselves as they led Link down the hall. Link didn’t bother trying to follow their conversation, diverting his attention to keeping himself calm and relaxed and ready. Din’s Trial meant traps and fights. Since he was blindfolded, he doubted they would travel to the Colossus or Spirit Temple for the trial. Would they provide him weapons? Supplies?

Would Ganondorf be watching?

A roar and the glow of the Triforce of Power --

Link rolled his shoulders and exhaled. Right now, Ganondorf wasn’t the threat. In the future, yes, but not yet. If anything, he seemed to be defending Link, for reasons unclear. Twinrova was the threat. Right now, so was Din’s Trial. Also, no point trying to keep an eye on someone when his eyes were covered.

At first, Link followed the Gerudo’s path. He recognize the steps from when he snuck around and from when he was given the official tour...twice. Then they passed through a doorway and familiarity fell away.

“Sorry, kiddo. You have the wrong parts to enter this way. You’re special but not that special.”

So you either had to be their king or their captive to go through that door with the wrong parts. Eh, it could be worse.

The air grew denser and colder as they walked, and Link noted a slant to the ground. Further underground then. The Gerudo fell into respectful silence the deeper they went. Link breathed deeply and felt the familiar itch under his skin from when he entered a temple or shrine.

Link knew the moment they left the tunnel into an open area. He felt eyes on him but couldn’t guess how many. Spectators? Without a doubt in his heart, Link knew Ganondorf was one of them. Link kept his breathing steady.

Welcome, Hero. The voice jarred in his head, and Link jerked, facing an odd swell of power to his right. Gerudo voices rose and fell above him. Link ignored them, staring sightlessly at the source of the power. In the name of Din, I offer this Trial.

When the Gerudo pulled the cloth from Link’s face, Link was unsurprised to see a small shrine before him, with a glowing red ball with Din’s mark settled on a small perch. Unlit torches surrounded the shrine. There were no obvious threats around the shrine itself, so Link looked around.

As he expected, behind him was a dark opening, barely lit by torches on the walls. The room itself was large and open, more reminiscent of the Spirit Temple’s rooms than a cave. Where Link stood was open and clear, with yet more torches lighting the walls so brightly it resembled daylight. Golden steps on the far side of the room led to a second floor, where statues of snakes with rubies for eyes stared at Link. Beyond the second floor balcony was Ganondorf, Nabooru, and several women he recognized as the Elders. There was no sign of either Kotake or Koume.

Link couldn’t worry about any of that now. Link looked away from Ganondorf to the room itself for any indications of what the trial would be. Only more statues of serpents lined the walls, all with gleaming rubies staring at Link. Two held mirrors in their mouths, and Link looked up to see a small, shining hole that he hadn’t noticed before.

The Gerudo who blindfolded him pulled her rapier off her waist and handed it to Link. He took it with a nod of thanks. “Good luck, Hylian.” With that, the two Gerudo walked to the opposite side of the room, up the stairs, and joined the other Gerudo.

Link took a moment to weigh the rapier and give it a practice swing before walking towards the altar. He felt the Gerudo watch him. Having an audience was odd, part of his brain focused on them like they were additional foes. Link tried to shrug off the sensation and focus on the fight ahead.

The objective seemed easy enough: get Din’s orb, or whatever it was. Far too easy. Link studied the orb as he walked closer. At first he thought the orb was completely in the open, but now that he stood before it, he saw a faint shimmer surround both the orb and its perch. After a moment’s thought, Link took off the bandage covering his left hand and tossed it at the orb. He felt no surprise when the bandage exploded in a flare of flames. Some of his spectators began whispering before the room fell into tense silence again.

All right, puzzle time then. Link looked around and shrugged. The first one was easy enough. Without using the crystal, summoning Din’s Fire was tiring, but his magic had grown enough over the years that Link only had to close his eyes and will the magic into his hands. Then with a cry, Link slammed his hand into the ground.

Several things happened at once: fire roared and pushed out in a circle from him, lighting all the torches; one of the Gerudo shouted something; somewhere there was the familiar sound of a door slamming shut. Link looked up and took in the bars sealing off both the stairs and the tunnel.

Then three of the snake statues stirred to life.

One to his right, one to his left, and one in front of him, all three shaking off their sleep and rising in unison. Uncoiled, each towered over Link, uncomfortably similar to Ganondorf. Ruby eyes seemed to blink before burning with Din’s power. Together, they opened their mouths, baring fangs the length of Link’s forearm, and hissed.

Link’s weariness fell away like a discarded cloak, adrenaline familiar and hot pulsing through his veins. The murmuring of the Gerudo was distant as he walked away from the torches to give himself more room to fight.

No visible weaknesses beyond possibly the eyes. Link had not fought these things before (and had no guidance now), but the Gerudo seemed familiar with the trial and thought the blade in his hand would be enough.

That was all Link had time for before the one in the middle lunged forward, the other two holding back. Fast , Link added to his internal assessment, jumping to one side. The other two were kind enough to stay back as the first one snapped at Link. It moved swiftly and smoothly, its fangs slicing through one baggy pant leg and almost catching skin when Link moved too slowly. Link focused on avoidance at first, leaping sideways or backflipping to avoid its fangs.

So far it only used its teeth, but Link doubted that was its only weapon. Link spotted no weakness in its movements or body as he circled it. This time when it moved, Link sidestepped and then slashed the rapier behind its head. The snake shrieked and jerked back even as Link’s arm throbbed with the contact. He jumped back and glanced at the other two. Still not moving.

Link adjusted his grip and glared at the snake. It hissed back at him, rising. It looked like a snake, acted like a snake, but it was definitely stone. Not good.

Another strike, faster than before, and Link cursed as its teeth grazed his upper arm. He leaped backward and the snake followed, ruby eyes glowing like flames. His arm throbbed like it had punched more than sliced --

Stone.

Link waited until it snapped again and then cut at its eyes. Steel screeched against stone, sparks flashing, and the snake shrieked. It reared back to its full height, and Link took the opportunity to turn on his heel and sprint. Behind him, he heard the odd slide of stone against stone as the snake slithered after him. Link didn’t stop until he hit the far wall. Then he whipped around and tightened his grip on his rapier, summoning his magic.

The snake barreled down at him, mouth gaping open and far too many sharp teeth bared. Link felt sweat drip down his bare back. His left hand ached over the rapier hilt, a reminder of punching a solid brick wall, but it was distant. The snake lunged forward and its jaw unhinged in a flash of white and gold.

Link leaped to the side and watched the snake smash itself against the wall.

The stone snake shattered. Out of instinct and muscle memory, Link held up his right arm like he held a shield. Debris smacked against his legs and lower body. Link clenched his jaw against the stings on his bare torso. The rest crumbled to the ground, with some bits nothing but dust.

For a breath afterwards there was silence, and then Link knelt down and scooped up the ruby eyes. He assessed the rest but there seemed to be nothing else salvageable. Then Link turned to the other two snakes.

Both of whom were charging at him.

Link shifted his feet, but before he could do more than that, they separated, one right, the other left. No wall for them. Gritting his teeth, Link sprinted forward. In unison, the snakes changed paths, keeping to opposites sides. Faster than Link expected, they were on him.

Link jerked his blade between him and one snake even as he twisted his body to avoid the second. Stone teeth scraped off steel. He avoided the fangs of the other, but its large head slammed against his side, pushing him off balance. Link rolled and felt something swish over his spine. He rolled to his feet, only to immediately backflip as two sets of teeth snapped at him, one from each side.

In unison. Again. Link exhaled and then bolted. The snakes split, speeding over stone like Zora over water. Link focused on the sounds, on the motions out of the corner of his eye. He ran to the middle of the room and then slid to a stop. He balanced on the balls of his feet and waited.

One to the right, one to the left. Neither stopped, pulling parallel to him and then charging. Link braced himself.

Link saw himself reflected in their ruby eyes before each unhinged their jaws and lunged. With a grunt, Link backflipped. Something raked against his hair and Link heard the crash before he landed back on his feet. Link hopped back but the area remained still and silent. Panting quietly, he stared at the pile of broken stone before him. Four ruby eyes glinted from the rubble. Across the room, the altar shimmered, and then the barrier around Din’s stone collapsed.

Only when the applause started did Link remember his audience. He looked up at them as Nabooru cheered, pumping a fist into the air. Link nodded at her. It was ridiculous, as she wasn’t his Nabooru, but he couldn’t deny the warmth unfurling in his chest. He glanced at Ganondorf where the Gerudo man stood behind Nabooru. His arms were crossed across his chest, and from that distance, his face was unreadable. Did this prove the man right?

Link’s bare feet ached as he limped to gather up the rubies. For a split second, Link missed the soothing floor of forest before he shoved it aside and headed toward the altar. He was almost done.

Something itched at him as he limped toward the altar. Even with Nabooru still applauding, it was too quiet. Something was wrong.

As Link closed in on the altar, flames exploded in front of him. He yelped and leaped back. Fire circled the altar, burning higher and higher until they were twice his height. Link gripped the rapier with both hands and backed away.

Behind him, stone screeched over stone.

Breath catching in Link’s throat, he whirled around. Dread churned in his guts as he watched the stone from the three snakes pool together, black fire and smoke swirling around the rocks. Within seconds, something pulled itself up from the wreckage, towering over Link.

Outrageous fellow , a laughing voice echoed in his head, meet Hydra.

Eight feet tall, the monster threw back its three heads and screeched, hurting Link’s ears. The Hydra turned to him, glaring at him from empty sockets, and lunged.

Chapter Text

No matter what Link saw on his journey, no matter how many strange twists he took through time, Link always remembered with perfect clarity his battle with Gohma. When he fought Gohma, terror powered his reflexes more than skill. The bullying of Mido had nothing against a true life or death battle. After that battle, no matter what he fought, things settled easier in his mind.

Navi scoffed when he tried to explain this to her, but Link had heard the tremble in her voice. “You’re the Hero, Link. Haven’t you been paying attention? Don’t you know what that means?”

The Hydra  slammed into the ground where Link had been standing. The floor crumbled, and shards of stone struck the back of Link’s legs as he sprinted away from the circle of flame and the monster. He needed distance and room to move. He needed a better weapon.

Link didn’t even have a slingshot.

When the Hydra arose, it shrieked and shook its heads. It showed no sign of harm from hitting the ground. Link gritted his teeth. More solid than before then. Not good.

Black smoke swirled around the Hydra as it twisted to face Link. Its eyes flashed and then burned like glowing red like heated coal. All three mouths opened in a deafening shriek and a billow of smoke, and then the Hydra charged again.

Its large body whipped across the stone, and Link barely managed to roll to the side before it struck. He rolled to his feet but before he could move away, its tail lashed out and slammed into his side. The force sent Link tumbling across the ground. Adrenaline flushed away the pain, and Link curled into a protective ball and kept rolling to put more distance between him and the Hydra. His body threw up warnings as he rolled to his feet, and Link tucked them away for later when death wasn’t imminent.

Somewhere behind him, Link heard the Gerudo shouting, but that was later, everything was later. His heart thrummed in his chest, blood rushing dizzily through his veins. His eyes narrowed on the Hydra charging at him again. His mind flipped through options and possibilities at lightning speed even as the Hydra screeched, baring too many stone fangs.

Two weapons: a sharp blade and fire. Neither the best against stone. All right.

The three heads lunged -- in unison, still in unison -- and Link met them halfway. He slipped between the middle and left head, using the rapier to deflect teeth away from him. Grabbing the middle head with his right hand, Link swung himself up just like he was swinging onto Epona’s back. There was shouting and shrieking and Link forced himself to ignore all of it. He gripped the middle head’s neck with his thighs and held on for dear life as the Hydra hauled itself up.

Link’s palm slid on the rapier and for a desperate moment, he feared he would drop it. He tightened his grip and pain flared. Link grunted and grabbed the hilt with both hands. All three heads jerked and Link squeezed his thighs on the creature’s neck to keep himself steady. Then with a cry, he raised the rapier above his head and stabbed the creature in one of its fiery eyes.

This close, the screams were deafening. Something hit Link at the same time as the Hydra convulsed. Before he knew what was happening, he found himself rolling across the stone floor again.

There was screeching and shouting and Link shook his head and pushed himself onto his elbows. The world lurched and he collapsed back on his stomach. For too long a moment, everything hurt and Link struggled to draw breath.

Enough! Get on your feet!

“Do you know what that means?”

Grunting, Link shoved himself up to his hands and knees. A flicker of light made him look down, and Link grimaced. He still held his rapier in his hand but the tip was shattered, leaving the rapier short and with a jagged end. He scowled and looked back at the Hydra.

The creature was still shrieking, all three heads jerking and flailing. Link saw the shine where the rapier tip was still in the middle one’s eye. Eyes were good then. Eyes --

Link froze when the right and left heads turned and tore at the middle head. Sharp stone teeth bit and tore at its neck while the middle head screamed. Pain forgotten, Link pushed himself to his feet just as the middle head flopped to the ground, demonic light gone from its empty eyes. Then the remaining heads turned to him.

Really not good.

Something thumped to his right. Link spun on his heel so he faced both the Hydra and the source of the noise. He raised his broken rapier like a shield.

Link expected to see another stone snake or maybe even Kotake or Koume. He didn’t expect to see Ganondorf sprinting toward him, rapier in his hand.

Horror chilled his blood, followed by despair and then a terrible resignation. Link was armed only with a broken rapier with injuries he struggled to ignore sapping at his strength. Already, the Hydra was shaking off the dust of its third head and was raising itself high, fangs bared. He was going to die; he saw no way around it. At least he would die fighting. That was all he…

Link exhaled and braced himself.

“This creature is not part of Din’s Trial, Hylian.” Link’s worn mind struggled to keep up as Ganondorf stopped beside him, facing the Hydra. He blinked at Ganondorf, who gave him a once over before glaring at the monster. “You completed Din’s Trial. You have proven your worth. This creature is an aberration which must be destroyed.”

Of everything that had occurred since Link awoke in the desert, this was the most insane. Only the distant pained complaints of his body convinced him this wasn’t a fever dream. Link shook his head hard and focused on the Hydra.

Ganondorf was large and armed and burning with power before he even obtained the Triforce and later . Link would worry about that later .

Then the Hydra roared and charged forward, and it abruptly became easier to focus.

Ganondorf growled and rested his weight on his back foot. “You took out the one’s eye before.”

True, except… “That didn’t defeat it.”

That was all Link had time to say before the Hydra was on them.

Link hopped to the side while Ganondorf snarled and threw himself forward. The heads jerked at two different opponents, and Ganondorf took advantage of that to strike at the eyes of the right one. At the same time, Link lunged for the left.

Only Ganondorf’s shout saved Link. He backflipped, and the large tail whipped past where he stood. Ganondorf leaped back as well, the tail missing him by inches. Ganondorf grunted and drove forward again. The snake turned its head so his rapier slid along its cheek, sparks flying.

As both heads were turned toward Ganondorf, Link took a deep breath and sprinted forward. The heads struck in unison, and Link couldn’t see whether or not they hit before he jumped onto the creature’s back. Both heads shrieked, sending pain streaking through Link’s sensitive ears and head. He gritted his teeth and steadied himself on the stump where the middle’s head used to be.

“Move, you fool!” Ganondorf roared. Link saw the bright red of Ganondorf’s hair out of the corner of his eye but couldn’t look at him. Both heads twisted to look at him. They shrieked, black smoke billowing from their mouths, and lunged for him. Ganondorf shouted again. Link ducked.

Stone met stone and exploded in painful shards against Link’s bare back. He grimaced and rolled until strong hands grabbed him by the waist and yanked him back. It hurt and Link stumbled into something solid and warm.

“Easy, Hylian.” Ganondorf’s voice rumbling above his head. Ganondorf’s hands still on his waist, steadying him. Oh Goddesses no. Link jerked backward and almost fell on his ass. Before Ganondorf could do more than frown at him, the Hydra completely shattered into dust and something whooshed on the other side of the room. Link turned in time to see the fire die down, leaving the torches somehow untouched and the path to Din’s stone clear.

Adrenaline faded, leaving Link in pain and cold. With the battle done, he was reminded that his feet ached, and each breath sent a flare of agony through his his chest and side.

Later. Later.

Link limped toward the stone, aware of Ganondorf trailing behind him. He focused on the glowing red ball. Something about it seemed familiar, but he couldn’t quite place it.

When Link reached the altar, Ganondorf paused at the torches. The room was so quiet Link could hear the pained rasp of his own breathing. He reached out and cupped Din’s orb in his hands.

You have proven your worth, Hero. Din’s Pearl is a mark of your strength. Use it with courage and wisdom.

Link exhaled and fell to his knees. Behind him, Ganondorf cursed and the Gerudo began to shout again.

“Do you understand, Link? What it means to be the Hero?”

Ganondorf knelt beside him, mouth in a tight line. Link closed his eyes.

Later. Later.

Chapter Text

While Nabooru never showed Link Din’s Trial, Link visited the infirmary many times. Too many times. He forced his face to remain blank as Ganondorf helped him to a bed, both to disguise his recognition of the infirmary and because of Ganondorf touching him. Having him so close, Ganondorf’s silent fury like a cloud over them, made it hard to breathe. He couldn’t bring himself to calm down until Ganondorf excused himself from the infirmary. The Healers protested, but Ganondorf’s face remained rigid and resolute. Ganondorf’s rage lingered against Link’s skin.

“I need to speak with the Elders now,” Ganondorf said, the terseness of his voice doing nothing to ease Link’s heart. “Nabooru will stay with the Hylian.” He paused in the doorway, added, “Link,” and then left.

Their primary target gone, the Healers swarmed Link until the eldest shooed the rest away. During this, Nabooru stood beside Link. Her face remained hard, hand on her rapier like she expected more monsters through the door.

“You need to calm down,” the Healer scolded, holding his wrist. Her accent was strong and strangely soothing. “Your pulse is too fast.”

Link stared at her. She huffed back at him and started touching his side, which had flared into a painful red mass which promised colorful bruises later. She grumbled to herself as she pressed on different spots and ran a hand over his aching ribs. She then called something over her shoulder, and a young Gerudo brought a bowl of water with a cloth in it. Another brought a ceramic mug of water.

Several minutes later, a little cleaner and watered, Link surrendered his wrist for his pulse. The Healer nodded in approval and then started running her hands over him again. Her questions were all yes/no, which made things easier.

Every few pained breaths, Link saw Nabooru glance at him and then stare back at the doorway. Her mouth was tight, and Link wondered what she was thinking. Whatever questions she had, she remained quiet. Link looked away from her and watched a previously banished Healer wash and bandage his feet. The odd scab on his foot vanished under white cloth.

By the time Ganondorf returned, Link’s feet, left hand, and most of his torso was bandaged. Another mug of water and a bottle of potion had been forced on him, and he held a mug of bitter tea in his right hand. The elder Healer was examining Link’s eyes when Ganondorf walked beside Nabooru. The Healer flicked Link’s ear when he looked away from her to look at Ganondorf. Link wrinkled his nose at her but resumed staring forward.

“How is he?” Ganondorf asked. He stood on Nabooru’s other side and, to Link’s surprise, without a weapon in sight. Of course, he was a weapon, but it helped Link breathe easier.

The Healer grunted, unimpressed, and Link huffed. She looked him in the eye and huffed back. Link tossed his head and glared at the wall.

“Nothing broken,” the Healer said. “The potion is helping the scrapes, but he needs a good scrub and fresh ointment to help with any lingering dirt in the wounds. Bruised ribs and some lingering tenderness in his stomach. Not strenuous activity or heavy foods for a while. His left wrist is strained. Feet are bruised and scraped, so try to keep them up. He needs rest more than anything else.”

Ganondorf grunted. When Link looked at him, Ganondorf stood with his arms across his chest, nodding. There was dried blood on his left cheek and shoulder. Link narrowed his eyes. Beneath the blood on Ganondorf’s shoulder, Link recognized the scrape of large teeth.

Ganondorf hurt...from helping him? Link looked back at the ground between his bandaged feet. The Healer pointedly nudged the tea in his hand, but Link hesitated.

Ganondorf jumped into the fray to help him. He called Twinrova’s creature an aberration. He could be lying but Link saw no deceit in him.

Princess Zelda called him too truthful once, a fond gleam in her eyes. She never explained, and Link never understood if it was an insult or a compliment. Yet…

Link lips his lips. Then he looked up and caught Ganondorf’s eye. Ganondorf raised an eyebrow at him. “Thank you,” Link said, and then he turned to study the wall again.

Silence. Link sipped his tea to distract himself. Similar to potions but not as strong. It burned his tongue a little.

“Leave us,” Ganondorf said. No one protested, and Link continued to study the wall. He recognized some of the designs from the Spirit Temple. Too soon, the only sounds left in the room were the sounds of his and Ganondorf’s breathing. Link stared hard at the wall. Not even Nabooru was able to translate some of the signs there. They dated back to before the Fortress was founded, carried by largely forgotten ancestors. Link never told her those were the ones which looked the most familiar.

“You passed Din’s Trial,” Ganondorf said. He spoke softly but with steel underlying his voice. “You touched Din’s Pearl without harm. It seems like you are truly blessed by the Goddesses. The Elders remain wary. They believe you to be a type of spirit or even a creature from the dark woods to the east.” He paused, and Link flexed his left hand. It still ached. The back of it burned. “Yet...I believe your reckless courage marks you as one of Farore’s, whether you be a true Hylian or a magical creature. If you are truly a servant of the Goddesses, I believe you can be a great boon to me and my people.”

Link frowned at the wall. The Goddesses sent him here for a reason. To help the Gerudo made sense. To help the man who would one day be named King of Evil?

Tilting his head enough to see Ganondorf out of the corner of his eye, Link considered the man. Ganondorf remained the same distance away as before, as if Nabooru still stood between them. He kept his hands away from his sides, empty palms facing Link. One day, this man would become King of Evil like one day the moon of Termina would fall and crush the town?

Link’s head hurt.

Ganondorf caught his eye and then nodded toward the bed beside Link. Link glanced down. Din’s Pearl. He raised an eyebrow back at Ganondorf. No one explained anything about it. It was a part of the trial, but divine artifacts rarely remained unconnected from other things. Perhaps the Gerudo themselves didn’t know.

“Swear on Din’s Pearl that you speak truthfully to me. If your answers are enough, I will free you from the dungeon.”

Link raised the second eyebrow. Wasn’t the Trial enough?

By the hard set of Ganondorf’s jaw, no. Link huffed but nodded. He never feared honesty, not when people rarely believed him in the first place.

Ganondorf stared at his face like Link was a scroll. Link rested his hand on his good side and stared back. He had no idea if Ganondorf found what he was looking for before Ganondorf said, “Swear on Din’s Pearl.”

He actually wanted Link to physically swear on Din’s Pearl. Link’s scowl darkened. He put the now empty mug of tea on the mattress. Then Link scooped up the Pearl and held it between them like a knife. It glowed in his hands.

After another moment, Ganondorf grunted. “Are you a spy for the Hylian King?”

...really. In his hands, Din’s Pearl spiked red, reflecting Link’s annoyance. He shook his head so fiercely his hair whipped and stung his cheeks.

Ganondorf’s face remained stony. “And you are a servant of the Goddesses?”

Link preferred the Hydra to this. He nodded.

“Do you intend harm to the Gerudo people?”

The stone pulsed an angry red. Link shook his head and scowled at him. He hadn’t intended harm to them even when he knew Ganondorf was their king and was attacking Hyrule.

“Why are you here?”

At the new type of question, Link paused and cocked his head, thinking it over. Honestly? He shrugged and nodded to his bandaged hand. Then he shrugged again.

Silence. Ganondorf stared at him with sharp, unblinking eyes. Link jerked his shoulders up in a hard shrug.

“You don’t know why you are here?” When Ganondorf spoke, each word fell between them with the weight and force of a boulder. Link shrugged and turned back to face the wall. Over the years, he had told many truths, and most of them were laughed off. It didn’t surprise him that Ganondorf would do the same.

“Is it a mission for the Goddesses?”

Link blinked. He carefully cocked his head and studied Ganondorf. The Gerudo’s face remain hard and impassive, but he didn’t look angry. Calculating, perhaps. It reminded him of Zelda a little, perhaps even Ruto. He nodded. He knew that much.

Ganondorf grunted and his hands rose. Link tensed. Perhaps he was wrong about the anger part.

Hands at the level of his chest, Ganondorf paused. Oh. Crossing his arms across his chest then. Except then Ganondorf lowered his hands again to his sides, open and facing Link. His face softened but remained inscrutable as he seemed to study Link again. “Unless you are a spy for the Hylian King, and at this point I see no reason to believe that, you are safe here. No one will harm you.”

Just perhaps throw him in the dungeon. Again. For warriors and thieves, though, the Gerudo always kept the level of violence to a minimal. They hadn’t harmed those idiot carpenters, even though they had probably deserved a smack or two. Perhaps Ganondorf didn’t recall telling him this earlier. Link huffed and rolled his shoulders. His ribs groaned in protest, but Ganondorf nodded, seeing something he liked in the motion.

“Is there a threat against my people?” The edge returned to Ganondorf’s voice, as fine as a blade. Link patted his bandaged chest and nodded. Ganondorf’s eyes narrowed. “The source of the creature from the Trial?”

Link started nodding, and then he paused, considering it further. When he spoke with Nabooru, when he had fought the twins, it was clear that Kotake and Koume had raised Ganondorf and deliberately shaped him into the monster Link fought in the future (past? He no longer knew). What had they said back in the dungeon? He wrinkled his nose in thought. He couldn’t remember. He mostly remembered his ears bleeding from their horrific laughter.

During this, Ganondorf’s gaze never left his face. “There is a threat then,” he murmured. “Perhaps… Does this threat come from the Hylian King?”

Link scoffed and shook his head. He had heard many things about the King, including from Zelda herself during hidden moments in the yard and later, when she was crowned Queen, over tea and shrouded in anger and grief. He was a threat, yes, but not one of Link’s realm. One day Zelda would rise as Queen and she would handle that.

But Twinrova… Link was missing something. He knew it.

“But he is a threat,” Ganondorf persisted. His large hands clenched into fists. Link watched warily as a shadow darkened the Gerudo King’s face. “Do not deny this.”

Link wouldn’t, but… He put Din’s Pearl on the bed beside him, and then he covered the back of his left hand with his right hand. Ganondorf quieted. Did he understand?

For too long, Ganondorf said nothing. His breath came in angry pants, similar to how he sounded rising from what should have been his grave. The Triforce of Power pulsed --

Link jerked his hand away and wrapped his arms around his chest. He scowled at the wall. All of this was ridiculous. He would give anything for Navi or even Tatl to be here, to help point him in the right direction. But they were gone, just like everyone else, leaving him here and with nothing but the wild thudding of his heart.

“...my apologies.” Link exhaled sharply but didn’t look at Ganondorf. He couldn’t right now. He would look and see glowing eyes, a glowing hand, and the Master Sword was gone, still in the Temple of Time ( where Link had been, too, for seven years which never happened ). “You passed the Trial. You are here to help my people from an unknown threat. I will ensure you have a room so you can rest.”

Ganondorf sounded oddly subdued. Link tightened his grip on himself, only to hiss and drop his arms when his ribs resumed their steady throb.

“You are safe here,” Ganondorf repeated. Link didn’t look at him. Instead, he listened to the Gerudo’s surprisingly soft steps as he left the room.

After Ganondorf left, the other Gerudo trickled back in. Link heard them walking and talking quietly amongst themselves. He refused to look away from the wall. His heart continued to pound in his chest. There was no threat here, he knew there was no threat, but some part of him kept wanting to reach for a sword he gave away years ago. He didn’t hear Nabooru’s familiar voice, and he didn’t realize until right then how much he expected and hoped for it.

“Hello, Hylian.” That voice was familiar. Link frowned and finally looked away from the wall. The Gerudo’s face was also familiar, but Link couldn’t quite place her. “I am Kali. I will escort you to your new quarters.”

Her face was younger, yes, but after a moment, Link recognized her. He blinked and then whipped his head back to stare at the wall.

In another time, he had sex with her daughter to help the Gerudo reproduce. Kali had bought him a beer after and congratulated him.

He was more than ready to fight another Hydra now.

Chapter Text

When Link awoke, it was to the odd sensation of a soft bed under him, the dull agony of his bruised ribs, and the familiar feeling that he was being watched. He kept his breath even and his body still as he assessed the situation.

At Ganondorf’s command, Kali helped him reclaim his gear. There remained an empty spot in his belt where the Ocarina should be, but Link said nothing about that. Kali led him to a semi-familiar room where he could rest, so Link knew the layout of the room. He knew his dagger was under his pillow. His sword and other gear rested against and on the small table beside the too lush bed. He could be armed and ready in a split second.

Except whatever was watching him could be faster.

Link listened but heard nothing. Nothing disturbing the cool desert air around him. Nothing breathed or rustled or made any noise. Yet his skin prickled at the feeling of someone staring at him, like a Stalfos from the shadows. Link slitted his eyes just enough to look around the room. The bed itself was big enough for a Goron to sleep with him, covered with heavy quilts to protect from the nightly drop in temperature. There was an elegant dresser carved from what appeared to be stone with a large mirror on top. Link looked at the mirror through his lashes, looking for any movement in the reflection. Nothing. There was a small table and two chairs in the far corner close to the door. The only thing there was the mug of water Link had earlier. He glanced at his other side. There was a window peering out over the desert, but the way the bed was angled, Link couldn’t see it. Perhaps…

Enough. In one motion, Link snatched the dagger from under his pillow and rolled into a crouch beside his gear. From the window, something growled.

Link blinked and stared. Suddenly, the dagger in his hand seemed very small. In contrast, the Wolfos in the window looked very big.

Link exhaled. The Wolfos bared its large fangs, shining white in the moonlight. It took up the entire window, ghostly pale. Its eyes glowed. With each movement, Link saw muscles flex under thick fur.

They were on the second floor, Link thought, and then he snatched up his sword. The Wolfos howled and lunged forward.

Link brought up his sword but not fast enough. Pain spiked as its fangs dug into his left shoulder. Link screamed. He tried to bring up his sword but his entire arm convulsed, and his fingers released their grip on the hilt. Balling up his right fist, Link struck out.

“Stop it! Enough!”

Link gasped and opened his eyes. Two inches from his face, Ganondorf’s eyes seemed to glow. Link jerked back but something held his left shoulder and right fist. Link snarled and jerked his head forward in a headbutt Ganondorf barely dodged. Ganondorf cursed him and Link took a deep breath, summoning Din’s Fire.

“Stop! You’re safe , you insane man.”

Gasping, Link froze. Pressure tightened on his shoulder. Fangs. He snarled and kicked. With a soft cry, the teeth in his shoulder vanished. He rolled to the side and fell into a crouch beside his gear. When he grabbed for his sword, deja vu swept through him, leaving him dizzy and disoriented. He had done this before, right? Bewildered, he looked at the window. All he saw was the clear black sky.

The Wolfos… A dream? Link shivered, suddenly aware of the sweat cooling on his skin. He looked at his shoulder but saw no blood, just the mussed fabric of his shirt. Nausea churned in his gut. Fresh cold sweat broke out over his flesh. Starting to shake in earnest, Link closed his eyes and rested his head on the side of the bed.

“Easy, Hylian,” a female voice cooed. Nabooru. His head beginning to feel heavy and achy like he had a fever, Link opened his eyes and blinked at her. She knelt several feet away, hands out and empty. Torchlight illuminated her face. At the same time, it emphasized the shadows under her eyes, the concerned creases of her forehead. He looked further to see Kali holding a lantern. Beside Kali, Ganondorf stood in the same position as earlier, hands open and empty by his sides. He watched Link carefully.

“Link,” Ganondorf said, soft and measured in the dark, “are you awake?”

Link couldn’t help one more glance at the window. Still empty. There was no eerie Wolfos. There were no glowing eyes. There were only the Gerudo and Link. Link flushed. It had not been a Wolfos he had fought off.

He opened his mouth to apologize and choked on Kokiri words, words he hadn’t needed in over a decade. Link tried again but all of the wrong words clogged his throat, too much trapped in his chest, too many masks on his face sinking their magic into his soul. Hot embarrassment took over cold fear, and he looked at Ganondorf, hoping that once again words would not be needed.

Instead, Ganondorf stared, frowning, at the window. “Would another room help?” he asked. Inside of Link, everything quieted. “One without a window?”

...what? Link turned to Nabooru and Kali, but they only looked thoughtful, like Ganondorf’s suggestion was reasonable. Link licked his lips.

“No,” he said. The words scraped out of him, like they had to fight through the mess left behind to escape. His accent sounded too obvious and too awkward. “It was...just a dream.”

A nightmare, truly, one that made no sense to him. Why a Wolfos? Not even as a child had he been frightened of Wolfos. If anything, they thrilled him then, cautionary tales told by the Great Deku Tree and Saria to avoid the deeper woods. Frowning, Link turned back to the window. Such an odd looking Wolfos, too.

There were some soft words spoken in the Gerudo tongue, and then Kali handed the lantern to Ganondorf and walked out.

“Do you need help getting to bed?” Nabooru again. Ganondorf kept staring at the window, face hidden in shadow.

Link shook his head and pushed himself up. He swayed and for a moment everything seemed to sway, too. When Nabooru moved as if to reach for him, Link flinched away and let himself fall back onto the bed. He yanked his legs toward him before Nabooru could touch them.

At last, Ganondorf turned back to him. Link couldn’t make out his face. In his Gerudo clothes, he didn’t look like the Ganondorf Link knew at all. “Nabooru and I sleep right down the hall.” His voice turned dry. “Yell if you need anything.”

Before Link could figure that out, Kali returned with a mug of water and a bowl. She rested both on the table beside the bed, both within easy reach of Link. When Link looked, he saw the bowl filled with water, a white cloth floating in it.

“Rest easy, sa’ven ,” Kali murmured. “I will be right outside your door. Whatever beasts the Hylian King has sent after you will never reach you.”

Sa’ven ? Hylian King? Feeling utterly lost, Link watched the Gerudo exit the room. Only when they were gone did he look one more time at the window, and then he reached for the cloth to wipe off some of the drying sweat.

Somewhere in the desert, a wolf howled. Then another. Then another. Shivering, Link cleaned his face.

He did not sleep well that night.

xoxoxox

In the morning, looking none the worse for wear considering her long night, Kali took Link for his third tour of the Gerudo Fortress. She introduce him to various people, and Link kept his face like stone. Many he recognized. Others he did not, despite them being within the same age range. Link made himself look each in the eye and tried to memorize their faces. The sick feeling from the previous night never quite left him. Link turned down all food even as he drank whatever water Kali handed to him.

Starting in the courtyard where the Gerudo practiced their swordplay. Through the dungeons where Link first met the carpenters. The dungeon where Link had been kept. The kitchen, the rest areas, the sleeping areas. The only difference in this tour and the two others Link had was that Kali now took him to the arena where Din’s Trial was held.

All morning as Kali showed him around Link felt eyes on him. It burned like an infection under his skin. Link remembered the feel of the Wolfos’s stare and the twins’ screeching laughter. His shield and weaponry remained comforting weights during the tour. Many Gerudo watched him as Kali led him around, but Link didn’t bother convincing himself that it was just them.

Link didn’t see Ganondorf nor Nabooru again until they circled back to the front yard. Link watched as they and a dozen other Gerudo prepared their horses and gear. Each was armed with a blade and bow. A small party, Link judged, either for information gathering or a swift strike. If they left soon, they would hit Hyrule Field by twilight. Link studied the faces of the riders and tried to make out which ones were familiar and which ones weren’t.

“We received word that a troop of Hylian raiders will ride by our borders,” Kali said. She stood with her arms crossed, jaw hard and eyes bright as she watched them prepare. “It is believed they have information on the Triforce.” She nodded toward Ganondorf, who was stroking his stallion’s neck. “Our king will kill them, and what they know we shall soon know.”

The Triforce… Link frowned down at his left hand. He felt the burn of Farore’s Courage under his skin. So many times, especially in the last few years, he had wished for his life to be different, but he kept those wishes private in his heart. To wish upon the Triforce, to have the strength of the Goddesses behind that wish…

“We need more time!”

Link shivered and looked back up to see Ganondorf watching him. The man patted his stallion one last time and walked toward Link.

“Your countrymen will die, little one,” Kali continued casually.

Link didn’t look at her, too distracted by Ganondorf. “They are not my countrymen,” was all he had time for before Ganondorf was there.

Ganondorf’s gaze swept over him like fire. Link’s skin prickled. That odd hunger was back in his eyes. “You will look good when you receive appropriate attire,” he said. Ganondorf looked at Kali and raised an eyebrow. Beside Link, she stood a little taller.

“Tomorrow, my King.”

Ganondorf nodded and turned back to Link. “Not that the heat seems to bother you.”

Link shrugged one shoulder. As long as it didn’t involve a lake or a volcano, he was fine with it. The look on Ganondorf’s face was another matter.

Ganondorf studied him like he was looking for something. Link frowned at him, and Ganondorf smiled a small smile, just a bare curl of his lips. The hunger faded from his gaze, leaving something oddly warm and intimte. “Kali will take you to our temple in the desert in the morning. Perhaps there you will find out why the Goddesses sent you to us.” He reached up a hand as if to touch Link’s face, but when Link stepped backward, he dropped his hand again. “I look forward to seeing what you discover, Link. No matter what happens, you are safe here with us.”

With one last, lingering look, Ganondorf turned and walked back to his horse. He called to Nabooru and the others, and with wild shouts back, the Gerudo saddled themselves behind their king. Link watched as Ganondorf swung himself on his own horse and with a roar led the charge toward Hyrule Field. Kali began shouting, and Link watched as the other Gerudo raised their weapons and filled the air with their voices. Ganondorf raised his blade, the metal reflecting in the sunlight, and then he was gone. Their voices like a hawk’s cry, Nabooru and the others followed.

After they were gone, the courtyard seemed very quiet. Link stared at the entrance. How odd for others to go to battle while he stayed behind. But like he told Ganondorf, that was not his battle. Only mortal greed existed out there. Whatever battle Link was to fight, it would be here, in the desert.

There had been no sign or mention of the twins since the Hydra. Where were they? What were they doing?

“Come, sa’ven, ” Kali said. She nodded toward the opposite end of the courtyard, and Link dutifully followed her. This was not what he meant when he asked the Goddesses for a guide.

He recognized the gate leading into the desert as Kali led him. She didn’t call for the guards to raise it, only nodded toward the desert beyond it. “Out there, beyond the Haunted Wasteland, is the temple. I will guide you there in the morning.”

Kali kept talking, but Link no longer heard her. He stared into the distance, beyond the gate, and in the distance, a Wolfos the same color as the sand stared back. Link’s hands twitched toward his bow. No, not a Wolfos. Just a large, odd wolf. It didn’t move, only stared.

His imagination was playing tricks on him. Inspired by the wolves when he first arrived, perhaps.

Hadn’t there been more than just the wolves when he awoke in this time? There had been something else…

“What are you looking at?” Kali asked, and she stepped in front of Link and squinted. “There is nothing out there.”

The wolf threw its head back and howled. A strange horror gripped Link, like when he first woke in the Temple of Time and didn’t recognize his own hands. He shook his head and watched the wolf turn and bound into the desert.

Toward the Spirit Temple.

Kali patted his arm. “Don’t worry, little one. The desert can be deadly, but if you respect it, you will survive. I will protect you. Come, you are looking pale again. You need more water.”

Link looked back once before following. The feeling of eyes made him look up, and Link’s hand twitched toward his bow again. Upon the top of the gate, standing beside the guards, Koume and Kotake waved at him, grinning like children.

“Come on, little one,” Kali repeated, and Link followed. His left hand burned.

Chapter Text

There were no dreams that night. Link came awake with his hand on his dagger, the sky still dark outside the window. He sat at the window and stared into the desert.

No wolves. No Epona. No Zelda. Nothing.

At dawn, Kali arrived . On the bed, she laid out a set of clothes similar to Ganondorf’s. “You will feel much more comfortable,” she coaxed as he moved to the bed and stared at the clothes. Baggy pants. A thin top. Belts so he could still carry his weapons. All in Din’s fierce, fiery reds. There was no familiar green, and something inside him ached as he fingered the clothing.

“Can I have an ocarina?” Link still had no idea what happened to his ocarina. His mind blanked when he tried to remember.

Kali raised an eyebrow. She focused on his lips like more words would miraculously appear. Link didn’t understand her at all. “I will find you one.”

Link nodded. He then stripped out of his Kokiri garb, and Kali’s other eyebrow shot up. Link ignored her as he changed. There was no lust in her gaze, only appraisal, sharp eyes lingering on the scars on his shoulder and side. Considering she judged him worthy of her daughter, Link assumed she saw something appropriate there.

Kali murmured something in her tongue, and Link waited for the request to breed. He was healthy, he was the right age, and he had proven his skill in battle. All she said was, “We will break our fast, and then I will show you the temple.”

Link nodded. Ignoring the new belts, he adjusted his old belts to the new outfit. Before, he had used his longshot to get across the Haunted Wasteland. How did she plan on getting across?

Something appeared before his nose. Link jerked back and narrowed his eyes. Unimpressed, Kali waved the jar in his face again. “From the Healers. For your feet.”

Was she serious? Link scowled at her. She stared back. Yes, she was. Huffing, Link looked down at his feet. They were still a little sore but had mostly healed, as had the rest of him from the fight with the Hydra. Ointment was unnecessary. He even kicked Ganondorf without issue.

Kali waved the ointment again. “Or we can go visit the Healers directly, sa’ven . Healer Avila wanted to see you when she found out they weren’t treated yesterday.”

Scowl darkening, Link snatched the ointment from her hand and sat back on the bed. He rubbed the thick ointment in, and when Kali handed him bandages, he glowered and wrapped his feet up. When he looked up again, Kali had the same smug look as when they learned her daughter was pregnant.

Link left after that. He had been on his way back to Hyrule when all of this happened.

Did all of this affect that? Surely She’ri was alive now. He thought she was a little older than him. Did this mean the pregnancy would never occur?

Link’s scowl faded, and his hands paused on his bandaged feet. Would this change his timeline? Would this create another timeline? What happened to everyone?

“Hey, hey, little Hylian, enough of that look. Your feet are bandaged, so we can avoid the Healers." She paused, and something in her silence had Link raising his head again. She raised her hand to him, her mouth quirked in a sly smile."Here. King Ganondorf asked me to give you something.”

Link shook his head like he could shake the odd thoughts away and blinked at the shining new object in Kali’s hands. Eyes widening, he scooped it up and stared at it. An emerald, as green as the forest, as big as his thumb, on a golden chain. He rubbed the gem and watched it sparkle. It was the same color as his Kokiri tunic, as the forest at midday, as the leaves of the Great Deku Tree before he died and the new Deku Tree was born. Link swallowed past the sudden tightness in his throat and pulled the necklace over his head. The pendant rested above his heart. He smiled a little and rubbed it again.

When he looked up again, Kali nodded at him. “Now let’s get moving before Healer Avila comes after you." Her eyes gleamed with that strange slyness again. "King Ganondorf will be pleased that you like his gift.”

Link’s hand faltered around the pendant. Oh.

The pendant remained a heavy weight on Link’s chest as they headed to the gate and Kali handed him a portion of dried meat and cold sausage. His hand kept moving back to the emerald. Even in the early dawn light it sparkled a vivid, deep green. He thought of riding Epona through the forest, her familiar form under him, feeling her muscles move, smelling the sweet flowers and damp earth and the flourishing green plants all around him. Kali kept looking at him, but Link refused to look back.

There was no point about thinking about any of that. There was so much to focus on. There was something waiting for him in the desert. Kotake and Koume waited for him within the fortress. He needed to focus on his quest.

Yet his hand kept moving back to the pendant, and Link kept thinking of the green forest so far away.

There was no sensation of being watched as Link followed Kali, but it didn’t help Link feel better. The guards nodded to them as they approached. There was none of the laughter Link remembered from his time. Vera didn’t wink at him. No one yelled good luck. Instead, the guards watched him with wary respect, like he was a beast Kali had brought to heel. With a nod, the guards opened the gate.

Link’s left knuckles itched. He scratched them against the pendent as he followed Kali outside. “We have tricks to cross the Haunted Wastelands,” Kali explained. “We show these to no outsider, nor any male besides the great Ganondorf, but for a servant of the Goddesses, we can make an exception.”

Resting one hand on his hip, Link cocked his head and waited. Kali grinned a too familiar grin at him and then whistled: one short, one long, one short again. Link wrinkled his nose at her but didn’t have time to wonder before the sand pulsed before them. Before he could do anything more than grab his sword, Kali held up her hand. “Peace, sa’ven.

The sand erupted before them, and Link gasped and jerked back. Only Kali’s steady hand kept Link still as a serpent as wide as Epona was long rose. And rose. And rose. It rose until it blocked out the sun, casting them in shadow. It hissed, tasting the air, and its fangs were very long and very white.

Peace , she said? Link glanced back at Kali, but the Gerudo’s grin remained firmly in place. Link eased his grip on his sword and studied the creature. From its great height, it stared back at Link, pitch black eyes unblinking. Its color reminded Link of the wolf from yesterday, but dull whereas the wolf seemed to glow. With a low hiss, it flicked its tongue at them, thick as Link's arm.

Link had a bad feeling about this.

“So, little one,” Kali asked cheerfully, “have you ever ridden a snake before?”

xoxoxox

An indeterminate period later, they arrived at the Spirit Temple. Link’s new outfit was covered in sand, and Kali was trying to drag him away from the serpent.

That had been much better than his longshot, and much nicer on his poor shoulder. He pet the snake on its crown like she was Epona, even as Kali pulled at his arm and grumbled about insane Hylians in Gerudo. Thanks to Nabooru, Link knew that phrase.

Suddenly, he felt it. Eyes on him.  A gaze like a burn on his sand-whipped skin. His pointed ears flicked and Link’s hand paused above the serpent’s head. Kali used the opportunity to yank him away.

As Kali dragged him toward the Desert Colossus, still grumbling, Link looked up to see the Goddess of the Sand. The Desert Goddess, Nabooru had told Link, a savage smile on her mouth. The Goddess looked out over the desert, protective and possessive, but Link felt her gaze on him. He frowned and studied her.

Zelda speculated once that the Desert Goddess might be one of Din’s forms. When asked, Nabooru had only laughed and would not explain why. Link had meant to ask again, but as time passed and he grew more worn, exhaustion replaced curiosity.

Still holding his arm, Kali paused. She looked up and inclined her head toward the statue. “Our goddess. Do you know of her?”

Link nodded, hesitated, and then waved his hand. A little. Enough? Something.

Kali grunted and studied his face. “The great Ganondorf believes you to be sent from the Goddesses to help our people, but some of the Elders believe you  are a spirit sent by the Hylian King to harm us.”

When Link cocked his head at her, Kali laughed and resumed dragging him toward the Colossus. “What do I believe? I believe you are not mischievous enough for a spirit and just contrary enough to be a servant of the Goddesses. Honestly, I think Kotake and Koume are getting senile. It’s rumored that they are almost five hundred years old!”

Fortunately, Kali’s attention had returned to the Desert Colossus and she didn’t see Link blanch. He remembered Ganondorf’s repeated comments about the Elders. Each comment now took an alarming cast.

Later. Link would deal with the twins later.

Link glanced back where they left the serpent and remembered meeting Sheik. He also remembered the Great Fairy’s Fountain. He needed to investigate that. Perhaps she would be able to help him. He saw flashes of the green of leevers searching for prey. Link frowned and cocked his head. It was odd that the leevers hadn’t approached earlier. Perhaps the sand snakes were also good at deterring monsters.

Then they were in the Temple. Link automatically brought up his shield as the two pots rose and flew at him. Only after they shattered did he notice Kali eyeing him. She held her rapier before her, ready to deflect the no longer imminent pots. Link shrugged at her and returned his shield to his back. After several more moments, Kali shrugged too, and walked forward.

“There is more to this temple, but few know how to access it,” Kali said as they enter the temple proper. Link nodded and studied the giant serpent statues holding their signs. The signs always disturbed him in how specific they were. For the sake of his sanity, he tried not to think about it too much. “We believe that these riddles tell us how to go deeper. However, they seem like nonsense.”

Of course they would, unless someone wielded the Song of Time. Link thought he could hear it now as he walked by Kali to sit on the steps. To his right was the hole where he had crawled to get the Silver Gauntlets. To his left was the heavy stone blocking the temple entrance.

Link felt her staring at him. He closed his eyes and tilted his head back. Over the years he'd gotten used to people staring at him like he was odd or insane. His accent was strange. He didn’t act like a child. He was too curious about the wrong things. As he grew older, people stopped treating him like a strange child and instead dismissed him as an odd traveler. It hurt sometimes, but it made it easier to focus on other things. Like his duty.

Even if he lacked Zelda’s understanding of the divine magics of these temples and holy places, it didn’t affect his own sensitivity to them. If anything, being raised in the Kokiri Forest under the protection of the Great Deku Tree and so close to the Lost Woods left Link confused by places untouched by magic. He felt the magic innate to the Spirit Temple now. He also felt its restless hum, the temple awaiting its Sage.

Nabooru...would she awaken as a Sage? Would it be necessary?

That didn’t matter. He had other things to worry about.

“No,” Kali said, and something in her voice jarred him. “The Elders are wrong. You have been sent here by the Goddesses. I can see that, sa’ven .”

Link blinked at her and tilted his head in confusion. She smiled and bowed, placing a small bag on the stairs. “I will leave you to your meditation. After so long a ride, please remember to drink and eat something.”

Meditation? Confused, Link watched her leave, and then looked around the temple again. That was it? They didn’t want him to figure out how to get into the temple? They didn’t want him to get the gauntlets for them? They just wanted him to meditate? Sighing, he let his head drop forward.

Link did try. At first. It ended exactly as it had when Zelda tried to teach him in the Temple of Time: with Link on his feet, swinging his sword. He transitioned from that to full practice, wielding his sword like he fought an imaginary foe. His ribs throbbed and his left wrist ached, but Link ignored that. The temple was also much hotter than the underground room with Din’s Trial, so it took no time for sweat to soak his new clothes. Link kept having to pause and drink the water Kali had left him, to close his eyes until the white spots flickering around him faded out. But as time passed and the energy of the temple hummed through him it became easier to keep moving, to ignore the lightness in his head and the sticky heaviness of his clothes as he swung and thrust.

Link had no idea how long this went on before he felt eyes on him again. He spun and pointed his sword at Ganondorf, framed in the temple entrance. In response, Ganondorf grinned at him with too many teeth and applauded. The Gerudo was just as sweaty and filthy as Link, and Link wondered if he had come here straight from the field. Why would he do that?

“Magnificent,” Ganondorf said, the warmth in his voice baffling. It also contrasted with how he pulled out his own rapier and pointed it at Link. Link’s breath caught in his chest. “Fight with me?”

Waves of darkness Navi fleeing deep laughter echoing through the room Ganondorf rising the floor falling

Link’s hand convulsed, and he watched his sword clatter to the floor. He stared at his hand, knuckles still bruised, and remembered the Triforce of Courage glowing. Resonating , Ganondorf had said. He swallowed and looked away.

Link’s breathing seemed too loud in the silence that followed. He swallowed again and his throat clicked. Still not looking at Ganondorf, Link walked to the bag of supplies and grabbed a fresh bottle of water. It opened with a pop, and he drank it while looking at the statue, holding the cork tight in his right hand.

Ganondorf’s voice cut through the silence. “My apologies. That was rude of me. The Healers told me that you need rest, not for me to engage you in fighting.”

Link’s chest hurt as Ganondorf walked toward him. As always, the Gerudo loomed over him. When Link first met him as a child, it made sense. Later, he thought it due to the malice that thickened the air and swarmed around the man. Now he knew it was Ganondorf’s impressive height and the force of his charisma.

Even as Link stared at the statue, he felt Ganondorf watching him, studying him. What was he expecting to see? What had he already seen? Link took another drink and almost choked on it when Ganondorf reached out toward him. Ganondorf stood still, hand still extended, and Link realized he was waiting for his permission. Curiosity made him nod. Then he watched as Ganondorf cupped Link’s right hand and held it up.

Blood trickled down Link’s wrist from where he had dug his nails into his palm. Link exhaled slowly and forced his fingers to relax. He hadn’t even realized he had done it.

To Link’s surprise, Ganondorf didn’t release his hand. Instead, he rubbed Link’s bloody wrist with his thumb. His face was dark, his jaw tense, his smile from before gone. Also to Link’s surprise, he realized he found he didn’t like that. “Will this be a problem?” Ganondorf asked quietly.

Link blinked at him. Why would it be? He used his left hand, and such small marks wouldn’t affect anything he did use his right hand for.

Ganondorf squeezed Link’s hand with shocking gentleness before releasing it. “Never mind. I see that you are wearing the pendant. Do you like it?”

Raising his hand to touch it, Link remembered about the blood and used the remaining water in the bottle to clean his hand instead. He nodded and tried to smile. The shadows on Ganondorf’s face eased.

Then the hunger from before took its place, and Ganondorf’s smile chilled him. Link turned back to the statue. “They were hunting for the Triforce. The Hylian raiders. The mere rumor of it years ago started this. The desert is safe, as many believe it is hidden somewhere close to Hyrule Field. The Hylians in particular refuse to believe that it could be in the land of the Gerudo...or even in the land of the Zora or Gorons. No. They believe it to be in the heart of Hylian territory, the entrance blessed by the Goddesses.”

Staring at the snake statue, Link said nothing. Raiders seeking the Triforce had killed his parents, according to the Deku Tree. The raiders’ race didn’t matter. They were the ones who started Link’s path, helped place him in the forest with no kin or people.

Were his parents already dead? He tried to imagine their faces sometimes but couldn’t do it. The concept of parents seemed alien to him enough.

Later, Ganondorf’s own quest for the Triforce would kill the closest thing to a parent Link ever knew.

“As I’m sure you are aware, I, too, seek the Triforce.” Startled, Link looked at Ganondorf. Now it was Ganondorf’s turn to stare at the snake statue, with its odd and disturbing sign. If you want to travel in the future, you should return here with the power of silver from the past. “By now you have seen how harsh and forbidding the desert is. My people have fought to make a home here, but where the wind breathes life throughout the rest of the land, here it only means death.” Ganondorf smiled, a small and wry thing. “If I could lay hands on the Triforce and make my wish...perhaps my people, too, could have that sweet wind.”

Something ached inside Link, and he wrapped his arms around himself. That wish had changed into something hideous. That sweet wind for the desert had transformed into something deadly for all of the land, from a nurturing breeze into a tornado.

Ganondorf nodded at the statue. “This reveals how to enter the temple itself. I don’t understand it, but my mothers know how to gain access to the inner sanctum. They’ve promised to take me there when the time is right.”

And that was how Ganondorf’s wish had changed. Link frowned. Koume and Kotake...but he was still missing something. He knew it.

“Come,” Ganondorf said, stepping away. Link breathed a little easier, overwhelmed by how much space the Gerudo seemed to take up. It was like standing next to a sandstorm. “The others are waiting. It is time to return to the Fortress.”

After Link gathered his things, including his dropped sword, and followed Ganondorf out, he was surprised to see the sun descending in the sky. After noon. No wonder he was so thirsty. Ganondorf waited while he grabbed another bottle and drank some more water. After grabbing some jerky and fruit, Link followed Ganondorf.

Kali stood with Nabooru and several of the Gerudo from yesterday. There were no sign of any horses, so Link assumed they and the rest of the Gerudo were at the Fortress. Kali greeted him with a smile and a nod, and Nabooru raised her rapier to them both before turning back to the desert. Now that Link was closer, he could hear her whistling.

“Odd.” Ganondorf frowned and sped up his steps. Link had to jog to keep up. “The sand snakes aren’t responding.”

Two other Gerudo whistled, too, with no response. Kali nodded at them both when they approached. “We think there’s a sandstorm to the west. That would affect their ability to find us.”

Ganondorf grunted and crossed his arms over his chest. Link left them to their discussion and wandered away from the Desert Colossus. He looked out to the desert but saw no sign of the storm. He did see that the palm trees beside the Great Fairy’s Fountain was still. He looked to the other side, toward the oasis, and saw those trees were still, as well. He stepped out onto the sand and waited. No leevers. No snakes, no leevers. He looked up to the trees again. No guay, either.

Trap.

Link spun around, and something in his face had Ganondorf whipping out his rapier and shouting to the others before Link could say a word. Link managed two steps forward before the ground erupted beneath him. He cursed and leaped backwards.

Spiders. Massive beasts each the size of a pony. They tore from the ground, metallic bodies gleaming. One after another they clawed from the desert until almost a dozen separated Link from the Gerudo. Link yanked out his sword but had no chance to use it.

In hindsight, the ring of fire was not surprising at all. Ganondorf roared in rage but Link couldn’t make out his words. The spiders ran away from the fire, right toward the Gerudo. Link cried out in warning but couldn’t do more before something clanked behind him.

Link whipped around and held out his sword. His eyes widened.

Standing in the ring of fire with him, the Iron Knuckle lumbered to its feet. It held out its hand, and in a flash of crimson magic, a massive axe exploded into existence in its grip. With a roar, it raised the axe and charged forward.

Chapter Text

Trapped with an Iron Knuckle in a ring of fire, with a horde of giant spiders just outside. With his own sword in his hand and his own shield at his back Link felt a smile tug at the corner of his mouth. He swung his sword once, testing, before the monster swung its axe at his face. A good weight, a good balance, an extension of his arm. Familiar fire raced through his veins.

Someone -- Ganondorf? -- roared behind him, but Link didn’t bother looking at him. Link bared his teeth and moved. Strong but slow, and Link leaped over the axe, swinging his sword at the Iron Knuckle’s face. His sword struck the metal armor. The monster roared even as the impact shook up his arm. Pain burned in his left hand and wrist. Link leaped to the side and held the sword with both hands.

He had been hurt in the cave with Epona. He remembered that now. The feel of the fire soothing his aching wounds --

Later .

The Iron Knuckle lumbered after Link. The fire reduced Link’s own range of movement. All manageable. The Iron Knuckle swung and Link ducked under the axe, feeling it swoosh over his head. He rolled so he was right behind it.  Shrieking a wild battle cry, Link leaped and slammed his sword onto the creature’s back.

With a pained roar, it swung and missed Link by inches. He rolled out of the way, trying to come up behind it again. The sand clung to his sweaty skin. It stung the knuckles of his left hand. Manageable, all manageable. Familiar adrenaline swept away the aches and worries.

When the rest of the world was dizzying and baffling, battle made sense. A monster at his throat and his sword in his hand. This made sense.

Crying out again, Link threw himself forward, just missing the axe swiping past him. He felt the breeze and rolled again behind the monster. Jump attack and then dodge, jump attack and then dodge. A lucky slice across his bare torso and someone howling behind him and then Link was dodging again, attacking again.

This monster was sent to kill him, probably from Kotake and Koume, possibly from another source, and Link was grateful. This was so much easier than Ganondorf beside him as an ally and Nabooru staring at him like he was a stranger.

The memory of Ganondorf’s hands cupping his own bleeding hand fanned something inside Link. He backflipped so the fire was just behind him, giving him a little room between him and the Iron Knuckle. Somewhere in the far distance, Link heard the battle rage between the Gerudo and the spiders, but later, later , and he focused on the Iron Knuckle turning its giant body toward him. It started slowly, metal boot clanking in the sand, before gaining speed. Link held his sword in his hands and focused. Blood slicked the handle.

Not the Master Sword but still enough, powered by magic and fury. As the Iron Knuckle roared and charged, Link released the power in a sharp spin.

Power blazed in a white light, almost blinding. The monster shrieked and fell backward, and Link finished his spin with one foot braced behind him. Before the Iron Knuckle could regain its footing, Link ran forward and leaped, holding his sword above his head. It shone in the sunlight like it was the Master Sword. For a moment Link swore he could feel its divine power fill him, before he slammed his sword through the Iron Knuckle’s helmet.

Its shriek hurt his sensitive ears. Link leaped back in time to avoid one last awkward swing of its axe. It stumbled and then fell to its knees. A wrenching sense of foreboding seized Link as he stepped back and watched.

Around them, the fire fwooshed out. The broken helmet fell in shards to the ground, vanishing in a flare of magic. Another piece and another piece fell, all but one shard flashing away. It glimmered white against the sand. The part of Link that survived through the items salvaged in dungeons throughout the world noted its magical radiance and odd edges: clearly a part of something. The rest of him fixated on the Gerudo girl tumbling to her knees in the sand.

Nabooru fell to her hands and knees so confused and scared and the twins were there laughing and Link could only watch again --

She panted and looked up at Link with wide, frightened eyes. Deja vu curled through Link like poison ivy. “Where am I?” she asked, and Link almost screamed.

He took a step toward her. When he realized the twins weren’t going to swoop in, take her away like they had Nabooru, Link jogged to her side. He absently snagged the shard before helping her into a sitting position. She allowed it, even as she stared at him like he was an odd spirit. He wanted to tell her everything would be all right. Instead, he trapped his screams behind his teeth and looked her over for injuries.

More shrieks behind him. The spiders , how did he forget? He jerked around, one hand protectively on her shoulder, the other holding his sword between them and any possible threat. His heart pounding against his ribs, Link watched as the remaining spiders vanished in puffs of smoke.

All visible threats were gone, but Link knew the twins were watching. They couldn’t act with so many eyes on them, but he knew them. They were somewhere, beyond his sight. What would they do with this failed scheme?

Nabooru shouted something to the other Gerudo ( she was fine, she was fine ), who fanned out with their weapons still drawn. Kali stood beside her. Link blinked. He expected her to join him.

Then he noticed Ganondorf running toward him, and it made more sense. Link’s breath caught and he tightened his grip on his sword at the look on Ganondorf’s face. Rage like a storm darkened his face, and his eyes burned like coals. Ally, ally, ally , he chanted to himself, except the last time he saw Ganondorf like that, Link had defeated him and Ganondorf rose and used --

Stop it! Breathing hard, Link forced himself to put his sword back. When he moved, he felt Ganondorf’s pendant tap his chest. He turned back to the young Gerudo, but the confusion on her face didn’t help.

“Where am I?” she repeated.

Ganondorf knelt beside them, his rage battering at Link. Still, when he touched Link’s shoulder, his fingers were light, a gentle brush before settling. “You’re wounded,” he said, and the fury in his voice was tempered like a sword.

Wounded? Oh. Link looked down to see blood still trickling in a thin wave down his torso. No real damage, Link assessed. A flesh wound. A bloody flesh wound, but still a flesh wound.

The hand moved from Link’s shoulder to brush Link’s chin. Link looked back up at Ganondorf. The Gerudo’s eyes still burned like Din’s fire. “My apologies.” His hand drifted back down, the back of his fingers brushing the green pendant. “I couldn’t reach you.”

Before Link could respond, the woman moaned. Ganondorf stilled. He stared at the woman, and Link looked down to see the Gerudo blinking dazedly at them. “Ziela.”

A sharp whistle cut through the air. Both Link and Ganondorf turned, weapons out, to see Nabooru call a sand snake. The other Gerudo whistled, and more sand snakes arose. Link relaxed.

“What,” Ganondorf asked, and his voice was so low and dark that Link’s hand twitched for his blade, “is happening here, Link?”

Link clenched his jaw. He didn’t know, but by the Goddesses he was going to find out.

xoxoxox

When they returned to the Fortress, Ganondorf whisked Ziela and the Healer Avila away, while Kali stayed with Link. His wounds were cleaned and wrapped. The cut across his torso bled freely but was shallow. His right palm was a bloody mess but was dealt with quickly. Kali offered to escort him back to his room for rest, but Link walked outside instead.

He craved gentle forest breezes, the soothing scent of the leaves. Failing that, any fresh air would do.

The Gerudo watched Link as he passed them. It reminded him of the Lost Woods, where the feeling of eyes ever lingered, spirits whispering just out of sight. He hated it. Link rode in, completed whatever tasks the Goddesses set for him, and left without anyone suspecting anything about the odd traveler. Some part of him despised that. Even as it provided him with the anonymity necessary to complete his duty, it meant no one realized what he had done, what was out there. Without anyone knowing all that, Link’s story remained unknown, every skill and bit of knowledge gained destined to die with him. The thought chilled him like little else, but he also hadn’t realized how comforting that anonymity was.

Skin crawling, Link walked until he reached a ledge high enough to overlook the desert. There he sat, and without hesitation, Kali sat beside him.

The sun sank into the far horizon. Without its heat, a chill sank into the air, into Link’s bones. Around them, the Gerudo began lighting torches to stave off the darkness. Link let his legs dangle over the ledge as he watched the desert transform into a black ocean. It wasn’t his forest, but there was still something enchanting about Din’s majesty.

“It is beautiful, is it not, sa’ven ?” Kali murmured. Focused on the desert, Link nodded.

Somewhere, the wolves began howling. Link closed his eyes and listened to them. One would howl, and the rest would respond. Not alone, not alone . One of a pack. Soothing, unless you were the one being hunted.

“It’s said that there is a Great Fairy out there, somewhere amidst the sand,” Kali said, and Link opened his eyes and turned to her. She sounded wistful like he hadn’t heard before. He raised an eyebrow at her. “It’s probably just a myth, but if it was true…”

Link nodded and turned back to the desert. Well, he had intended on seeing the Great Fairy, anyway. As long as no one stopped him from going back to the Temple, he would introduce Kali to her. Maybe she could also help clarify some things.

Like the Iron Knuckle and its odd prize. Link reached into his belt and pulled out the shard. The setting sun lit everything a burnished crimson, and the shard was no exception. Link frowned and studied it. Its edges were smooth, the shard itself a gentle curve before breaking off. It looked familiar, but Link couldn’t quite place it.

The Gerudo, Ziela, hadn’t looked familiar at all.

Trapped in the Iron Knuckle, probably by the twins...just like Nabooru had been. Link tried not to think about why he had never seen her and focused on the comparison to Nabooru. What were those two up to? Did Ziela know something? Was she fighting back like Nabooru had been?

“Where did you get that?” Kali asked. She leaned forward, and Link angled it toward the torchlight so she could get a better look. She grunted and cocked her head. “Did you get it from the temple?”

Link made a so-so gesture with his free hand. Kali brushed it with her fingers. “From the Iron Knuckle?” she guessed. When Link nodded, she grunted again and sat back. “Did you tell King Ganondorf about this?”

Link puffed out a soft breath and put it back in his bag. Why would he do that? He didn’t know anything about it yet. He might need it later, too.

To his surprise, Kali only sighed and tapped his pendant. “Lord Ganondorf will protect you from whatever demon seeks you. He will take care of you.”

If Link recalled that fight correctly, he took care of the Iron Knuckle without Ganondorf’s help. He grunted and pushed himself to his feet. He walked several meters before Kali joined him. To his annoyance, she tapped the pendant again. “He will protect you,” Kali insisted. “He will ensure your safety from both the monsters and the Elders.”

Link clenched his fists again, only to relax his hands when his knuckles dug into bandages. He hadn’t even thought about that. Kotake and Koume didn’t just have monsters on their side: what if they advocated for his execution? What would he do then? He wished he could just go up to them and kill them. Enough of this nonsense.

And was that what the pendant meant? A promise of protection?

Perhaps noticing Link’s distress, Kali rested her hand on his shoulder. “Come. Let us eat, and then you should rest. Tomorrow, if we are permitted, we will return to the Temple.”

Another howl echoed through the desert, and Link turned before he noticed there were no other howls echoing after the first. He knew what he would see before he even focused on it.

Except Link wasn’t expecting the beast to glow. It stood on one of the dunes, a star fragment amidst the black sands, and horror settled in Link’s gut as he stared at the golden wolf. It flicked its tail in a manner reminiscent of Epona, and then it ran into the desert. Back toward the Spirit Temple.

Link clenched his jaw. Was that creature connected to the twins? They had access to the Spirit Temple. Was the Spirit Temple a trap? Except the twins didn’t attack him until he left .

Even if he couldn’t get permission in light of this most recent attack, Link knew he had to go back there.

“I sometimes wonder what you see, sa’ven ,” Kali murmured. “And then you get that look on your face, and I don’t wonder anymore.”

Chapter Text

In the morning, there was no sign of Ganondorf, Nabooru, or the Gerudo who had been trapped in the armor. Kali informed Link that the meeting had adjourned sometime in the night, but she knew nothing beyond that.

“Lord Ganondorf rode out with some riders out for a raid afterwards,” Kali mused, leading Link deeper into the fortress. Kali was taking Link to another shrine, she said, as the temple was temporarily off limits. “He seemed enraged. The Elders seemed disturbed.”

And Kotake? Koume? Link wanted to ask, but he bit his tongue. Once, when he was a child, Mido caught him sleeping and diverted a line of ants to walk over him. He woke up covered in ants and screamed until Saria helped him get them off. He felt that way now, except the ants seemed under his skin, creeping over bone. Now his scream remained trapped in his throat. Wait wait wait , with Kali acting as his leash.

At any moment, the twins could attack again. Worse, they could convince the other Gerudo that Link needed to die. What could Link do then?

Well… At least then he would be free to attack them head-on.

This shrine, like Din’s Trial, lay beyond what was acceptable for a male Hylian to travel. At least, before it was. Now the guards let him pass with wary nods that set the ants to biting bone and nerves.

To Link’s surprise, the path led to a small opening leading outside. The small altar, decorated with Din’s sigil and lit by a small torch to its right, was nestled in an alcove between the fortress and the mountain. Unlike the altar at Din’s Trial, nothing rested on this one but flowers. The space was just large enough for Link, Kali, and an unfamiliar Gerudo who knelt before the altar. To Link’s displeasure, he noted that it was too small for him to practice with his sword.

Kali paused at the entrance and started rummaging through the bag hanging off her belt. Link focused on her, shifting so his back was to the other Gerudo. The sight of her praying bothered in him a way he couldn’t describe.

“Bora was able to find this for you,” Kali whispered, handing something to him. Link’s heart leaped in his chest. His hands trembled as he clasped the object. “If you need anything else, let me know. This was easy to find.”

Excitement thrilled through him as Link examined his new ocarina. Clay, he guessed, painted so it resembled onyx, and it was one of the most beautiful things he had ever seen. A smile tugging at his lips, Link raised the ocarina to his mouth and tested a few notes. They rang through the air like wind through the leaves, like water over stone, and something relaxed in him that he hadn’t realized was tight. To further test it, he played Saria’s song, closing his eyes and letting the music flow over him. He didn’t realize he was swaying with the music until Kali laughed at him. Heat flushing his cheeks, Link opened his eyes and lowered the ocarina again.

“No, sa’ven . Continue, please.” Link started and turned to face the praying Gerudo woman. She stood now, hands clasped in front of her, a smile on her unfamiliar face. Lines edged deep along her mouth and eyes, and even her smile did nothing to relieve the weariness from her dark eyes. “That was such a joyful song. I fear we are lacking joy in these dark days.”

Kali frowned and stepped forward. “Nebu. What’s wrong?”

Nebu sighed, and Link knew then that she was dead in his time. He knew it like he knew Zelda’s eyes the first time they met, like how he knew the Master Sword the first time he gripped it. Link tightened his grip on his ocarina. If playing it helped her feeling better, then he would play more.

“The underground spring is running dry.” Nebu raised her hands as if in prayer before letting them drop again. “Our ice storage is also getting low. The Zora queen used to be an ally in this, but with her passing and the war, we are running out of options and resources.” Her sigh quivered in the air. “I was praying to the goddess --”

Nebu’s eyes widened. She raised her hands to her chest again and stared at Link with wide eyes, enough urgency in them to make Link take a step back. “They say you are a servant of the goddesses. Surely you can help with this.”

In Link’s peripheral vision, he saw Kali grimace and step forward. “Nebu, I don’t think --”

But with a familiar song in his heart, Link was already pressing his ocarina to his mouth. They needed water? For once, something easy!

Both Gerudo jumped when he started playing. Link’s feet moved in a bouncy dance Saria taught him years ago as the Song of Storms built and spiraled until it reached the skies. When thunder cracked the air, Kali shouted and Nebu laughed, and the rain began to fall.

Link played and danced, played and danced, and Nebu laughed and danced with him, years stripped from her face. Rain streaming down her face, Kali just watched him even as Nebu encouraged her to dance, too. Water turned the sand into mud. It pooled on the altar and on the ground when the sand refused to soak up anymore. Nebu splashed in it and mud soaked hers and Link’s bare legs.

Link played until he was breathless, and as the last notes of the song faded away, so did the storm. He lowered his ocarina and grinned at both Gerudo. He always remembered the Hylian at the windmill shrieking at him when he played the song there, the male’s face growing red as a Goron ruby. He had been furious .

“I prayed to the goddesses for rain, and they sent me you.” To Link’s horror, Nebu jumped over a puddle and yanked him into her arms. She hugged him so hard he swore he heard his ribs creak. Then she pulled back and grinned at Kali and Link. “I must tell the others. You are truly a servant of the goddesses.”

While Link stared, dazed, after her vanishing form, Kali laughed and crossed her arms. She shook her head at him. “Now that I didn’t know you could do. What else can you do, sa’ven ?”

There was a calculating gleam in her eyes that Link disliked, but Link only shrugged and raised the ocarina again. At the first opportunity, he was going to warp both of them to the Spirit Temple.

Perhaps, at a different time...to the Forest Temple, too.

xoxoxox

Due to the area (and Link) being soaked, Kali escorted him back to his room and provided him with fresh clothing. She also insisted on checking with the Healers and grabbing a small lunch. Then Link found himself again on the wall overlooking the desert, staring in the direction of the Spirit Temple. There was no sign of the mysterious wolf: nothing beyond the occasional bird.

Trying to figure out how to get inside the temple proved a weak distraction. The storm had swept over the entire fortress, and Nebu spread the word who was responsible. Many Gerudo still looked at him with curiosity and wariness, but others looked at him with awe . If Link had known they would do that, he would have… Well, he still would have done it, but quieter.

The ants were back, crawling under his skin. Link shifted on the hot stone and felt sweat trickle down his spine. Surely the goddesses didn’t expect him to just sit there? Even if the Healers did. He was lectured on getting enough rest, of all things. He would rest when he was dead.

The ants turned into ice chips, and Link shivered and wrapped his arms over his knees. Kali noticed and frowned at him. “All right, sa’ven ?”

For the last half hour, as they stared into the desert, Kali hadn’t spoken. When she finally did, it was to ask him if he was all right. Link shook his head. At Nabooru’s behest, Link had played the Song of Storms for them before. The Gerudo had laughed and treated it like a party trick. They asked him if he could make it rain some strong spirits next. The difference between being a strange traveling warrior and a divine servant.

Behind them, shouts rang out and someone cheered. Kali looked back and then climbed to her feet. “Come. The king has returned. I’m sure he would like to see you.”

But why ? Link sighed and pushed himself up. This inaction was tiring him more than any amount of fighting could. The Healers insisted he rest. Perhaps he could go back to his room and sleep. Navi had always called him --

Link cut off that thought. He was too tired for it right then.

Indeed, Ganondorf, Nabooru, and half a dozen other Gerudo stood in the courtyard. Ganondorf and Nabooru stood by their horses, talking quietly between themselves, while the other Gerudo led their horses to the stable.

They were covered in blood.

Link couldn’t deal with that, either. Worn and numb, Link ignored them and walked to Ganondorf’s giant of a horse while Kali went to the pair. He pulled out a dried apple from his lunch and offered it to the horse. While the stallion sniffed it, Link studied him. Like Ganondorf, the beast was dressed differently than when Link had first met him. Then the horse had been covered in terrifying metal armor, eyes burning like fire. Now he was dressed more casually, with the bright colors Link associated with the Gerudo, and his sharp eyes gleamed amber, not blood red.

The Gerudo fell quiet when the horse started eating the apple out of Link’s hand. Link used the opportunity to stroke down from his forehead to his velvety muzzle. The horse snickered at him, and Link tried to smile back. He suddenly missed Epona so much it hurt.

Thinking of her, Link stepped back and pulled out his ocarina. Now the entire courtyard fell silent. Link ignored them and focused on the familiar notes.

The first time he played this song, Epona ran up to Link like they had been friends forever. No matter where Link traveled, Epona remained loyally with him, until this mess.

The goddesses took everyone away from Link. Why did they take her, too?

A horse snickered, and Link jerked his head away in time to avoid a loving horse headbutt to the face. Nabooru’s horse whickered at him. This time, the smile came easier, and Link put away his ocarina to pet both horses.

Epona had liked the horses here.

“Remarkable,” Nabooru said. The three Gerudo stood in a triangle, watching them. “I’ve never seen either horse take to a stranger that quickly.”

Link shrugged. Horses were easy. People were hard.

Ganondorf crossed his arms across his chest and studied him. “You are turning red, little Hylian.”

Red? What?

Kali gasped and hurried forward. “You’re burning! We have been in the sun too long. Come, let’s go to the Healers so you can get something for your skin. You’re going to need something to drink, too.”

Link glared and tried to resist, but the Gerudo were a deceptively strong race. Within minutes, he was back on the bed that Avila mockingly called his , while Kali smeared the gel over his heated skin. Link squirmed to the point that a younger Gerudo offered to help him keep still. Another Healer yanked her back, hissing something about the goddesses, but it was a good enough threat to keep Link from moving.

Thus sunburnt, covered in gel, and humiliated, Link found himself back in his room, with Ganondorf, Kali, and Nabooru in tow. Kali pushed him into drinking water, which gave Link horrific flashbacks to her pushing food at him which would supposedly “help his seed.” Ganondorf graciously waited until he was drinking his second mug of water to say, “My mothers advocated for your death at the meeting.”

To Link’s credit, he only choked a little on his water. He coughed and wiped at his mouth while Nabooru gave Ganondorf the evil eye. Ganondorf was unmoved.

“They remain convinced that you are a creature sent by the Hylian king. I fear their hatred of Hylians blind them to all other facts.” Ganondorf’s gaze fell to the pendant still on Link’s neck. “You, of course, remain under my protection.”

So the pendant was that: a mark of Ganondorf’s protection. Link shook his head and sipped more water.

“I believe the attacks are from the Hylian king.” Link choked on the water again. Kali not so helpfully pounded his back. Ganondorf didn’t blink. “He is convinced that the Triforce remains safely in his territory, under the protection of the royal Hylian family. He jealously guards all knowledge of the Triforce. A servant of the goddesses --”

Enough. Link put down his mug. “He is not a member of the royal family. He has no claim to the Triforce.”

Ganondorf started. Then his eyes gleamed with a vicious hunger, and Link heard a wolf’s aching howl. “You know of these things then?”

Link looked away at the floor. Ally, ally , but the word echoed uselessly in his mind. “The royal line is mother to daughter. He has no divine claim.”

“Of course a servant of the goddesses would have knowledge of the Triforce.” Even looking away, Link felt it when Ganondorf leaned forward. The force of his presence pushed at Link, pressing against his chest. “You can help us with this. The power of the goddesses can be ours!”

Link leaped back, and the clatter of his chair against the stone floor seemed too loud in the sudden silence. He didn’t look at any of them, instead walking toward his bed.

“Link…” The fierce hunger was gone, and Ganondorf sounded pained. “Of course I wouldn’t --”

“I’m tired,” was all Link said. It was one of the truest things he ever said.

Silence, and then the scraping of chairs. “Yes. Of course. We will leave you to rest.”

Link didn’t watch them leave. He knew without looking that Kali would stop just outside his door and stay there. He didn’t know about Ganondorf and Nabooru.

That night, he dreamed of the wolf again, and he awoke lost in grief and fear.

Chapter Text

In the morning, still banned from the Spirit Temple, Kali escorted Link back to the small shrine where he met Nebu. He had no idea what they hoped to accomplish having him go to the temple and the shrine. No one explained to him what they wanted from it. Meditate, Kali said at the Spirit Temple. On what? To accomplish what?

Walking past the staring Gerudo didn’t help matters. The watching from before had grown worse. They whispered when he passed them, but that wasn’t new. The assessment was, similar to how Ganondorf looked at him like if he just looked hard enough, he could read Link like a scroll. Even Kali did it, though she would like away when Link glanced her direction.

Did they view him as a possible weapon? Was that what they wanted from him?

Was that what the Goddesses wanted from him?

Disturbed and chilled to the point that even the desert heat didn’t help, Link bit back a groan when he saw Nebu and two Gerudo at the shrine. Nebu knelt at the shrine again, the two other Gerudo standing and flanking her. He recognized the one on the right: Sharice. The one on the left looked vaguely familiar. Sharice nodded at Link and looked him over in the same movement, and Link wanted to tell her that there was nothing to see. There was no point, though. People saw what they wanted to see. Then Sharice cleared her throat, and Nebu jumped up.

“Link! I hoped to see you back here!” Nebu grinned at him, and Link smiled back. She looked better than she had yesterday, a new lightness to her features. At least there was someone he had helped. “I cannot express my gratitude enough for bringing the rain yesterday.” Her grin grew hopeful. Link shifted from right foot to left. Kali rested her hand against his back like he might flee. “If it is not too much to ask, could you do it again? I told my sisters of your great feat, but they struggle to believe it.”

The unknown Gerudo grunted and rested her hand on her hip. “You are said to be a servant of the Goddesses, and we have seen much magic, but calling water so easily from the sky? With just a song? That is difficult to believe.”

They hadn’t disbelieved before . Of course, Link always wondered what Nabooru had told them and he had to perform some odd feats before they gave him his second membership card (with that card lost in time just like the first one was). There was also the incident when he drunkenly warped in front of them.

It didn’t matter. This was an easy request. He pulled his ocarina and, under the sharp eyes of the four Gerudo women, Link played the Song of Storms again.

Link was good at killing. Impa referred to him once as Hylia’s weapon and another time as Farore’s swift-footed wolf. Before he even left the forest, he learned that killing was sometimes necessary to save others. He killed through different lands and different times. He killed normal creatures and cursed beasts. Sometimes he even enjoyed the familiarity of it when everything else seemed so foreign.

But this … He played his ocarina and watched Nebu throw her head back and laugh when thunder cracked the sky. He began to dance with the song and the patter of rain and watched the two new Gerudo start when the water hit them. Like before, Nebu danced with him, laughing in time with the music. The unknown Gerudo lifted her hands to the sky like the rain wasn’t pelting her entire body, like she had to see it in her hands to believe it. Sharice stared at him the entire time even as water ran down her face. Disbelief and awe warred on her features.

Link had no idea what made the rain awe-inspiring in this time when it was just a party trick in his other time. Still, their delight reminded him of the Kokiri dancing around the Great Deku Tree, before Ganondorf invaded the forest, and he smiled as he played. Just this could be enough.

He played until he was breathless again. Link panted when he lowered the ocarina, a heaviness seeping out from his chest into his bones: a warning not to overdraw his magic. It didn’t affect his smile as he looked at Nebu. Her face remained raised to the heavens, catching the final drops of rain. Link’s smile softened.

Link didn’t know how she died in his timeline, but he was determined that it wouldn’t happen in this one.

“There are rumors about you, Hylian,” Sharice breathed, and Link raised an eyebrow at her. “Our king told us that you passed Din’s Trial and that you were sent to us by the goddesses to help us. Mebuda said that you fought off an Iron Knuckle single-handedly in the desert. But to call water from the sky when we need it the most…?”

Need it the most? Link frowned. Had the drought been that bad? No one had ever mentioned it to him, in this time or in the other time.

“They say that Ziela was cursed in that armor and you saved her,” the other Gerudo added. She touched the water pooling on the altar, like she didn’t believe it was there. Link squinted at it. The water wasn’t settled on the altar, but in the altar. The Gerudo’s touch made the water ripple against the subtle slope of the indent. “Some of the Elders insist you are a foul fey but I don’t see it. Not now.”

It occurred to Link that he heard nothing from Kali. He turned to see her with her hands cupped in front of her, water dripping from the cracks between her fingers. Instead of watching the water, though, Kali stared at him, dark eyes sharp and calculating. When Link caught her gaze, her eyes flitted to the water in her hands, like she had not looked at him at all. Link frowned at her before looking back at the other Gerudo.

Sharice and the other Gerudo was whispering over the altar, but Nebu still smiled at him, water dripping from her dark skin. She nodded at Link’s chest. He looked down and blinked at the necklace. Despite how shaken he still was this morning over Ganondorf, he couldn’t resist putting on that splash of green, that hint of the past he had left so far behind him. He reached up and rubbed the smooth emerald.

“I can see why our king chose you,” Nebu said warmly. “Between you two, I am sure the goddesses will bless our people once again, sa’ven .”

Link started. Chose? He looked down at the necklace again. Wait. What exactly did this necklace mean?

For that matter, what did sa’ven mean?

xoxoxox

Despite the rain, Kali insisted that he stay at the shrine this time. No one else came by, for which Link was grateful. There was still not enough room to swing a sword, so he took the time to study the altar. He had been correct: there was a smooth indent.

As if for a ball . Link ran his fingers over it, watching the last bits of water evaporate into the desert heat. He licked his lips and remembered that he could use more water, as well. He almost turned around to ask Kali for some and to ask about the indent, but he remained silent. Kali stepped back earlier to give him privacy. He didn’t want to deal with her studying him again or looking at him oddly. Silence was easier.

Verbal silence, at least. Making a mental note to follow up on the altar, Link placed his sword and shield against the altar. Then he sat cross-legged before it and pulled out his ocarina. The Song of Time was tempting, and it was terrifying because it was so tempting. Instead, he played Zelda’s Lullaby. With this song he could pray to the goddesses his way, rather than how Zelda and Impa taught him. He prayed like Saria taught him and Malon reinforced. His mouth and throat grew dry, his lips grew sore and cracked, but these were easy to ignore. Link played and imagined himself and the altar at the Colossus before the desert goddess.

Zelda’s Lullaby showed him the way in the past. He prayed it did again.

Yet even as he played Zelda’s Lullaby on his ocarina, he heard the Song of Time in his head. It crooned in a haunting repeat, echoing with every beat of his heart.

Had playing it brought him here in the first place? Had he played it on the royal ocarina? If so, what happened to that ocarina? What did he do with it?

Finally, Link stopped and folded forward, resting his head on the ground. The sand felt too rough on his forehead but Link didn’t care enough to move. His head pounded. He had no idea when that started.

Nothing from the goddesses. No guide, no word. All right. He had some leads. He had to get back to the Spirit Temple. He also had to see Ziela. She had been trapped in that armor for a reason. He had to find out why.

Link tried not to think of the wolf in the desert. That only made his head throb more.

“Link.” Link wished Ganondorf’s voice surprised him. He waited to be afraid, to be angry , but nothing happened. Perhaps he was too exhausted for it. “Kali said you have been playing for hours. You need water. You are dehydrated.”

I defeated you once , Link thought, but it brought him no satisfaction. Ganondorf sounded subdued , and it was so foreign that it convinced Link to sit up. Everything ached and spun when he did that. As Link blinked away the black spots, Ganondorf knelt in front of him. In one hand, he held a plate filled with dry meats, fruits and cheeses. In the other, he held a mug of water. Only then did Link realize how parched he was. When he licked his lips, his tongue scraped over them. Ganondorf frowned at him.

“You need to drink,” Ganondorf said, holding the mug closer to Link. Link waited for the dread response but it refused to come. When his hands trembled as he dropped his ocarina in his lap, it was exhaustion. Ganondorf tensed, gaze shifting to Link’s hands before moving back to Link’s face. He held himself very still as Link grabbed the mug. He waited until Link took several sips and lowered the mug to speak again. “I apologize for disturbing you last night. I let my ambitions cloud my judgment. I will work to receive your counsel more graciously.”

Link raised an eyebrow at him. Ganondorf said nothing more, though, nodding at the mug in his hands. Link took another drink, and only then did Ganondorf speak. He stared at Link like if he tried hard enough, he could see through him, see the song notes still playing in Link’s soul and figure them out even when Link couldn’t. Link stared down at the mug of water in his hands.

Several seconds later, he was grateful he had. “I do not know what happened to you before you came here, Link, and I hope one day you will share your tale. Know this: whoever it was, they were not me, and I assure you, no harm will come to you through any Gerudo.”

Link’s mind quieted. Everything quieted. He blinked at his water and just couldn’t think. He blinked again and nothing became clearer. He opened his mouth and nothing came out.

It was for the best, he decided. He thought he might start laughing. Or screaming.

This was why praying to the Goddesses was a terrible idea. They had a horrific sense of humor.

Ganondorf misread his silence. “Take your time. In the meantime, please eat. I brought you lunch.”

Link bit his lip against whatever was building in his throat. Carefully, he put his mug down and picked up his ocarina again. He started playing Zelda’s Lullaby.

The first notes of the Song of Time played instead.

Before he could stop himself, Link threw the ocarina into the wall. It thudded harshly, except it hadn’t . It had cracked --

Ganondorf touched Link’s hand, and Link flinched before he could stop himself. Ganondorf’s mouth tightened into a thin line. His voice remained steady when he spoke. “Let’s go back to your room, and you can eat and drink there. You have been praying all morning, and Kali said you made it rain again this morning. You need rest.”

Without answering, Link picked up the mug and sipped some more water. He couldn’t think. That damned song played over and over in his mind.

“I want to return to the temple,” he said at last, and his voice sounded rough to his ears, his Kokiri accent heavier than it had been in years. It brought no comfort to him. What had Ganondorf said when he first spoke to him? That he didn’t sound Hylian? Or maybe that was just how Link interpreted it.

To his relief, Ganondorf didn’t question him. He nodded. “Of course. For now, you need rest.”

Ganondorf’s hand brushed his necklace before settling at Link’s elbow. He moved cautiously, which Link appreciated. He thought he would actually punch him if Ganondorf moved too fast.

Behind Ganondorf, he saw Kali and Nabooru whispering to each other. Something about it itched at him, but Link was too tired to figure it out. Seeing Nabooru healthy and whole relaxed him a little. Nabooru looked back at him and cocked her head before grabbing Link’s sword and shield. Kali took the moment to walk over and grab the fallen ocarina.

When Link was on his feet, he shook off Ganondorf’s hand. Ganondorf dropped it but remained close to him. Link allowed it. He wanted to study Ganondorf, too.

No harm, Ganondorf swore repeatedly. What had changed?

More importantly, how much time did Link have to stop it?

Another name Impa had called him before he had left Hyrule last time: Hero of Time . Ridiculous. He didn’t even know what time he was in .

Focusing on that allowed him to ignore Ganondorf beside him and the whispers and eyes as they walked. Princess Zelda had been born at the end of the war. Right before the end of the war, the queen died, and the prince consort named himself King. As King, he ended the war. The Zora had also lost their queen, and King Zora was in mourning. Link wasn’t sure what the Gorons had been doing. He was always told “Don’t worry yourself, Brother,” when he tried to find out.

If Link was right, he had been born at the end of the war. Not that that was helpful.

The twins were already plotting. They had been the ones to help Ganondorf down his dark path. What was Link missing?

When they reached Link’s room, Link sat on the bed and watched Ganondorf put the plate on the table. He studied Ganondorf. The Gerudo maintained his strong presence, even as he sat in a chair which seemed too small for him. Nabooru and Kali stood at the door, hands on their weapons like something would sneak in and strike. Link glanced at them, taking in their sharp blades.

Then Link started and looked back at Ganondorf. He sucked in a quick breath.

“Link?” Ganondorf asked. Link didn’t answer, focused on Ganondorf’s scimitar. It was larger than the others, yes, but it was clearly a Gerudo weapon. He looked over Ganondorf’s clothes. Similar cut to the women’s, except baring more skin. Same colors, same flare.

This Ganondorf actually looked like a Gerudo. His Ganondorf looked like a war machine. This Ganondorf was actively fighting in a war, yet he still looked like a Gerudo. What caused that to change?

“Has the princess been born yet?” Link asked. Both Nabooru and Kali started, losing their tense poses to stare at him. Ganondorf only raised an eyebrow.

“Do you mean the child of the Hylian Queen? She is pregnant, if that is what you mean.”

Link hummed and dangled his legs over the bed. The end of the war was near then. He remembered Tatl screaming to the skies, begging for more time , and he bit his lip. Zelda had been displeased when she spoke of the King ending the war. No, how he ended the war. Something about that contributed to this mess.

Ganondorf tapped the plate. “Lunch,” he reminded Link. Link hummed and grabbed a piece of meat off the plate.

Ziela. Where was she? The Gerudo said that she was freed from the armor, so Link doubted that she was a prisoner. He needed to find her, which would be much easier if…

Link glanced at Kali, who had resumed her stiff pose in the doorway. Without Kali dogging his steps. Why did she need to stay with him? Hadn’t he proven himself?

As much as anonymity had hurt, Link couldn’t help but miss it.

Which gave him an idea.

Link patted his bags on his belt. All of his equipment was there, in his deceptively small, magical bags. His sword and shield was placed beside Nabooru. A plan forming in his mind, Link finished eating under Ganondorf’s watchful eye. He finished the mug of water and then held out the mug to Ganondorf, who passed it to Kali. When Kali returned with it filled again, Link finished that mug, too.

This was probably a terrible idea, but Link couldn’t shake the feeling of time passing by him. He also hated the feeling of a collar around his throat.

He remembered the hunger in Ganondorf’s eyes and fought back a shiver. He was running out of time.

Link held out his hand to Kali. It took several moments of Link impatiently wiggling his fingers before she caught on and pulled his ocarina out of her pocket. She handed it to Link, who placed it on the bed beside him. Then he fell back on the bed and closed his eyes.

“Of course,” Ganondorf murmured, and he still sounded so damned subdued. “We will leave you to rest.”

Link didn’t respond. He remained on his back, counting his breaths. In less than ten, all three Gerudo were gone, footsteps barely audible even to Link’s sharp ears. The door clicked behind them. Link stayed still, still counting.

He made it to sixty before he sat up. The temptation to remain in the bed was too strong. He had to get moving. He could rest later.

Link knew Kali was outside. Walking as quietly as he could, Link grabbed his sword and shield and put them both back on. He then grabbed his ocarina and dusted off some of the sand.

Then Link played the Requiem of Spirit and warped to the Spirit Temple.

Chapter Text

When Link’s feet hit the ground, his knees buckled. He gasped and swayed, the sand shifting from gold to grey before everything stabilized again. He shook his head and ran a hand over his face. Warping without the royal ocarina was more difficult than he expected.

Link’s hand came away slick with sweat. He flicked it away. Going to the Great Fairy’s Fountain might help, but it might also stall things. He didn’t know how much time he had at the temple before Kali and the others tracked him there.

Great Fairy later, he told himself, and loped toward the temple.

After Link smashed the flying pots, he stood with his hands on his hips and looked around. The two signs remained the same: as unhelpful as ever outside Link’s original time. Link rubbed his face again. A dull throbbing grew behind his eyes. Should he use the Song of Time and hope for the best? It worked originally, but all of the rules had changed. In this time, he should not be born yet or should be an infant.

He would check out his options, Link decided. If nothing happened, then Link would try for the song.

Link was slender, nothing more than bone and lean muscle, but he was still too big to crawl through the hole to get the Silver Gauntlets. Except...that hole was the beginning of the path, not the end. At the end, the treasure chest with the gauntlets had been outside. Link scowled at the far wall. But where had he found them?

Somewhere outside. At least a starting point. Link walked back outside and the sunlight hit him like a sword strike. Link hissed and rubbed his face again. Still sweaty, which he took as a good sign. A drink would be nice but he could manage for a little longer.

Link backed away from the temple and studied it. One of the hands, he recalled, looking up at the desert goddess. So if he couldn’t go from the inside, he would just need to go up the outside. Beyond the treasure chest, which he couldn’t hit at this angle, he didn’t see anything for his longshot.

So...climbing. Link exhaled and rubbed his face.  All right then. At least her hand wasn’t that high.

The outfit provided by the Gerudo had no gloves. After years of fighting with various types of weaponry, especially his sword, Link’s hands were rough and callused. Still, his hands were already battered, and it took no time for his fingers to start bleeding as he climbed up the wall to where the sand goddess statue was. His right hand ached, the scabs opening and leaving red smears on the stone. The sun beat down on him, and Link wished he had chosen to wait until nightfall instead.

No. The Goddesses sent him to this time for a reason. He needed to focus.

His fingers scraped against the small openings offered by the hot stone. Link panted and hauled himself upward. The treasure chest, the gauntlets, and then he could warp himself back down instead of trying to climb again. Perhaps in another lifetime he would enjoy climbing, but he preferred riding or using his longshot.

By the time he reached the sand goddess’s hand, his outfit was soaked with sweat, and the sand and blood created a mess on his hands. Link absently rubbed his hands against his sides to clean them and stumbled toward the treasure chest.

No matter how many treasure chests he discovered over the years, Link always lit up when he opened them. Even knowing that only the Silver Gauntlets were inside didn’t ease his glee as he held them up in the air. He didn’t regret giving them back to Nabooru, but he had missed them.

Link put them in one of his bags and wiped his face again. His skin felt hot too to the touch. That was not good but still workable. He was going inside, anyway. It was cooler inside.

He pulled out the ocarina and played the Requiem of Spirit again. The magic necessary tugged at him. This time when Link hit the platform, he stumbled and fell to his knees. Everything swam around him, the world flashing too hot and then too cold. His skin felt stretched over his bones, tremors running through him.

Link needed to get up. He knew he needed to get up. He had the gauntlets. He could get into the temple now.

He was one step closer to saving Ganondorf.

Link trembled and rubbed his face. His skin was hot and sticky. Yes. He wanted to save Ganondorf. He was running out of time to save him, the odd man who could be so hungry and fierce but also shockingly gentle in a way he never expected. No matter the meaning behind the necklace, Ganondorf gave him something green when he had to leave his Kokiri clothes behind. He insisted that he would protect Link, which was insane. No one ever protected him. No one ever tried.

All the more reason to protect Ganondorf now. From the twins and whatever other unknown evil was out there.

To protect Ganondorf and Nabooru and Kali and Nebu… Link exhaled and pushed himself to his feet. Spots swirled in front of his eyes, and everything went light and fuzzy. He swayed and blinked frantically. It took too long for everything to clear, for the ground to grow steady under his feet.

He thought of Ganondorf, clad in that forbidding armor, eyes filled with malice, and he pushed himself forward.

Those thoughts kept him moving. Ganondorf touching his hand and looking at those miniscule wounds, Ganondorf saying nothing when Link refused to fight him, even Ganondorf insisting that he rest… It was so odd. No one did that. The Hero , Zelda said, grief and reverence warring in her voice, and she told him to take care and armed him and sent him on his way. Ganondorf joined him on the battlefield. No one did that.

It was foolish and unnecessary, but Link didn’t want to lose it. Not to madness and death.

Link stumbled into the temple. It was cooler but not as much as Link hoped. He rubbed his face again and reached for the gauntlets.

He heard the mocking cackles right before a paw struck him in the face.

Link slammed into the ground, head ringing. Instincts made him roll in time to avoid a skull-crushing blow. He rolled to his feet, his sword in his hands.

A White Wolfos. A very large White Wolfos with blazing red eyes.

Link huffed and balanced himself on his feet. At least, he tried. The ground undulated under him like he was standing on a boat. He exhaled and tightened on his grip on his sword.

He had fought with worse, Link reminded himself. He could do this. He had to do this.

The Wolfos howled and charged, and Link made himself move.

The fight was an odd blur of movement and hyperfocus. A flash of claw. White fangs. A howl that rattled his bones. Link fought to get behind the Wolfos but it was like the desert sands weighed down his limbs.

Pathetic! he snarled to himself.

The Wolfos swung and Link ducked under its arm to swing his sword up. Faster than Link expected, it twisted, his blade scraping its side, and then struck at his face.

Oh , Link thought, world narrowing down to long, bloody claws.

Oh.

Then the Wolfos howled and fell away. Link stumbled backward, breathing hard. Oh, by the Goddesses. He almost lost his eye and possibly half of his face.

Could the Great Fairy heal that ? he thought dizzily.

An arrow stuck out of the Wolfos’s shoulder. It snarled and twisted, but before it could move two more hit it in the chest. One slammed through its eye, a mockery of its attack on Link. It stumbled but didn’t fall.

Link tightened his grip on his sword and swung with all of his remaining strength. His blade slid through the bloody fur, up and in, and the Wolfos’s agonized howl choked off. Link yanked his sword out and stumbled backward into something. As he looked up into Ganondorf’s furious face, the Wolfos faded away into a swirl of blood red and black smoke.

“You --” Ganondorf snarled.

Link’s knees gave, and Ganondorf swore and caught him before he hit the ground. Link’s hands shook on his sword. He scowled when Kali knelt before him and took it from his grip. He wasn’t done yet! He finally had the gauntlets. He could go inside the temple now.

“You insane Hylian. What were you thinking?” Ganondorf snarled, and he sounded remarkably like the White Wolfos. Link was impressed.

“That I am running out of time to save you,” Link said honestly. He thought he heard someone say something in response, but everything faded after that.

xoxoxox

Consciousness returned in fits and starts. Dull pain. Water splashing into his mouth. Ganondorf cursing. A sense of urgency pushed for awareness and Link would start and try to push himself up. Each time, hands stopped him. Link fought them but they always won with ease. Then the darkness would return for another time.

When Link opened his eyes and they stayed open for more than a heartbeat, the first thing he saw was Ganondorf pacing at the end of the bed. Link blinked at him. Something about the sight was odd, but he couldn’t pinpoint it. He squinted at Ganondorf like that would help. Disgruntled, he shifted. His body throbbed in response, and Link groaned.

Ganondorf stopped paced and spun to face Link. Ah! That was it! Ganondorf was shirtless. Link squinted again. Somehow, he looked even bigger without anything covering his chest.

“You’re awake,” Ganondorf said, and Link raised an eyebrow. Yes. Yes, he was. As such…

Ganondorf returned to cursing when Link tried to squirm into a sitting position. He took two long strides to Link’s side and gently pushed him back down. Link scowled. That felt familiar.

“Are you trying to kill yourself? I thought you had some wits to you, but you seem determined to disprove that.”

Ganondorf’s rage pressed into Link like a wave, and he couldn’t help but push himself back into the pillow. It was only when Link looked instinctively for his weapon that he realized he was stripped to nothing under his thin sheet. He looked around and saw his things in a pile on the table. Then he truly felt naked. He reached for the Great Fairies’ gifts but found only an odd hollowness inside him.

Ganondorf swore and tore himself away. Link watched Ganondorf with sharp, wary eyes as he returned to his pacing at the end of the bed.

“We assumed the worst,” Ganondorf said, his conversational tone at odds with his terse steps. Three long strides, a sharp turn, and then three strides back. “Kali heard you grab your sword and shield and then heard your music. When it quieted, she checked the room and found it empty.” Ganondorf exhaled like a dragon blowing smoke. “We thought the enemy had found its way into your room. My mothers, who are already leery of Hylians in their midsts, swore you had spirited away for some foul plot. It was Kali who remembered your insistence on the temple and thought you might be there.” He shot Link a dark look before turning on his heel and pacing toward the window. “When we arrived, I feared we were already too late. If you are truly so eager to die, there are better ways.”

Link cocked his head. What better ways? If the White Wolfos had killed him, he would have failed his mission, but at least he would have died doing his duty. Any other death… Link wrinkled his nose. That would be horrid.

“How did you even leave --” Ganondorf started, and then he paused, eyes focused on Link’s face. His angry steps slowed until he stopped at the end of the bed. The cold fury faded away. His mouth twisted. When he spoke again, his voice was soft, almost thoughtful. “You could have died.”

Link raised an eyebrow. Yes, Ganondorf had mentioned that. He raised his left hand, and as if on command, the triforce on the back of it glowed. For once, the sight of his divine mark didn’t fascinate Ganondorf. Instead, the Gerudo clenched his jaw.

“Is that why you do this?” Ganondorf asked quietly. “For duty to the goddesses?”

The mark faded, and Link frowned at him. He wanted to help the Gerudo. He liked the Gerudo. By Farore, he even liked this Ganondorf. He didn’t need to be bound by duty to help them.

Ganondorf inclined his head. “You are correct. That was a rude question. My apologies.”

Link huffed at him. Damn right.

Ganondorf stared silently at him. Link stared back, his heartbeat loud in his ears. Ganondorf believed him to be a servant of the Goddesses, so why wouldn’t he let him do what he needed to do?

At last, Ganondorf sighed and sat on the bed by Link’s feet. “You have convinced many here that there is something fey to you, but I do not believe it. I have seen you bleed. I have seen you weak. You may serve the Goddesses, but you are still a mortal Hylian, as odd of a Hylian as you are. You said in the temple that you wish to save me.” Link started. Had he actually said that? “From what, I do not know. I do  know that together, you and I can make a difference for my people. Together. Do you understand?”

Link slowly cocked his head the other way, still staring at Ganondorf. Together, like he and Zelda? Or him and Navi? He didn’t get it, and thinking about it only made his head pound.

Apparently Ganondorf didn’t see what he was looking for in Link’s face. He frowned. “In the desert, we are one tribe: sisters and brothers. Whatever in the past made you so wary and scarred, know this: you are not alone here. We will help you. I wish to help you.”

You were alone in the castle. Just you and the Triforce of Power. You were alone chasing Zelda and Impa. No sisters supported you then.

Link licked his lips and grimaced at the cracked skin. Ganondorf stood and grabbed a mug of water from the table. It was warm but still soothing. Ganondorf watched him drink it.

“Healer Avila does not wish for you to leave that bed. If you do, you will be moved to the infirmary where she can keep an eye on you.” Link grimaced. Ganondorf’s expression remained impassive. “If you plan on vanishing again, please tell Kali first. She is outside the door. She panicked when she opened the door and saw you gone.”

Link flushed. He hadn’t thought of that. His thoughts had focused on them finding him, nothing more.

Ganondorf stood silent for a moment, just staring at him, indecision tearing at his features. Then he leaned forward and touched Link’s cheek. When Link didn’t flinch away, he cupped Link’s face in his giant hand, his thumb rubbing under the eye Link almost lost. “Rest and recover. I have yet to see you at full strength. When I do, I have no doubt you will be glorious.”

With that, Ganondorf turned and left the room. Link caught a glimpse of Kali in the flash of the opening and closing of the door but was too dumbstruck to say anything. Bewildered, Link touched his cheek and felt the heat there.

What just happened?

Chapter Text

“You’ve met with a terrible fate, haven’t you?”

That voice…

The voice tsked, mocking and as repetitive as a clock. “You’re running out of time, you know. Something horrible is going to happen if you don’t hurry!”

Everything was dark. Link spun around wildly, reaching for his sword. Nothing. No sword. No shield. No bow or longshot.

Wait. A sliver of light. Link charged forward, legs feeling weak and clumsy. The dark pressed in around him. Behind him, something rumbled.

Faster , Link thought, but his legs felt like fragile sticks under him. He tried to focus on the light but his vision wavered before going dark on one side. Link stumbled. Behind him, a wolf howled, and Link remembered the pack, remembered being surrounded.

“Consume ,” something groaned, and Link knew it was the wolf, the golden wolf, and despite the partial blindness he forced himself to keep running. “ Consume...everything…

The light was so close Link could almost touch it. He forced a burst of speed. Then the light seemed to explode around him, and Link fell to his knees in a small clearing. Tall, dark trees loomed around him. He couldn’t see where the light was coming from. His body trembled, so damned weak . Shaking on his knees, Link looked up to see a familiar face smiling down at him.

“Such a terrible fate,” the Happy Mask Salesman cooed, and Link looked down at his hands.

They were nothing but bone.

Link gasped and fell back, and the small light faded away.

When Link jerked away, the room was still dark. There was a small, unlit lantern by the bed, but when Link tried to push himself up to go to it, his body failed him. He fell back gasping on the bed. He felt too dry and hot, and his hand trembled when he wiped his face.

What was that? Link shuddered. Why did he keep dreaming these things?

Years ago, at the very beginning of all of this, he dreamed of Ganondorf. He had never seen a Gerudo before. He had never even seen a castle before. Yet before Navi came to him, he dreamed of himself, unarmed and wide-eyed, standing before the castle. Ganondorf charged out, he and horse both clad in that dark armor.

Prophecy, he discovered later. Of a sort. Prophecies were Zelda’s realm, not his, and the dream hadn’t been exact . When he had met Ganondorf, he had been armed, everything gathered in his travels on his person like they hadn’t been in his dream. Ganondorf, though, and the castle remained true.

Link swallowed, his throat clicking painfully. There was a mug of water also beside the lantern. He licked his lips.

Perhaps it hadn’t been a prophecy. For years after he traveled to Termina, he dreamed of Majora and the falling moon. Perhaps it had only been that nightmare haunting him again.

He hoped so. In the meantime… Link tried to push himself up again, and this time he succeeded, arms shaking under him. His hands felt solid, digging into the mattress. With a grunt, he leaned back and caught his breath.

So weak . How was he supposed to help the Gerudo people like this?

Link shook his head. Not helpful. He needed to focus, and not on that damned dream.

Link scowled and turned back to the mug of water. Then he paused and cocked his head. Beside the mug, out of sight when he had been on his back, was a familiar looking shard. He glanced toward the dresser. Din’s Pearl and his original shard rested there. He glanced back toward the stand. Another shard then? Where had it come from?

Water first. Water and sleep and then he would try the temple again in the morning. There was something there. He was positive of that.

His first attempt at grabbing the water almost ended with him on his face. Link scowled at the mug, just out of reach. His head spun when he moved too fast. Or when he moved at all, really. What by the goddesses was wrong with him? Snarling to himself, Link tried again and almost fell off the bed again. Link glared at the innocuous mug, so close and so damned far.

“You could ask for assistance, sa’ven .”

Link jerked around and everything spun sickeningly around him. Link slammed his eyes shut and focused on breathing. Somewhere, someone cursed -- Kali, he recognized -- and then strong hands grabbed his shoulders and steadied him. “ Easy . One does not face the desert’s heat without repercussions.”

When Link could open his eyes again without wanting to vomit, he scowled at Kali. Kali scowled back and grabbed the mug. “Foolish, contrary sa’ven . If we had arrived any later, you truly would have needed the intervention of the Goddesses.”

Link grimaced but still took the mug. Intervention of the Goddesses rarely came without a price. For all he knew, the Gerudo arriving when they did was the intervention.

Kali watched him as he drank. Perhaps she feared he would drop the mug. The only light was the faint light of the moon shining through the window, so he couldn’t make out her expression. Her undivided attention rubbed against him like sand on burnt skin.

“The king left several hours ago, or he would be the one in here lecturing you.” Link looked at her through his lashes. He still couldn’t see her expression, but her tone was too casual for his taste. “The war continues, and our information and supplies remains limited.”

Link frowned. He had heard details throughout the years about the war and Zelda had talked to him about it, but mortal wars were rarely his concern. Obviously, the Gerudo couldn’t say the same. The way the Great Deku Tree had described it, the war had gone on for years, but the Kokiri had been untouched within the forest. When he grew older, many of the people he encountered dismissed the war like it had never happened, further boggling Link’s mind. The Gerudo seemed the most affected by the war, viewed as outcasts even as the Zora and Goron called the Hylian King “Brother.”

Why?

“He is leading a raid now. Your magic has helped us greatly, but unless you can pull more magic from the air itself, our supplies still run low.” Kali cocked her head. “If you can, don’t. My people are beginning to view you as a positive omen from the Goddesses. If you die, morale would be crippled.”

Link wrinkled his nose at her. Her voice remained casual, so he had no idea how much she was joking. What would these people do when it was…

Time to leave?

Link looked down at his mug. Just the thought made his heart race. Later , he told himself. He couldn’t deal with that distraction right now.

“He and Lady Nabooru also seek to gather information. Your question about the unborn princess was alarming. Was there any reason for it?”

Link considered her question for half a second before ignoring it. His gaze went back to the shard on the dresser. That was his task, not the war. Not Ganondorf going on his raids. He had no idea if Ganondorf would succeed with his raids, but he knew Ganondorf -- and Nabooru -- would come back alive. Link’s arrival in this time wouldn’t change things that much.

“...your hands are shaking, sa’ven .” Kali grabbed the mug from his hands, ignoring his sound of protest, and put it back on the stand. “We will talk more in the morning, after you have rested some more. I trust you will remain here and rest instead of vanishing into the wind once more.”

Link barely heard her. The Goddesses had sent him to this time to help, but what if he made everything worse? He clenched his now empty hands.

Then Kali’s warm hand wrapped around them. “Whatever you’re thinking of can wait until the morning, sa’ven . Rest now.”

Link scowled at her retreating back, but it didn’t make him feel better. If he failed, if he made things worse, there might not be a Spirit Sage in the future. If Ganondorf died…

Ganondorf would not rise as the King of Evil, true, but Link feared that would not stop the twins from helping another rise.

What was he missing ?

Eventually, Link passed out more than fell asleep, and when he awoke again, it was to a hawk sitting on the window ledge, watching him. It took several minutes for Link’s weary brain to register what it was. He blinked at it, his eyelids feeling like they were coated in sand. His eyes burned. He blinked again, and his brain agreed: it was definitely a hawk watching him.

It caught his eyes and then screeched. With a whoosh of its sandy wings, it pushed itself back into the air, vanishing from Link’s sight. Link stared at the empty space where it had been, imagining he could still feel the wind from its wings. Time to get up before the local wildlife mistook him for carrion, he supposed.

His muscles still ached and he wobbled when he stood, but the world remained more or less steady around him. He drank the fresh mug of water on his stand and then focused on assessing himself. There was a new bandage around his torso, and his hands and feet were sticky with salve. Still, everything looked like it was healing nicely. Perhaps more scars to add to his collection, but everything was working. All that mattered.

“You’ve met with a terrible fate, haven’t you?”

Link scowled and limped to the window. Judging by the sun, it was late morning. He doubted he would be able to go to the temple that day. So what then?

If only he could just go after the twins directly .

Link paced despite the shakiness of his legs and the pain in his feet. He finished off the mug of water and ignored the ache in his stomach. For all he knew, Kali was outside the door, just waiting for him to call to her that he was ready, but he didn’t want to deal with her or her staring. He didn’t want to look at her and see the mother of the woman he studded for and the woman apparently assigned to keep an eye on him. He also didn’t want to think . He just want to go and investigate the temple. He wanted to find a way to go after the twins which wouldn’t lead to a full assault against all of the Gerudo protecting two of their Elders.

Perhaps if he warped to the temple again, maybe they would go after him directly. That could work. Kill them away from other eyes.

Except he was almost killed by a White Wolfos .

Link growled. He ended up grabbing his ocarina, did his damnedest to ignore how someone must have cleaned it off for him, and played Saria’s Song. It made his chest ache, but it was comforting to know that she was out there, that the forest was still untouched by all of this madness.

He tried not to think too hard on it. He closed his eyes, played its sweet melody, and was reminded of the wind going through the trees. Farore, Goddess of Wind and Courage. The desert could use some of Her blessing.

Link heard the door open and Kali’s now familiar steps. He didn’t open his eyes, focused on the music. He didn’t think any of his songs fit Nayru. He could use some of Her wisdom.

“You look better.” A clunk and subtle splash. More water then. He thought of the concerns about the drought and decided that as soon as he could, he would play the Song of Storms again. If he was going to keep drinking their water, he could give them that. “Lord Ganondorf returned and checked on you earlier, but you were still sleeping.” Kali paused. Link kept playing. The serenity of the forest refused to come. “I heard you wake. You could have called to me.”

The scolding in her voice finally prompted Link to open his eyes and look at her. She stood with one hand on her hip, frowning with such disapproval Link had to smile a little. Her expression reminded him of Impa when Link refused to use any of the main entrances and always snuck into the castle to see Zelda. After a while, she started using him to help train the guards, but she never liked it.

Kali sighed and shook her head. “You’re impossible. If you called to me, I could have given you the news earlier.”

Link lowered the ocarina to his lap and sat up straighter. Kali eyed him, the assessing look there and gone again. “Our information was outdated. Princess Zelda, daughter of Queen Zelda, was born several months ago. Queen Zelda did not survive the pregnancy. It is only the king now.”

“You’re running out of time, you know.”

Link closed his eyes.

Kali insisted he drink one more mug and examined his feet. They were sore but fine to Link’s eyes. Everything seemed fine, with the sleep and whatever they had given him speeding the healing process. He was always a good healer, too. Kali laughed in his face when Link said he wanted to go to the temple and offered to throw him back to the wolves if he tried to go there himself. Link thought that was unnecessary.

Kali was kind enough to tell him about the shard. It was found after the White Wolfos was killed. Similar to the other shard then. Being used to power the creatures, maybe? Keep them under the twins’ control? There had to have been something which made all the monsters in the land obey Ganondorf’s commands before. Could the twins use that or did they need to use other things?

Kali also provided Link with fresh clothes. He didn’t hesitate to don Ganondorf’s necklace again, its weight no longer odd against his chest. After lunch, to Link’s complete lack of surprise, they went back to the small shrine. He was beginning to think they hadn’t paid attention to him earlier when he said he wasn’t a priest.

Also to his complete lack of surprise, Ganondorf was there. Link watched as Ganondorf rested a flower on the altar, as fiercely red as Din, and bowed once over it. Ganondorf turned around and seemed just as unsurprised to see Link there.

Ganondorf looked older, old as when Link first met him, a tight frown adding lines and grooves to his face. He looked Link over and he appeared to relax a little. Link frowned back at him. Had something else happened?

As if reading the question in Link’s eyes, Ganondorf shook his head. Link had no idea what that meant. “You appear well. I trust you won’t find it necessary to go into the desert by yourself again.”

Link scowled at him. He had the situation entirely under control.

“Nabooru wishes to accompany you next time you wish to return to the temple, so please wait before vanishing there again.” There was a slight questioning lilt when Ganondorf said vanish , but as there was no question, Link saw no need to answer. Ganondorf paused for a moment and then continued on. “Ziela would also like to accompany you. She was investigating a rise in monster activity in the desert. Monsters which usually reside deep in the earth have been seen, and monsters who usually hide away in the far mountains, far beyond us, have journeyed down here.”

Either ordered to come or drawn by the rise in dark magic, Link guessed. Thinking it over, Link walked beside Ganondorf and sat before the altar. He fingered his ocarina. Perhaps…

When Ganondorf sat beside him, it felt oddly comfortable, even with the Gerudo looming over him. “You are not from the desert, yes?”

...what did that have to do with anything? Link side-eyed Ganondorf. Ganondorf sat cross-legged. He seemed too big for the small area, but no discomfort showed on his face. Ganondorf remained silent, watching him, and Link sighed when he realized Ganondorf was waiting for an answer. He nodded.

“Have you been to the desert often?” Ganondorf inquired. Link shrugged. A little. Few people stayed in the deserts, and the Goddesses guided him to people who needed his aid. Few outside the Gerudo resided in the desert.

Ganondorf nodded, like he had expected that answer. “I have time before I must meet with the Elders again. Before you go back to the temple, let’s discuss how quickly the desert heat can kill someone.”

Link rolled his eyes but didn’t argue when Ganondorf shifted closer, his arm radiating warmth like the sands Ganondorf proceeded to lecture about. He didn’t realize it until after Ganondorf left, but for that time, the Song of Time was quiet, his fears forgotten.

For the time being, Link entertained himself by rolling his eyes at key moments, just to watch Ganondorf grow frustrated and grow more graphic about all the ways the desert could kill someone.

Chapter Text

“If you start feeling too hot, too sweaty, or you stop sweating , you are to tell someone. Do you understand, sa’ven?

Link looked up from his examination of the Silver Gauntlets. When he first retrieved them from where the Gerudo had put his things, Kali had focused on them. She questioned Link on how he had found them and talked about how they were magical relics of the Gerudo people. When Link’s answers consisted of shrugs -- he only knew that Nabooru had wanted them and they were useful -- she began to grow frustrated and lectured him about the desert, instead. He wondered how she would react if she knew there were golden gauntlets hidden within the Spirit Temple.

Link caught Kali’s eye and deliberately shrugged again before putting the gauntlets in his bag. He heard her exhale through her teeth. He just patted his bag and stood up, resting his hand on his hip and staring expectantly at her.

If it hadn’t been for the promise of Nabooru and Ziela joining them, Link would have warped to the temple again. Zelda was born, so he had less time than he originally thought. He wasn’t sure how the end of the war connected to the dark king’s rise, but he was positive it did.

Kali’s presence also weighed on him. She went from a friend to a keeper . Never in his life had he been under someone’s watch like this.

“Such an intense expression,” Kali said. She stood in front of him and raised an eyebrow. “I hope it’s because you realized you forgot to lotion your fair skin.”

Link scowled at her. She stared back. It was in the middle of this match that Nabooru led Ziela into the room. “I hope we’re not interrupting,” Nabooru drawled, her tone making it clear how little she cared. She looked Link over. “Don’t forget to put on lotion before you leave. You’re a strange Hylian, but you’ll still burn like the rest of your people.”

Link shot her a filthy look. She grinned back.

That he hadn’t missed about her.

Ziela remained silent behind Nabooru as Kali pointed out every spot of skin he missed. He didn’t see what the big deal was. He already burned himself the last time he was at the temple. This time, at least, he would be inside.

When he finished with the lotion, Link looked at Ziela and cocked his head. Nabooru took that as her cue. “Ziela, Link. Link, Ziela. Don’t expect much from him. He’s the quiet type.”

Her grin widened at the last two words. Link frowned at her. Was he missing something?

Ziela stepped forward. She bowed, and Link automatically bowed back. “I was told it was you who saved me. I owe you a debt.”

Link started to shake his head the moment she said owe , but then he stopped and reconsidered. He pointed at Ziela and then waved in the direction of the temple. Ziela just stared at him, face blank. Link frowned at her. Had she not fully recovered then? Perhaps she was still tired.

“Link wants to know about your capture in the desert,” Kali said. She smirked at Nabooru, and for a disconcerting moment, she looked like her daughter. “I am becoming fluent in Link.”

Nabooru and Kali grinned at each other. Link shook his head and didn’t bother trying to understand. He just looked at Ziela and nodded. Yes, that.

She did look weary. Kohl lined her eyes but did nothing to hide the bags under them or the lines bracketing them. Her mouth was painted bright red but was pressed into a tight line, making her face look hard and harsh. “I will tell you on the way. We should get to the desert before the sun rises too high.”

“We also need to return early today,” Nabooru interjected. Her gaze flitted to Link. “The Elders called a meeting for this evening.”

Link had a bad feeling about that. He bit his tongue against any protests and nodded toward the door. Time to get going then.

Before they left, Kali smeared more lotion on his nose. Link reminded himself that he needed to listen to Ziela and couldn’t warp to the temple. Even if it would be much quicker.

As much as Link hated it, he expected the stares when he walked with the Gerudo to the gate. What he didn’t expect was the handful of Gerudo nodding respectfully toward him. Bewildered, he nonetheless nodded back.

“I was investigating a rise in monster activity,” Ziela explained as they walked. “Certain creatures are common to the desert, but over the last year, their numbers had increased. When you fought them in the past, they would run away, but now they fight to the death. Our forces encountered undead creatures rising each night, attacking our horses when we traveled to Hyrule Field. When they were defeated, they would vanish into the air, like through dark magics. Something was driving these monsters. We feared the Hylian King had made an unholy pact to get everyone under his thumb at last.”

At last? There it was again: that feeling that he was missing something. Link dismissed it for now.

“There had been a rise in monsters around the Desert Goddess and the temple, as well. I feared that the temple was being desecrated to weaken the Desert Goddess’s protection of Her people.” The small group reach the gate. With small nods, the guards opened the gate. Nabooru led the way, with Kali protecting their rear. “I went to the temple to investigate. I was foolish and went on my own. It was there I was attacked.”

Link stopped so abruptly that Kali almost walked into his back. He ignored her complaint and stared at Ziela with wide eyes. Had she seen her attackers? Had she seen the twins? If she had…

Well, then Link could go for their throats.

Except Ziela dashed his hopes with a frustrated sigh. “I remember exploring the temple. I couldn’t go further inside: I remember that. Then I woke up in the desert to you and the king staring at me.”

Link scowled and resumed walking. His life would be much easier if he could just kill his enemies.

Still… Link pondered Ziela’s words as Nabooru whistled for the sand snakes. The temples had been desecrated, their sages captured. Link had assumed that had happened after Ganondorf’s rise to power, but it made sense that the twins would attack the Spirit Temple first. Hadn’t Nabooru even said that the twins had taken over the temple and made it their base? The twins and Ganondorf.

Link had never thought about it before, more focused on Nabooru’s capture. Still, the temples were powerful. If the twins went after it now, before Ganondorf joined his power to theirs, how powerful were they? Link had fought them, though. Their magic was strong but not that strong.

Link was still musing over it as the sand snakes took them to the Colossus. The Gerudo were silent, and he could feel them watching him. No time to worry about that, though. Link remembered the twins themselves referencing someone, and at the time he thought it could be Ganondorf.

Ganondorf, whose wish changed so dramatically over the years. Ganondorf, who changed from a Gerudo King to the King of Evil.

Link had suspected it for a while, but he now felt confident in his suspicions: Ganondorf had been a puppet all along, just like Nabooru and Ziela. Something’s weapon.

Link took two steps toward the temple before pausing and looking at the far wall. Following a hunch, he sprinted, leaving the Gerudo cursing as they ran after him. Kali shouted something, and he recognized some of those words.

Leevers sprang from the sands and chased him, but Link didn’t grace them with his sword. Barely slowing, Link reached into one of his magic bags and yanked something out.

For some reason, hearing the Gerudo start shouting when he threw the bomb filled Link with a sense of satisfaction.

The cracked rock hiding the entrance shattered. Link was close enough to the explosion that it rocked him off balance, a stone scraping his cheek. Still, he didn’t slow until he reached the entrance. Out of reach of the leevers, Link slowed to a quick trot.

“What by the goddess…?” Kali murmured. Link bit back a smile. He forgot that she wanted to see the Great Fairy.

The Fountain was like he remembered it: untouched by the scorching desert heat, the room was a cool, sweet reprieve. Pale steps led to the fountain itself, lit by two elegant torches. The Gerudo had fallen silent behind him. Link pulled out his ocarina as he walked before the fountain. The mark of the Triforce glowed at his feet. Taking a deep breath, he raised the ocarina to his mouth.

The familiar strains of Zelda’s Lullaby filled the room as Link played. Everything else seemed to grow silent and still, a magic Link still didn’t understand permeating the air. As the last note played, a chuckle echoed from the water.

“What --” someone said behind Link.

Then the Great Fairy erupted from the water with a spiraling, shrieking laugh.

In hindsight, perhaps Link should have warned them. Still, the Great Fairy only looked amused as she hovered in the air, staring at the suddenly armed and snarling Gerudo behind Link. Her inhuman eyes swept over them and just as easily dismissed them. Then her gaze settled on Link.

It had been years since Link summoned one of the Great Fairies, but he never forgot how beautiful and terrifying they were. She floated in the air above the water, sharp nails tapping one bare thigh. Vines twined around her body, curling around her wild red hair. She smiled at Link, and there was always the feeling of a hungry, empty cavern behind her bright red lips.

“Welcome, Link,” she greeted, and that made everything worse. They always knew him, always looked at him like they were seeing more than some pale Hylian. Link tried hard not to think about it. “I am the Great Fairy of Magic. I will give you a magic spell. Please take it.”

But he already had Nayru’s Love. Before Link could protest, the Great Fairy twisted in the air and held her hands in front of her. A light glowed between them.

Red. Not blue. What?

The crystal blazed like fire before Link. He cupped it in his hands before feeling its magic sink into him. “It is called Din’s Thunder. Use it wisely.”

The Great Fairy was already pulling back. Link stepped forward, eyes growing wide. He wanted to ask her about the temple!

She just nodded at him, grin too wide on her face. “When battle has made you weary, please come back and see me.”

Before Link could say anything, she vanished back into the water with that same, terrifying laugh. Goosebumps raised on Link’s arms.

Link’s no longer sunburnt arms.

Link frowned and looked himself over. Right. He had forgotten about that. The little aches and pains he had been ignoring, including the healing scab on his torso, had vanished in the wake of the Great Fairy’s magic. At least he could finally avoid the Healer.

“That,” Kali breathed, “was the Great Fairy?”

Link turned to look at her. Nabooru and Ziela still had their weapons out, but Kali looked like Nebu had when the rain started. She stared past him, face enraptured  and glowing in the light of the fountain. Link finally let himself smile. He had no idea what the spell did, but at least that was worth it.

The Great Fairy hadn’t seemed surprised to see him. He touched his chest, still feeling the heat of the new spell. What did Din’s Thunder do?

“Perhaps more warning next time, Link?” Nabooru asked, voice strained.

Link just smiled at her and walked back outside. He took two steps onto the sand before he noticed there were no leevers in sight.

In hindsight, the giant worm bursting from the sand shouldn’t have been a surprise. Link stumbled backward and gaped up at it. It roared at him, baring a circular mouth with far too many teeth. The sun glinted off its armored hide before it rose. And rose. Link craned his neck looking up as it towered over him, blocking out the sun. Saliva dripped from its maw, hissing when it dripped on the sand.

Acid. That was always a surprise.

“Shit,” Link sighed.

Chapter Text

Before Link could do more than draw his sword, a hand grabbed him by the back of his top and yanked him back into the cave. The worm dived down after them. It slammed into the cave entrance, but its head was too large to allow anything but its gaping mouth. The light shining from the Great Fairy’s Fountain reflected a pale blue off its rows of teeth. The worm roared, and the walls shook around Link, dust and stones tumbling down. Stumbling, Link twisted to stare wide-eyed at Kali. Hand still on Link’s top, Kali glared back.

“Are you insane?” she snapped. “You can’t win that fight, Link!”

Link raised an eyebrow. Really?

Nabooru grabbed their sleeves and pulled them deeper into the cave, back toward the Fountain. Rocks fell in the cave, but the Fountain appeared untouched. Link compared the two, cocking an eyebrow. Now that he thought of it, even when Ganondorf had all of Hyrule dominated, he was unable to actually touch the Fountains. Huh.

Even the monster’s roar seemed smaller within the realm of the Fountain. Still, Nabooru frowned in its direction. “Lord Ganondorf was worried something like this might happen.”

To Link’s annoyance, no one looked surprised by that. He glared at Nabooru. She shrugged. “He planned on joining us, but the Elders Kotake and Koume needed him for something. We hoped Ziela seeing the temple would trigger her memory of her attacker.” She scowled at the opening. “Of course, there was also the possibility of her attacker knowing what we were doing and trying to stop us.”

Especially because Link had no doubt they told the twins of the plan. His scowl deepening, Link shifted his grip on his sword. So this monster wouldn’t focus on Link alone: it would go until it killed Ziela or possibly their entire party. He didn’t have the Megaton Hammer with him, which helped in the fight against Volvagia. Of course, if he could get its head into the tunnel and if he could avoid the acid --

“Don’t think about it, sa’ven ,” Kali said. His fingers tightened convulsively over his sword hilt. “We need an army to fight that beast.”

Link’s scowl deepened. He was an army.

Ziela stood still and silent behind Nabooru. Her dark eyes fixed on the opening of the cave, where the worm still roared. She clenched her fists tight against her thighs. “Is this my fault? Is that monster here because of me?”

Nabooru was waving in the hair before Ziela finished her question, like she was dismissing a bug. Her other hand rested on her hip, head cocked as she studied the entrance. “Don’t worry about it. Monsters have been trying to kill Link ever since he arrived in the desert.”

Link stopped scowling at Kali to glare at Nabooru. So it was his fault then?

Nabooru ignored him and turned to Ziela. “You said you were studying the monsters. Have you ever seen anything like this?”

Another roar. Even though it softened before it reached them, muffled by the magic of the Fountain, Ziela still tensed. “Nothing like this. Nothing that size or with such heavy armor.” She swiped a fist over her forehead. “Was that acid ?”

Link nodded. He shifted on his feet. He didn’t have a lot of time to study the beast before he was dragged back into the cave, but the armon on the worm seemed unnatural. Probably magically enhanced, then. Same with the acid, probably same with the size. He had seen the monster’s eyes: one good striking point. He hadn’t had time to look for any others. He had his bow and arrows, but the angle --

“Link, you used magic to vanish before, right?” Nabooru asked. Link grunted, still considering the worm’s eyes. “Could you use that magic to get us out of here?”

...huh. Link paused in his assessment of the worm to look at Nabooru. Of the trio, she looked the most relaxed, alert but not fearful, mouth pursed in thought.

Maybe she would consider him killing it a reasonable option.

About warping, though… He had only ever done it with Navi. Link had never warped with another person, nonetheless multiple people. Link considered for the barest moment warping them to the Forest Temple, but he dismissed the thought before the old pain could settle into his chest. He ended up shrugging at Nabooru. She huffed.

“We have to figure out something soon. Otherwise, when Lord Ganondorf can follow us, he will ride right into that thing.”

Link pointedly tapped his sword. Nabooru eyed him. “I think fighting might be our only option. Fight our way free and hope the sand snakes come when called. We can return with more warriors later.”

Or they could fight until they killed the beast.

“I don’t --” Kali started, and then she paused. An odd smile lit up her face, and she spun to face Link. Something about the gleam in her eyes had Link taking a step back. “The Great Fairy’s spell. Could it help us?”

All three Gerudo stared at Link. He took another step back. Beyond them, the roaring never stopped. Link looked back toward the entrance, and then he mentally poked at his new spell.

Powerful, but he expected that of Din’s magic, anyway. But what did it do ?

Well. Only one guaranteed way to find out.

Link shrugged at the three before pulling out his ocarina and playing the Requiem of Spirit. He gave it a tentative poke, testing to see if he could pull the others with him, before he allowed himself to be swept away. The last thing he heard was the cursing of the Gerudo. No one sounded surprised. At least he would give them that.

This time he didn’t stumble when he landed outside the Spirit Temple. Link took a second to enjoy the lack of drain before turning back to the Great Fairy’s Fountain.

From the outside, the worm looked huge, shorter in length than Volvagia but bulkier. The sun reflected off its armor, showing no gaps in coverage. It had its mouth shoved against the cave entrance, so Link couldn’t see its face. Eyes were probably the best bet then.

Most of the monsters Link faced before already existed and were driven mad by Ganondorf’s magic, released by Ganondorf’s magic, or were enhanced by Ganondorf’s magic. If Link and Ziela were right and this was an unnatural creature, then it was enhanced by power beyond what the twins should be able to do. Link’s closest comparison was…

Shit. His closest comparison was Majora’s magic.

First things first. Link dug through his bags and pulled out a bombchu. He only had a couple of these, and more wouldn’t be made for another decade or so. This would at least let him see if bombs worked against that armor and distract it from the cave. He had a feeling that he only had so long before Kali and Nabooru ignored the acid and tried to come charging out, anyway.

Standing at the edge of the sand, Link aimed carefully and then released his bombchu. Years of practice later, Link could finally watch with glee as the bombchu went where he wanted it to go: right into the monster’s side. It exploded in a storm of sand. Link pulled out an arrow and cocked it as he watched the beast shriek and rear back. To Link’s disappointment, the side where the bomb hit appeared unscathed.

Next test. The worm twisted in the sand until its glowing red eyes fastened on him. Link braced himself and aimed as it roared and whipped itself across the sand. Summoning his magic and feeling its chill creep through his veins, Link fired an ice arrow at its right eye.

Its roar echoed through the desert on impact. It writhed and its massive tail slammed into the sand. Not expecting the ground to quake under his feet, Link almost lost his grip on his second arrow. He caught his balance in time to see the Gerudo sprint from the cave. All armed with rapiers.

No bows. No arrows.

Shit.

The worm tossed its head, and the ice around its eye cracked and fell, melting before it hit the earth. Even as Link fired a second arrow, he observed minimal damage around the first eye. He released a third arrow, hitting the first eye again, and this time braced himself when the tail hit the ground. The creature’s roar hurt his ears. He grit his teeth and cocked another arrow. What he needed was high ground and enough space to shoot.

If the earthquake bothered the Gerudo, it didn’t show. Swift and nimble as Epona, they ran over the shaking sands to Link’s side.

“So that’s how you vanished, eh, Link?” was all Nabooru said before she stood beside him, rapier out.

“I would yell at you, but I asked for that.” Kali stood at his other side, armed and angry. “Use the spell. Let’s see what it does.”

“And if it does nothing,” Ziela added behind him, “we run like hell for the temple.”

If Link could get to the top of the temple, that could work as a good vantage point. Decided, Link put away his bow and arrow and focused on his new spell.

The clinking shattering of the ice seemed muted compared to the worm’s roar. Link heard the rough slipslide of the armor over the sand even as he concentrated on Din’s magic inside him.

“Or we could just run for the temple,” Kali offered, just as Link pulled out the magic and unleashed it.

It felt different from Din’s Fire, louder and more solid, and Link didn’t realize why until the sky cracked above them and the ground cracked below them. Din’s magic snapped out like a whip, the reverberations of it feeling like it was fracturing the very air before them.

“Shit,” Link repeated, resigned, and then he, the Gerudo, and the worm all fell screaming through a new hole in the ground.

Instinct and years of experience falling through random holes in the ground had Link whipping out his longshot and aiming it at one of the walls. With his other hand, he grabbed the closest Gerudo. Before they had fallen more than a dozen feet, Link noticed a ledge and a torch of all things and aimed for the torch. The longshot caught, and he grunted when it yanked him and his passengers up to the ledge.

They landed with a grunt and with Link on the bottom of the pile. Kali was right on top of him, and the assessing portion of his mind noticed he had grabbed her, Kali’s hand was still on Nabooru, and Nabooru was holding Ziela’s waist. The rest of him noticed that someone’s knee was digging into his kidney. He groaned and wiggled.

“Oh, you asked for it, sa’ven ,” Kali muttered before groaning and rolling off. Onto the ledge beside the torch. Why by the Goddesses was there a ledge and a torch?

“I’m beginning to see what you mean about the Hylian,” Ziela grumbled, even as Link shoved himself up. His shoulders ached from the jerk of the longshot and pulling three people along. Frowning, he rolled his shoulders and looked around, the Gerudo pushing themselves to their feet beside him.

Sunshine flooded the odd, large room. More ledges and torches lined the round room, each appearing to lead deeper into the earth. Link glanced behind him. Yep. There was an opening, similar to the one leading to Din’s Trial so long ago. Din’s sigil was emblazoned on many of the walls and on the torches. At the bottom, where the worm weakly wiggled, an odd mark covered the entire floor. The worm’s massive body hid parts of it, as did the blood trickling through the cracks in its armor and piles of sand and rock, but something about the mark tugged at Link, nonetheless. He frowned at it, studying it. The creature covered its middle and right side, but it didn’t matter. Link recognized the triforce at the top. On its left was what appeared to be a large wing.

Link pressed his fist against his chest. He knew that mark. Where had he seen it before?

There wasn’t a lot of sand and rock covering the worm and the ground, making Link think that the room had never been deeply buried, right under Gerudo feet all along. Amidst the sand, the worm groaned. Acid splattered from its mouth, eating at the mark beneath it. It twisted its head to look up at Link. Link stared silently at it, at the acid and blood drooling from its gaping mouth, and shook his head. There was no magic on his next arrow. It pierced the glowing red eye, and then the hellish blaze faded out.With one last moan, it faded away in a swirl of black and red magic.

“What is that?” Ziela breathed. Link didn’t answer, caught up in the full picture. One bit was burned by the acid, but otherwise the picture was remarkably clear. It reminded Link of a giant bird with a Triforce at its head.

Link knew that mark, the same way he knew Zelda’s eyes when they first met, knew how to wield the Master Sword, knew Farore’s magic. How --

“Well, well, well. Look at this , Sister.”

“Indeed, Koume! How troublesome!”

“Troublesome indeed, Kotake!”

Laughter, high and shrill and painful, echoed through the room as Link cocked another arrow. Ziela gasped and stumbled backwards. “That’s --”

“Elders Kotake and Koume,” Nabooru finished grimly, face hard. She looked at Link. “You knew , didn’t you?”

Link didn’t have time to answer before the twins swirled into existence before them, each sitting on their broom. They hovered in the air before the group in an odd mockery of the Great Fairy not long before. Kali began to curse viciously behind Link.

“Troublesome little worms,” Kotake cooed. “What a pity. Fewer Gerudo around to see the rise of our master.”

“Good little worms shouldn’t be so curious! How troublesome.”

“Troublesome indeed!”

The twins laughed again, and Link’s ears hurt. He gritted his teeth. At least now he could finally attack them.

“You’re the ones behind this,” Nabooru snarled. She stepped forward until the toes of her slippers touched the edge of the ledge. “All of the monsters...why? Why are you doing this?”

“What master?” Kali demanded. “What do you hope to accomplish?”

Instead of answering, the twins laughed and laughed. They spun around on their broomsticks, sidling away from the ledge. Link never stopped aiming at them.

“You’re the ones who put me in the armor,” Ziela murmured. Her voice shook. Link didn’t dare look at her. “You’re the ones who did that to me!”

“Indeed, indeed!” Kotake crowed. “And now it’s time for you to go back!”

“All of you into our own little soldiers!”

Then the twins stopped laughed and stared at Link. Link aimed at Kotake’s eye. “Except for you. Oh, no. Not you. Our master has plans for you.”

Link remembered Nabooru’s cry as she escaped from the armor, only for the twins to snatch her up again. They did it right in front of him, and he had been helpless to stop it.

No way was he going to allow that again.

Before the twins could move or Link could shoot, arrows rained down from above. The twins began to scream and darted back toward one of the ledges.

“Who --”

“Who dares --”

“This is how the Gerudo deal with traitors!” Ganondorf roared, and Link looked up in awe at the Gerudo lining the hole. Ganondorf stood above them, red hair shining in the sunlight, and when he released another arrow, so did all of the Gerudo around him. The twins shrieked and flew into one of the far holes, vanishing into the darkness.

Link could only stare upwards with wide eyes as Ganondorf put away his bow and looked back down at them. Ganondorf put his hands on his hips and leaned over the edge. The sun shone behind him. He… “Is everyone all right?”

As the Gerudo shouted assurances back up, Link was distracted by an odd whine below him. He looked down and flinched.

Sitting in the middle of the symbol, the golden wolf stared back up at him. It woofed and wagged its tail before fading into soft, golden light.

“...was that a wolf ?” Ganondorf demanded.

Chapter Text

For a long moment, Link could only stare up at Ganondorf’s silhouette. He wished he could see the Gerudo’s face, but the bewilderment in his voice had been clear enough. Ganondorf saw it. Whatever that thing was, Ganondorf saw it.

Ganondorf saw the wolf, and Ganondorf charged in to help with the twins. He fired at his own mothers.

Link swallowed hard and had to look away. Those thoughts clicked dizzily in his head, like puzzle pieces which refused to come together. He rolled his shoulders hard and shook himself. Later. Later. More immediate issues now.

Such as the familiar shards scattered in the sand. Three compared to the usual one, but if he was right, more would make sense. They glittered in the sunlight. Hand on his hip, Link assessed the shards and his surroundings. Too high to jump, but if he used his longshot on the torches…

Kali was shouting behind him about the wolf when Link raised his longshot. “Hey, Link, wait --”

“I’ll be right back,” he assured her, and with a twang of the longshot, Link flew through the air to a lower ledge. There was the expected shouting behind him, which Link was getting better at tuning out. Besides, he would be right back. He even told them that.

He suddenly remembered Ruto yelling at him every time he left her behind in Lord Jabu-Jabu. Link smiled.

By the time he reached a ledge close enough he could jump down, Ganondorf had joined in the shouting after him. None quite reached Kali’s furious howling, though. Link paid enough attention to catch words like “trap” and “Koume” and “Kotake,” but everything seemed quiet and still. Link remained vigilant, just in case, as he approached the shards.

Of course, if everyone would stop shouting, it would be easier to hear potential threats.

Link slipped the shards into his bag and then looked at the art below his feet. This close, Link observed some slight details but couldn’t see the actual picture. It was old, he guessed, but he had no idea how old. He brushed some sand off of it with his foot. The feeling of familiarity lingered, and Link shivered.

He wished Zelda was here. Out of everyone he knew, she was the best at picking up his thoughts and helping him sort through them. Children of Destiny, Impa called them. Maybe that was why.

That thought nagged at him. Link raised a hand to shield his eyes and tried to look up at Ganondorf. Not only could he not see him from this angle, but he couldn’t even clearly make out his shouts over the other Gerudos’.

Another thought occurred to him, and Link tapped the bag holding his ocarina. Maybe --

Then Kali roared a disturbingly descriptive threat over his head, and Link flinched. He let his hand fall away from his ocarina and reached for his longshot. He would come back later when he didn’t have three Gerudo stuck on a ledge. He tilted his head back and looked up at Ganondorf, so high above him. He should do something about Ganondorf, too, but --

Link frowned and looked around. The sand slid over his feet; wind rustled his hair. Above him, the angry shouting quieted, like Kali caught on that something wasn’t quite right. The voices of the Gerudo at the edge of the hole echoed dully as they talked amongst themselves. At Link’s level, without the distraction of the shouting, the quiet seemed odd, too still. Several tunnels led away from the first floor into the darkness. He kicked at the sand by his feet and watched a gentle breeze swirl the sand over the markings on the ground. He looked at the tunnels again. Was the breeze coming from one of those? Where was it coming from?

“Stop playing around, sa’ven! ” Kali shouted. “Come back up now!”

Her accent was stronger than Link had heard it before. He looked back toward the tunnels. Four at this level, equidistant from each other. Each led into shadows. No sound or motion and yet…

Link’s fingers twitched toward his sword. At the entrance of the north tunnel, there was a single, bloody pawprint.

“Link!” Kali snapped.

Link clenched his jaw and grabbed his longshot. As he shot a torch and let the longshot jerk him upward, he knew he felt eyes watching him go.

The Gerudo said nothing to Link when he reached them. Nabooru gestured for him to take Ziela first. She stood with her blade out, mouth tight. Kali didn’t look at Link: her gaze remained focused on the north tunnel.

“I did not know of this place,” Ziela whispered, so quietly that Link thought he was the only one who heard her. He inclined his head enough to indicate he heard her. As he grabbed her waist, he thought he heard a wolf howl. When he looked around, though, there was no sign of the golden wolf. There was only silence from Ganondorf.

By the time Link reached the highest torch, three Gerudo held a large shield for him to shoot at. It wasn’t until Link used it to get himself and Ziela out of the hole that he realized it was a blood-stained Hylian shield.

“Link --” Ganondorf said, walking to him.

Link didn’t wait. He leaned down and shot the longshot again, letting him yank him back downward.

By the time he retrieved Kali and Nabooru, his muscles ached, a chill had settled at the base of his spine, and the sun was setting. He stumbled when he arrived with Nabooru and Ganondorf was there, hands steadying him as he recovered his feet. Nabooru hopped to the side and held her rapier between them and the hole. Kali hovered between Nabooru and Ganondorf, a sharp, curved dagger in her hands.

“Let us return to the Fortress,” Ganondorf said curtly. His voice was quiet, and his fingers were like stone against Link’s biceps.

Against Link’s will, he shivered, Ganondorf’s rage lightning between them. Ganondorf closed his eyes and released him.

“Let’s go,” Ganondorf said and walked away.

xoxoxox

Link absently munched on an odd, dark red fruit Kali had shoved into his hands as he paced. There was a table full of food beside him. Kali, Nabooru, and Ganondorf sat there, silent and apparently content watching Link. The room was small, just a meeting room on the upper floor. It took only a few steps for Link to reach the opposite wall.

It was too small. He hated it. He wanted to ride on Epona’s back, bow out and shooting whatever target was stupid enough to attack him.

Don’t think about it. Don’t think about it. Don’t think about it.

The Gerudo spoke quietly amongst themselves when they first entered the room. Now they watched him pace. Ganondorf’s gaze was like smoldering coals on Link’s skin. The entire journey from the temple to this room, Ganondorf seethed like a trapped dragon. Link thought he was waiting for something from Link -- thought they all were -- but he didn’t know specifically what.

What Link knew was that he itched to return to the odd place they found. He messed up the last time he went out alone. He understood that. Even with a time limit, he should have made sure his best weapon -- himself -- was in proper shape. He learned his lesson, he would be better prepared, and he knew that it didn’t matter because Kali had already told him in detail what would happen if he tried again.

Everyone knew about the twins now, though. That changed things.

He hit the wall, turned, and resumed pacing the other way. Three sets of eyes watched like cats watching a trapped mouse. Link scowled and wished there was enough room in here to swing his sword. That always helped calm him down.

At last, something seemed to snap in the room. Nabooru turned away from Link and faced Ganondorf. “My lord, you never said how you knew to come after us or how you knew about the Elders’ treachery.”

Her words were polite in all the ways her tone wasn’t. It was enough to calm Link’s pacing. He paused, half of the fruit in one hand, and rested his other hand on his hip. Ganondorf glanced at Link before he turned to Nabooru. He looked angry but not , brows drawn and muscles tense. His voice was low but calm when he spoke. “They betrayed themselves. They were aggressive at the assembly, ignoring all evidence that Link was an ally in order to request a death sentence.” When Ganondorf smiled, his teeth reminded Link of fangs. “When I pushed, they grew more aggressive. They sought to persuade me and talked about power .”

Nagging puzzle pieces began to click in Link’s head. He shifted from foot to foot as he thought about it. Ganondorf’s gaze focused on him like an arrow. He made no move toward Link, though, and kept his hands splayed and open by his plate.

“They have always pushed for power. They spoke for years against the Hylian King and spoke of ways to gather enough power to rule as we should. They were adamantly against Link from the start despite all signs of him being from the Goddesses.” At last, Ganondorf looked back at Nabooru. “I challenged them openly during the assembly. They grew angry and told us that if the Gerudo people would not handle the threat, they would. Then they vanished in a wave of magic like I had never seen from them before.”

Not angry but tense , and Nabooru’s clenched jaw and tight fists on the table didn’t help. On the opposite side of the table, Kali watched the group, every line of her still.

“So we have our traitors, at least,” Nabooru said, and her voice was odd, everything about the tension in the room was odd, and if there was a window, Link would have climbed out of it by now. “But what are they betraying us for? And to?”

Ganondorf stared unblinking at Link. “I hoped you could tell us that.”

Silence crashed over the room like a wave. Link finished off his fruit in three quick, angry bites, then tossed it to his half-empty plate and resumed pacing.

The twins followed something , and they used Ganondorf as their tool. It twisted him so Link couldn’t recognize the monster he met as a child in the king before him. Whatever it was, it was powerful and craved more power still. Had Zelda ever mentioned anything like that? Impa? Darunia? The Deku Tree? Any monster powerful enough to take over Temples, to twist the Goddesses’ creations?

There was that feeling again: that he was running out of time.

There were answers buried in that odd tomb beneath the Spirit Temple and the Desert Coliseum. If nothing else, the golden wolf confirmed that. He hoped to find out the mystery behind that beast there, too.

“Link?” Ganondorf prodded. His voice was quiet but still filled the small room. “You knew they were the ones attacking you, didn’t you.”

Link nodded and barely heard Nabooru’s swift inhale. He rolled his shoulders and thought about the different stories Zelda had told him over the years. Were there any legends of a monster like Majora haunting the land?

“Why didn’t you say anything?” Ganondorf’s tone remained even. Link was unimpressed. He paused and stared at Ganondorf, head cocked and hand on his hip. “...you didn’t think we would believe you.”

Link didn’t bother answering that.

Ganondorf exhaled, and the sound scored Link’s skin like nails. “You mentioned having such knowledge before. You also referenced someone above them, someone whose identity you didn’t know. Is that still the situation?”

Link nodded. Would killing the twins bring the monster out? It hadn’t before, unless…

Unless this monster was more like Majora than he originally thought.

The imp had been a puppet for Majora to use and throw away. What if the twins, and then later Ganondorf, were the same?

He didn’t have access to Zelda or her library here, but he did have the Gerudo king. He turned to Ganondorf, only to see the Gerudo rising from his seat, his plate barely touched on the table. Ganondorf bowed to Link, but it didn’t look like he saw him. His face resembled the stone of the Fortress.

“I must go to my quarters and think on this,” Ganondorf murmured. “We will meet again in the morning. Link, you are invited to join us at the council.”

With a small nod, he swept out of the room. Cursing under her breath, Nabooru scrambled to follow. Link stared after them with wide eyes.

“Tomorrow, sa’ven , we plan on how to kill King Ganondorf’s mothers,” Kali said. She rose and ignored the plates of food still on the table. “Come. We should all rest.”

Link blinked at her, then at the door. Ganondorf’s mothers. Kotake and Koume. He swallowed and grabbed his pendant. It felt cool against his skin.

Oh.

Chapter Text

One of the oddest things about this quest was the bed. Link sat cross-legged on it and poked at the blanket and poked at it. He could see goosebumps rising on his legs from the night chill, but he didn’t want to move yet.

Beds meant quests. He stayed at a local inn or sometimes as a guest with someone until that portion of his quest was complete. Sometimes it was for a night, sometimes for several. Sometimes he would stay a night, stay several nights in the field, and then stay another night at an inn. Link couldn’t remember last time he stayed this long.

On the table, the lantern flickered. Shadows danced along Link’s bare legs and feet. The odd scar on his foot seemed darker than Link remembered by the firelight. He traced it with his finger, the Song of Time trapped in his mouth.

He should sleep. He cleaned his weapons and put them away for the night, with his sword against the bed and a knife under his pillow. He cleaned himself as much as he could so he didn’t dirty the nice blankets, but based on the sand, he failed.

Link ran his finger along the scar again. No matter how hard he thought about it, he couldn’t remember where he obtained it.

Shaking his head, Link pushed him off the bed and headed to the dresser. All of the shards were there now. They reminded him of polished stone, strangely dull under his touch. He grabbed a piece and held it up against Din’s Pearl. Same texture, but without the magical glow. He rubbed it with his finger and looked at the pieces.

Might as well.

He scooped them all up and walked back to the bed. With a plop that almost sent him and the shards rolling off the other side, Link made himself comfy. Then he got to work.

His lifestyle made beds odd but puzzles easy. It took little effort to figure out what piece went where and what wouldn’t work. When the right pieces connected, they fused together with a flicker of red light. A familiar feeling of triumph glowed in Link as piece after piece clicked, like when he opened a hidden treasure chest.

In the end, the shards fit together to create an orb almost identical to Din’s Pearl. Almost. Link frowned and stuck his finger in small gap in the orb. It also lacked the luster of Din’s Pearl. So at least one more beast use Din’s power then.

One piece and one missing Pearl, if he was correct. Most things connected to the Goddesses came in threes.

Whispers crept through the door. Link sat up straighter, recognizing Kali’s voice -- when did she sleep ? -- and Ganondorf’s voice. What was he doing here?

The whispers rose for a moment before quieting. Then someone knocked thrice on the door. “Link?” Ganondorf called. “Are you still awake?”

Link absently tapped the orb with his finger. Of course he was. “Yes.”

Silence from the other side of the door. He cocked his head and waited. Then Ganondorf called again, “Can I come in?”

Link narrowed his eyes at the odd humor coloring Ganondorf’s voice. Even when he wasn’t planning on dominating the country, he was still an odd man. “Yes,” Link repeated.

More silence. Link turned away from the door and tapped the orb again. Even with the missing piece, that would still leave another orb. The first orb had been in one piece, even if it was a trap. The second one was shattered, its pieces used to fuel the twins’ monsters. Where was the third?

After a long pause, the door creaked open. Ganondorf stepped in, and Link frowned at the exhaustion pulling down the Gerudo’s mouth and the tightness of Ganondorf’s shoulders.

Mothers , Kali said, and that kept slipping past Link. How close was Ganondorf to them? How close them to him?

How did any of that work?

It seemed enough to stress Ganondorf, at least. He closed the door with a light click behind him and walked toward the bed. He stood between the lantern and Link, casting a long shadow over the bed. When he ran an exhausted hand through his ruffled red hair, though, it shattered any comparison Link might have made between the Gerudo King and the Demon King. Link patted a spot beside him on the massive bed. Ganondorf only hesitated a moment before sitting beside him.

“What is this?” Ganondorf inquired, waving at the orbs.

Link studied the Gerudo’s worn face for a moment. Weary but not angry. It aged him in a way the years of Link’s timeline didn’t. Link nodded once at him and tapped the incomplete orb.

“Din’s Pearls. Either the twins or their master broke one of the Pearls and used Din’s Power to charge the monsters.” Link stuck his finger through the empty spot again. “I’m missing a shard and a Pearl.”

“How do you know you’re missing a Pearl?”

Link shrugged one shoulder. “Artifacts of the Goddesses tend to come in threes.”

Ganondorf nodded, accepting Link’s word. Link’s finger stilled. Again, accepting Link’s word. Accepting Link over the twins, his mothers , which Link had never considered a possibility. Few individuals in his entire life had done that, and Ganondorf did it so easily. He licked his lips.

“Thank you.” The words felt heavy in his mouth. Link rubbed the incomplete orb and made himself look at Ganondorf. Confusion replaced the weariness, and he licked his lips again. His tongue dragged over chapped skin. He needed more water. “For believing me. Most people don’t.”

Ganondorf’s face softened, the harsh lines relaxing. He reached out and placed his hand over Link’s free one, dwarfing it. His calluses felt rough against the back of Link’s hand. “You have given me no reason to distrust you. You have helped my people with no desire for a reward. You have endangered yourself multiple times without hesitation for people who threw you in a cell.” Ganondorf hesitated, and the sudden silence throbbed between them. “Despite your obvious fear of me.”

Turning away, Link scowled at the orb. Ganondorf didn’t move his hand. Link felt the weight of his stare. “If ever you wish to tell your story, I will listen. When this is done, when this evil is defeated and the war has been won, I wish for you to remain with my people.” Ganondorf reached out and tapped Link’s necklace, like Link had tapped the orb several minutes earlier. “You will always be welcome here.”

Always welcome… Link swallowed. After this was done, would the Goddesses send him back to his time? Or would he be stuck here?

And if he was stuck in this time...would that be so bad?

Zelda offered him a place among her guard, and he had considered it. He hated himself for it, but he had considered it. Doing it would make him miserable, but he feared that remaining on the road would only guarantee misery while returning to Hyrule might offer him a chance at home.

Looking back at Ganondorf’s solemn face, Link wondered if, for once, he had something happy to think about for later .

“I will listen to you,” Ganondorf continued softly. “If there is another threat, no matter how insane, I will listen to you. No matter the topic, I will listen to you.” His mouth tightened again, and his thumb rubbed over Link’s scarred knuckles, shockingly warm. “I would be grateful if you speak to me prior to running into any threats or…” Another heavy pause, Ganondorf’s eyes growing sharp, before he continued with an odd delicacy, “Or before you consider any dangerous behaviors.”

There was a weight to his words which Link didn’t understand. He considered Ganondorf’s face, but he saw nothing there to explain the odd mood in the air or the darkness in Ganondorf’s eyes. Link shifted his hand so he could squeeze Ganondorf’s, feeling the strength there. Ganondorf’s breath caught above him.

“Thank you,” Ganondorf said quietly.

They sat there together for a bit longer, the lantern flickering behind Ganondorf, before Ganondorf squeezed his hand and left Link to sleep. It took him a long time.

xoxoxox

In the morning, the Gerudo went to the speak with the Elders and Link went to the courtyard. Kali shadowed his steps, and they sat on a large crate, watching the horses being groomed by a handful of teenage Gerudo. Link watched the horses stand patiently under the brushes and combs. Wistfulness cut through him like a knife.

They hadn’t been too far from Hyrule before Link ended up in this time. He hoped Epona had returned to Malon rather than try to wait for him. Epona was clever and brave, and he knew she could find her way home. She was also loyal and loving, and he hoped that would not lead to her looking for Link. She could outrace any monster or greedy Hylian, at least.

One horse in particular caught Link’s eyes, its dark red coat reminding Link of Epona. The horse’s mane and tail were dark brown, though. The horse tossed its head when the Gerudo scratched behind its ears, and Link noticed that all of the Gerudo stood away from its back legs. Link smiled wistfully. He remembered one wannabe horse thief catching Epona in the field while Link was fishing in a nearby stream. She had thrown him in the stream, scaring away all of the fish. Link ended up needing to drag the concussed man back to the bank.

He missed his lady.

Kali nudged his shoulder and nodded at the red horse. “That’s Afrit. Would you like to go for a ride?”

Link’s chest ached, but he nodded and hopped down from the crate. Kali grinned and joined him. “How is your horseback shooting? We have a range here. If you are good, sa’ven , I’m sure you can even win a prize.”

Unable to help himself, Link grinned. Kali’s own smile faltered at whatever she saw on his face.

By the time Ganondorf and the others returned from their meeting, Link had new arrows, a new quiver, and a new horse. Afrit had tried throwing him once before Link played Epona’s Song and let her buck her frustrations for a bit. Kali made a comment about his thighs which confused him, but otherwise Link was pleased by his morning.

Ganondorf raised an eyebrow at Link’s new quiver but said nothing about it when Link hopped off Afrit’s back. “Several of the Elders are searching through our records for more information,” he said. “They knew nothing but faint legends of something below the Desert Goddess.”

Which was still more than Link knew. He nodded and rubbed Afrit’s nose. She huffed and tried to bite his hand. He gave her a carrot instead. When he turned away from her, he saw that Kali was gone, and only he and Ganondorf stood together in the courtyard.

The strain was back around the Gerudo’s eyes, but he still smiled at Link. He reached out, and Link expected him to pet Afrit, too. Instead, Ganondorf brushed a lock of golden hair away from Link’s face. Link stared curiously at him.

“We will do great things, you and I,” Ganondorf murmured, hand sliding from Link’s hair to cup his face. Link’s eyes widened as Ganondorf leaned down. “Truly --”

Nabooru’s voice shouted something in Gerudo across the courtyard. Ganondorf cursed and yanked away. Link blinked at the space where Ganondorf had been. What by the Goddesses?

Nabooru strode toward them from the other side of the courtyard, from the direction of Hylian Field. When she saw Link, she switched to Hylian. “Hylians have crossed our borders, my lord. They’ve requested to speak with you.”

Ganondorf’s face twisted into a scowl. He spoke in terse Gerudo, each syllable harsh and grinding, before walking toward the stable. He paused only long enough to toss over his shoulder, “We will speak when I return, Link.”

Still standing by Afrit, the mare snorting behind him, Link watched Nabooru and Ganondorf lead a dozen Gerudo out of the Fortress toward Hyrule. In his mind, playing over and over like in a dream, the Song of Time echoed.

Chapter Text

By nightfall, Ganondorf hadn’t returned.

Kali joined Link up on the wall to stare out into the desert. Link acknowledged her with a nod but otherwise didn’t move. His eyes remained fixed in the direction of the Spirit Temple, where he should be going. Play the song and go. He had a destination. He had direction.

Instead, he sat on the wall, Kali so close he could feel her heat, and watched how night turned the desert sands black.

“Do you know why Lord Ganondorf assigned me to you, sa’ven ?” Kali murmured. Her voice fell flat, echoless. Link rolled his shoulders and didn’t answer. “He hoped I could discern something about you. He hasn’t doubted since Din’s Trial that the Goddesses delivered you to us, but all gifts from deities are double-sided swords. He wanted to know your secrets.” She huffed and shook her head. “Yet we still only know what you give to us.”

Link looked away from the desert to look at it, but there was little point. All the torchlight offered was her flickering silhouette. Link rolled his shoulders again, unable to shake the tension there. It felt like a clawed hand was digging into his neck. He opened his mouth but the words stalled in his mouth. Finally, he settled with shaking his head and staring helplessly at her. She looked at him and must have seen more of him than he did of her, because she threw her head back and laughed.

The sound seemed too loud, too sharp, and Link flinched back a little. If Kali noticed, it didn’t show in the relaxed lines of her shoulders or in the casual way she tossed her hair back. “Perhaps it makes sense. I don’t think even you know what you know.”

That made no sense. Link frowned at her before turning to the desert again. Somewhere out there, the twins waited, possibly with the last shard. In the morning, even if Ganondorf hadn’t returned, Link would return to the Spirit Temple.

Ganondorf… Link touched his pendant. He didn’t understand. He didn’t understand at all. Except a part of him thought he did, and that made everything too much and too overwhelming. His odd touches and the way he looked at Link, actually seeing him…

It frightened him, and Link hated that.

He stood up and dusted himself off. Even as Kali grumbled and jumped to her feet, Link walked back into the Fortress, toward the shrine where he first made it rain. At this time of night, few Gerudo were up, all either on guard duty or assisting others. Each one nodded at Link with respect, some going so far as to bow. Link hurried past them, not letting himself think about it.

If he truly ended up trapped in this time…

Even if he ended up trapped in this time, it wouldn’t matter. He couldn’t stay here. Just like he couldn’t stay with Zelda or Malon or in Kakariko or any other town he came across.

The thought provided no comfort, but it did speed up his steps. Kali cursed and sped up her steps to match. His heart pounded so hard in his chest it hurt his ribs.

Fear. How pathetic.

Link clenched his fists when he walked. It hurt but helped keep his breathing even, helped him focus on getting to the altar rather than the look in Ganondorf’s eyes or how Alela had just bowed to him (he had fathered her granddaughter and she looked at him like she hadn’t poured ale over his head in another life). There was blood on his hands, and he could feel it hotly seeping through his fingers, staining under his nails. Blood was normal. He would take it.

He was the Hero, one of Destiny’s Children. He couldn’t let himself follow the path that Ganondorf offered him.

When Link reached the altar, lit by a torch he didn’t remember seeing before, he uncurled his hands to grab his ocarina. Kali cursed at the firelit bloodstains. She grabbed for his hands, but he yanked them back and knelt before the altar. She snarled something. Link ignored her. Pressing his ocarina to his lips, Link took a deep breath and began to play the Song of Time.

No more fear.

The song unfurled from the ocarina -- unfurled from him -- like a cat stretching from a nap. Its notes swirled around him, familiar and sweet. Link closed his eyes and saw leaves flying behind them, caught in a cool breeze.

Behind him, Kali began shouting. Something lit up before him, bright enough to see even with his eyes shut. No threat, though. The power was as familiar as the song now slipping under his skin, pulsing with his blood.

Link played on. His right foot began to ache. The scar tearing up his side thrummed. Somewhere, a wolf howled, long and lonely.

Link opened his eyes.

A skeleton in unfamiliar armor sat in front of him, legs crossed and back against the altar. Above his head, one of Din’s Pearls shone on the altar. The skeleton stared at him with one glowing red eye. The other socket was endless black. In its decaying hands, it held the Ocarina of Time. The Song of Time echoed around them as the skeleton played with its impossible breath.

Link closed his eyes again. Kali’s shouting had quieted. There was only the Song of Time now. The terror thrilling his blood quieted, too.

The scar along his side heated, and he felt fresh blood dripping down, sliding along his hip in hot streams. He didn’t want to think about it. He wanted to be done thinking about it.

The Song of Time rose, almost mocking. Link didn’t let the rhythm of his breath change. He opened his eyes and saw a grey serpent crumble to dust before him. Link’s hands stayed on the ocarina even as he felt his hands grip his bleeding side where a lucky fang had caught him. His knees gave and he crumpled to the ground.

He was going to die. He was going to die here, far from home, surrounded by Zora who didn’t even know his name.

Except he hadn’t. They patched him up and gave him a new sword and then they sent him on his way. They called him Hero and were so grateful even as they made it clear he didn’t belong there.

Unconscious for three days, they told him, but they had never doubted he would awaken again. Their Hero was strong. He survived when so many of theirs had fallen. He had saved them. He was sent by the Goddesses to save them.

He left with Epona and a new scar on his side and a new sword on his hip. A bandage still covered his wound.

The Zora watched him go, all smiles. The triumphant Hero.

His exhaustion had been worse than the wound. Link turned Epona back to Hyrule and began to wonder for the first time if he should go and stay.

He blinked and the skeleton played the Ocarina of Time, now ironically lost in time. The lone red eye glowed and Link’s fingers faltered.

That was all it took to shatter the spell. The Song of Time wavered and fell away, and the spot before the altar was empty again. Link let the ocarina fall to his lap.

Sa’ven, sa’ven , what did you see?” Kali’s hands grip his shoulders and then vanished with a hiss. “You’re freezing, sa’ven . Inside, inside!”

Her accent was strong again, too strong for her Hylian speech. Link shivered.

“We need to go back in the morning.” His voice sounded dull to his ears. His own accent mocked him. Couldn’t stay there: not a Kokiri. Couldn’t stay with the Zora: their home was entirely underwater, and he had never retrieved his Zora tunic. A Hero, Zelda said. Impa said. Navi said. He needed to go and finish his quest.

Then he needed to leave.

Sa’ven ,” Kali said quietly.

Gerudo voices rose in the Fortress behind them. She cursed and squeezed his shoulders. “Lord Ganondorf has returned. Let’s go see him. Then to bed with you.”

When Link stood, his side ached, like the serpent had just caught him with its lucky strike.

Lucky? No. He had been too slow.

That was when he knew he needed to return to Hyrule. The serpent should have been an easy kill. Instead, it almost killed him. He looked down at the ocarina in his hands, stained with his blood. Kali’s hands tightened on his shoulders when she noticed it.

“First, let’s get that cleaned up before Lord Ganondorf notices,” she said, guiding him back into the Fortress.

They made it twenty feet before Nabooru and Ganondorf found them. Ganondorf’s rage swept before him like the heat before a blaze. It fed Link’s weariness. All he could do was stare at a flickering torch as the pair strode towards them.

“The Hylian King has approached the Zora and the Gorons, and they have agreed to negotiate to end the war.” Link flinched at the banked rage in Ganondorf’s voice. The torch wavered and danced. “The bastard demands a meeting.”

The end of the war then. Whatever Link was sent back to prevent would be there soon.

Link looked up to meet Ganondorf’s enraged eyes and felt that damned fear trickle down his spine. He pushed it back and rolled his shoulders. Change of plans then.

“I will go with you.”

Time to finally return.

Chapter Text

“I will go with you.”

The words crashed over the heat of Ganondorf’s rage like a tidal wave. Link watched as his face twisted, lips moving soundlessly for a moment. Link studied Ganondorf’s too familiar face, with his sharp nose and wide, expressive mouth. So similar and yet so different from the dark king Link had originally fought.

If he couldn’t do this, couldn’t win, Link knew in his heart that he would need to fight that king again.

Sa’ven ,” Kali said, “they will kill you as a traitor. It is too dangerous for you to go in the company of our people.”

Our people. Those words made Link ache .

Yet Kali continued to miss the point. “He and his have no sway over me.” Link stared hard at Ganondorf, willing at least him to understand.

But he didn’t. Just looking at Ganondorf, Link knew he didn’t. He was calmer but his cheeks were still flushed, eyes too dark. A predator with a collar around his throat, and he blamed the Hylian King for it. How ridiculous.

Even now, Ganondorf frowned. “It is dangerous, but…” His gaze lowered to Link’s hand, to the Triforce. The familiar lust returned, twisting Ganondorf’s face. “Perhaps as --” He cut himself off and snatched Link’s wrist before Link could even blink. He raised Link’s hand to his face and glowered.

“Both hands, milord,” Kali said helpfully.

Blood crusted under Link’s nails and covered his palms and the back of his fingers. Link sighed when Ganondorf grabbed his other hand and examined that, too. Link’s nails were sharp and bit easily but not deeply into his flesh. They stung but less so than the sunburn which constantly taunted his nose.

Ganondorf said nothing, his thumbs rubbing through the mess there. His hands felt too hot, too big on Link’s chilled flesh. His face blanked as he stared at the drying blood. Then his hands convulsed on Link’s wrists, too tight, and Link hissed. Ganondorf dropped Link’s hands and stepped backward.

“I will consider it,” he said stiffly. Link’s eyes widened when Ganondorf spun around and stalked back the way, Nabooru at his heels. She looked back once with a confused shrug before they turned a corner and were gone.

Kali touched his shoulder. “Let’s get that cleaned up, sa’ven .”

Link licked his lips and tasted salt. What does that mean ? he almost asked, but the words clogged in his throat. He felt too tired to force them. Speaking didn’t seem to help a damned bit, anyway.

A plan forming in his mind, Link walked away from Kali. The hungry gleam in Ganondorf’s eyes stayed with him. He feared he knew now how the twins created their King of Evil.

One way or another he would stop it. Then maybe he would finally be done.

xoxoxo

When he awoke, it was still dark out. Link lay still on the bed, trying to discern what had awoken him.

There. A howl. Link exhaled and looked toward the window. Another howl, right outside. Link shoved himself off the bed and padded to the window. There was the wolf, sitting right outside. It stared back at him, tail wagging, one eye glowing red, the other dark except an odd yellow light, like someone had lit a fire inside its skull. Link shuddered. All that time he noticed the glowing eyes and he never caught that.

He never connected it to his prayers for a guide.

Time to go then.

Link turned back to the bed to dress and get his gear, only to jump when he saw Kali standing there. She held out his Silver Sword. “Going somewhere, sa’ven ?”

Link scowled at her. She stared back, unimpressed. “If you want to sneak off in the middle of the night without notifying Lord Ganondorf, I won’t stop you, but don’t expect me to let you go alone. If you vanish, I will rouse the others and meet you in the desert.”

She smiled but no humor touched her voice. Link’s scowl deepened.

“Your choice, sa’ven ,” she added helpfully, like there was any choice at all.

Link looked away and started for the door. He shook his head so his hair hid his face. What would Kali do when it was time for Link to leave? Would she still follow?

If she did, what would Link do?

Kali showed no signs of seeing the wolf, but she followed Link without complaint. The guards said nothing when Kali gestured for the gate to open, and Link expected the wolf to lead them back to the Spirit Temple. Instead, the wolf circled around the wall, Link and Kali following like two shadows. More torches lined the wall. Link huffed to himself when he realized this was another portion of the grounds that he never explored.

The wolf trotted until it reached a cracked hole by the wall and then vanished like it had never been there. Link held out an arm to stop Kali. He knew this trick. Kali stood still, unquestioning even when Link dug into his bag and pulled out a bomb. Within seconds it was lit and tossed. Kali didn’t even flinch when the bomb exploded. She did whistle when a hole crumbled open where the bomb went off. “Link, how --”

But Link didn’t stop. Pulling out his sword, he walked to the hole and looked down. Old stone steps led into the dark. Link nodded to himself. If he was right, he knew what was at the bottom.

Behind him, Kali unsheathed her blade with a hiss of steel. “I suppose we are exploring then.”

Link smiled and walked forward.

To his complete lack of surprise, despite the layer of dust on the steps, blazing torches lit their path. Kali cursed when she saw them. Link forgave her. She was still new to temples and shrines.

“You are determined to do this without support, sa’ven ,” Kali murmured, a half-question.

Link looked over his shoulder at her and raised an eyebrow. She was his support.

Perhaps she understood, perhaps she didn’t. Still, she huffed and followed.

Down the steps they went until Link was sure they were under the Fortress itself. Incense scented the air, carried on a breeze coming from below. Link rolled his shoulders and kept walking. Link thought he heard laughter on the breeze, high and light, like children’s. The torches grew brighter as they went, hotter. Even with the breeze, the air felt heavy.

“Link,” Kali murmured.

Link shook his head and kept going. She stayed on his heels.

At last, the steps stopped, leading to a path which reminded Link of entering a Great Fairy’s Fountain. He tightened his grip on his sword and walked forward. The tunnel went only several dozen yards before blooming open into a torch-lit cave. Behind him, Kali gasped, even as Link nodded to himself.

The third altar waited at the far end of the cavern. In the middle of the room, Din’s Pearl gleamed.

There were no whispers of a trial, but Link remained tense. Torches lined the small cavern, all lit. There was nothing else in the cave but the altar and the Pearl. The task seemed easy enough: put the Pearl on the altar.

Link took a deep breath and stepped forward.

Kali shouted when a gate slammed shut behind Link, trapping him in the cave. Link sighed. There it was.

Smoke whirled around the third Pearl as Link shifted away from the Gate. As he watched, it spun faster and tighter, forming a dark shadow that crouched over the Pearl. Dread, cold and sick, crept over Link as the creature unfolded itself.

The ReDead stared at Link with its dead eyes, and then it screamed.

The shriek was like an icy arrow through the heart. Link froze, unable to move, unable to breathe , and then the ReDead was on him. Its dull teeth raked at his head and ears, cold hands clawing at his chest and shoulders, before Link recovered enough to throw it off.

His skin ached where it had touched him. Blood dripped down his arms and chest and one ear hurt , but Link knew better than to slow down. The ReDead managed a small noise before Link cut its throat with the Silver Sword. It gurgled , and even that noise was enough to make Link’s steps falter and his heart shudder in his chest. This thing was an abomination, spurred by the evils done to the land of the Goddesses, empowered by dark magic.

There was no blood. Dead things didn’t bleed. Its slit throat flapped where Link had cut it in an attempt to scream again. It just gurgled , like it was choking on gravedirt. Link gasped and swung again as it raised its hands.

One hand went flying across the room but the ReDead didn’t stop. It stumbled forward, still reaching out for Link’s throat. Link slashed again and again, numb horror chilling his limbs.

Stay dead stay dead stay

With one last swing, Link completely cut its throat. The thing crumbled to dust at his feet. Link stood and shivered as something clinked behind him, the gate opening. He didn’t look away from the shard now before him.

The last one.

Sa’ven , get what you came for and let’s go . You’re bleeding , sa’ven .”

Link reached up with the hand not holding his sword and fingered his ear. He shuddered in disgust when he felt a long slice from the tip of his ear to his head. He knew he should be grateful that it didn’t rip his ear off but by the Goddesses .

“Link,” Kali said, touching his shoulder. Link shivered again. “Let’s go .”

Of all the creatures the twins could have put here, why a ReDead ? Still, Link snatched up the shard, shoved it in a bag, and walked over to the Pearl. It glowed still, untouched by the monster’s evil. Its heat warmed Link when he picked it up, and for a moment, he held it and let it break the ice building in his chest.

Only when he felt like he could breathe again without the chill burning his throat did Link walk forward and place the Pearl in its place. It flared with light, like Death Mountain erupted inside of it.  Link stared at it and waited for the feeling of triumph.

He was still waiting when Kali pulled on his arm. “Healers, sa’ven , now.”

Link shook his head and started back the way they came. He wanted to go to the Great Fairy’s Fountain, let the Great Fairy’s magic heal and clean him, but the trip back sounded exhausting.

One more thing to do, then he would clean up and sleep. Just one more thing.

Link kept his sword unsheathed as they walked back to the Fortress. Still, nothing bothered him besides Kali not wavering from his elbow, as if determined that this time nothing would separate her from her charge. When it was time to leave, simply walking or riding out of the Fortress was ruled out. He would need to warp. Where? He had no clue. He had no idea where else he could go.

The Goddesses gave him guides for his quests. Could they give him a guide for --

Right beyond the Fortress gate, Link stopped so abruptly that Kali ran into his back. He stared down at his foot, scar hidden under his sandal.

Sa’ven , enough of this. You need a Healer, and you need bed .”

Link barely heard her. He stared at his foot, wiggling his toes. “I kicked a rock,” he said aloud.

Kali paused behind him, one hand on his lower back like she meant to shove him. “Just now? Did you break a toe?”

Link impatiently shook his head. “No, the scar on my foot. I kicked a rock.”

One larger than his foot. He had been in the cave with Epona, rain pouring outside, a small campfire burning. They were in the forest, just inside Hyrule’s borders. In two days, he would be at Hyrule Castle, where Queen Zelda and her offer waited for him. Terrified and furious and grief-stricken, Link kicked the rock, and his blood and the rock flew through the air.

Link wiggled his toes again. He had forgotten that. He kicked the rock and screamed and Epona had started whinnying. What happened after that?

He reached for the moments after that, but they eluded him, smoke through his fingers. Link frowned and shook his head. Perhaps he would remember more later.

Feeling Kali’s frown against his back, Link resumed walking. He could practically feel the scar tissue tugging on his foot with each step.

He had been in this time long enough for the wound to become a scar.

When the gate opened and Nabooru and Ganondorf stood on the other side, Link sided and let the thought completely slide away. Other things to worry about now, like the frustration and exhaustion lining Ganondorf’s face. Link stepped away from Kali toward Ganondorf, intent on the shadows under Ganondorf’s eyes. Ganondorf only looked him over and grimaced.

“You are bleeding again,” he said, raised his hands as if to touch Link’s shoulders. Link stepped into his reach and allowed those hands to run over him, tracing over the wounds. They were ugly but shallow. He didn’t understand why Gerudo warriors were fussing over them.

Nabooru pulled Kali to the side, and they began whispering furiously. Link ignored them and stood still while Ganondorf examined him. Ganondorf touched his bleeding ear and snarled quietly. When Ganondorf tugged at him to see the scratches on his back, Link stepped forward to rest his head against Ganondorf’s chest. The whispering stopped.

He was tired and cold and he didn’t want to think about leaving or how Ganondorf’s eyes looked too much like his eyes when he thought about the Triforce and the Hylian King. He missed Epona and the scent of the forest and the sound of Malon singing.

He didn’t know what he was supposed to do.

Then Ganondorf exhaled and gently wrapped his arms around him. He whispered something in his tongue above Link and just held him. Slowly, slowly, the cold faded away.

“I’ll take him to his room and take care of him. You two can go to bed. We will plan in the morning.”

Link closed his eyes. Perhaps the Pearls could wait until the morning, too.

Ganondorf whispered things he didn’t understand, but that was okay. It was enough.

Chapter Text

No Kali. No Nabooru. Only Link and Ganondorf sitting on Link’s bed, the only light the lantern on the table. The shadows showed every line on Ganondorf’s young face, made his eyes dark holes. He radiated heat against Link’s side, enough to make Link drowsy.

Soon it would be dawn. Ganondorf had told him repeatedly to sleep, but then had added that in three days they would journey to Hyrule to meet the king. Link’s odd laugh kept Ganondorf on the bed and close to Link even when Kali settled outside his door. Ganondorf had told her to leave, to rest, and she bowed to him and made herself comfortable by Link’s door.

Link would never understand people.

Ganondorf laid his hand on Link’s head. It was big enough to cover his entire scalp. He rested it there, and Link waited to see what he was going to do. After a moment of silence, Ganondorf began to move his hand back, palm sliding over Link’s hair, and then he put it back in its original position and did it again. And again.

Ganondorf was petting him. Link glanced at him and saw those dark eyes staring into the distance. Link had no idea what he was seeing. He looked thoughtful instead of angry or tense. Every other pass, Ganondorf’s thumb would brush against Link’s sliced ear. It was cold and crusty with drying ointment, and Link shivered with each touch. It was eventually his shivers which turned those dark eyes toward Link.

“Kali is right,” Ganondorf mused. Link raised an eyebrow at him. Ganondorf’s expression remained unchanged, distant. “You should stay here. A Hylian in the midst of Gerudo would be viewed as a traitor, his life forfeit. And yet…” Ganondorf’s hand slid down, cupping Link’s face. His hand felt as hot as the desert sands. “And yet there is a chance that having a servant of the Goddesses there would sway things to our favor. The power you would bring to our meeting would surely put that false king in his place.”

Link narrowed his eyes at Ganondorf. Did he not yet understand how this worked? Was he still obsessed with these matters?

Still, the Gerudo King seemed oblivious, gaze on Link but still not seeing his face. “His call for peace called the others Brother and yet he would expect me to yield to him, to know my place. He calls for a union but makes it clear where we all stand in his eyes. That is not the path to peace .”

Kneel...yes. Link remembered that. He remembered Zelda telling him that in their very first meeting and remembered her pointing out Ganondorf kneeling to her father. Darunia, the Hylian met with open arms. The Zora King? Rarely left his kingdom, left alone to mourn his wife and raise the fierce Princess Ruto.

But Ganondorf? Ganondorf he made kneel.

“He would demand it of me if I could not challenge him,” Ganondorf continued, and Link had no clue if he even remembered Link was there. “I do not have the power to do so. My mothers promised me that power before you arrived, the power to change the winds to our pleasure.” His thumb swept over Link’s cheek. “The Goddesses sent you to us. Surely that is a sign.”

The intensity in Ganondorf’s voice strengthened with each word, the touch of his thumb harder. Link pulled away, and at last Ganondorf looked at him. His gaze burned like the fire still flickering in the lantern. Ganondorf’s hand fell.

“I will go to the castle, but the false king is not my enemy.” Didn’t Ganondorf understand that yet? He searched the Gerudo’s face but saw no understanding there. In the shadows, all he saw was the tightness of Ganondorf’s jaw and how Ganondorf stared at him, unblinking. “He is nothing.” The twins and their mysterious master were threats. The monsters they summoned from the dark were abominations. The king who claimed a right not his own? Just a Hylian who would be lost in Time.

Ganondorf clenched his fists on the bed between them. “He has the Gorons and the Zora on his side. He has power . When I journey to Hyrule Castle, for him to agree to peace, I will be forced to kneel to that nothing in order to keep my people safe. Without your magic, people would have sickened due to the lack of water. Our resources are minimal in the desert, and with this war, our trade is minimal, as well.”

Link shook his head, mouth too dry, tongue too heavy. In the end, Ganondorf’s search for power had only brought death and damnation. Power needed balanced by courage and wisdom.

Ganondorf shook his head. Then, to Link’s surprise, he reached up and ran a finger over Link’s battered ear again. “I would think that a servant of the Goddesses would understand power and the need for it.”

Link reached up and grabbed Ganondorf’s hand, stilling it. The Triforce glowed dully on the back of his own hand. He searched for the words but had nothing to offer. What could he offer against the twins’ poison, against the false king’s venom? Words belonged to Power and Wisdom, not Courage. Action belonged to Courage.

Swallowing, Link pulled at Ganondorf’s hand and guided it to the pendant dangling from Link’s neck. Green as Farore’s forests, as Farore’s Courage. The Triforce shone a little brighter. He licked his lips and thought of the magic which coiled in his chest. “Din is not the Goddess who brings the sweet wind.”

So close, Ganondorf’s shudder shook them both. “ Sa’ven ,” Ganondorf rasped, hand clutching the pendant.

Then Ganondorf’s mouth was on his and all thought spun away.

Ganondorf kissed like a desert storm: burning hot and all encompassing. Link gasped and Ganondorf dove in, licking and plundering Link’s mouth and devouring . He tasted of cinnamon and smoke and that was all Link could think before Ganondorf ripped away and stumbled off the bed.

“My apologies,” Ganondorf rasped. His eyes burned coal-bright. “My apologies.”

Between one blink and the next, Ganondorf was gone, leaving Link too hot and shivering on the bed. He touched his mouth and his lips ached, bruised and raw.

Outside the window, a crow called, and then there was only silence.

xoxoxo

By dawn, Link was exhausted, fine tremors constant under his skin. Kali tried once to convince him to go back to bed before realizing it would be more beneficial to convince him to eat. She managed some water and several bites of food before Link began actively ignoring her.

His head was too full, crammed with memories of battle and blood and Ganondorf’s mouth on his own. It was easier to push it all way and focus on the steps before him and the weight of his bags on his hips.This part of his mission was almost done: solid, clear, clean. A little too much so.

Memories of three times overlapped in his skull as he strode toward Din’s Trial. He passed Nika and remembered knocking her out to get to the carpenters, remembered fucking her daughter, and saw her inclining her head now.

He hadn’t kissed her daughter, though. Hadn’t kissed any of them. They didn’t have to seduce Link to breed with him.

Into the darkness lit only by the torchfire, and Link recalled seeing Sheik in Death Mountain. He only realized years later what his fascination with Sheik was and why it devastated him when he realized Sheik had never existed.

Dawn of the first day , Tatl whispered. Link hurried on, Kali cursing behind him.

The area holding Din’s Trial seemed too quiet now, too still and empty. With a start, Link realized that this was the first time he had been back here since the original Trial. The torches were unlit. The area which held the Elders were empty. Kali’s angry pants seemed loud, harsh.

Sa’ven ,” she started, and then her gaze fixed on the empty altar. Link knew she understood.

When Link pulled out Din’s Pearl, it pulsed in his hand, too warm but still welcoming. Link thought of the Fire Temple and Darunia and the Bolero of Fire and wondered if he would ever understand. He felt a portion of the power that Ganondorf craved in his hands and wondered how much he understood.

Then he remembered the heat of Ganondorf’s kiss and made himself walk forward.

The Pearl slipped into place like a key into a lock. The torches exploded into flame and Kali shrieked. Link didn’t look away from the Pearl, coming alive on the altar. Flames swirled under the surface, Din’s Power given form. Link rested a palm on it.

His breath feeling like smoke in his lungs, Link spun on his heel and walked away. Kali no longer tried to speak to him. He felt her gaze on him, sharp as her blades, but she didn’t question him or try to slow him down. He would take it.

The desert overflowed with Din’s Power. Didn’t Ganondorf see it? He saw Link, recognized Her Power in Link, yet he still didn’t recognize that Her Power wasn’t enough. It didn’t give Link a home. It just let him protect and gave him scars which refused to heal.

Link had cursed Din in that cave, right before he tried to break his foot on that rock. He cursed all of the Goddesses. So much Power, so much divine strength, and all Link had to show for it was a scar on his foot.

All of that Power and Link still couldn’t stop Ganondorf from fleeing the room.

Link passed more familiar faces and his mind added scars and wrinkles. There was a sound in his head like a wolf’s endless howl, filling the silence around him. The Song of Time was silent. The familiar press of running out of time running out of time was not gone but still, waiting. He walked to the final altar, where he had made it rain, and felt the familiar stillness before he reached the final monster in the Temples.

When Link reached the final altar, the sense of watchfulness grew heavier, an active weight against his skin. It was heavy enough to finally push away the feel of Ganondorf’s mouth and the press of emptiness when Ganondorf fled. Link exhaled and walked forward, pulling the last Pearl out of his bag.

Sa’ven , Link --” Kali began.

Link ignored her. He was desperate to be done in a way which felt too much like grief. Not looking back, Link placed the Pearl on the altar.

The world exploded in red light. The earth rocked under his feet. Kali screamed.

Then there was a white light and everything was gone.

Chapter Text

The white faded slowly. Link blinked and looked around, and for too long, white was all he could see. It spanned from horizon to horizon, an endless oasis of white. Something about the glow of it, the fiercely untouched look of it, reminded Link of waking up in the Chamber of Sages.

Link would never tell a soul, but that was still one of his most horrific memories. Even being trapped in the Deku form couldn’t compare.

He shuddered and blinked rapidly, like that would help the white transform into anything else. Blink by blink it did. The holy glow dulled. The empty spaces filled. Link exhaled and realized by the ache in his chest that he had held his breath.

His chest more than ached: it burned . Link looked down to see Ganondorf’s amulet glowing gently on his chest. Swallowing hurt, like a rock lodged in his throat, and Link cupped it in his hand.

The pendant glowed with Farore’s light. Link closed his eyes and let himself breathe. The dark behind his eyelids blocked out the last of the damnable white.

Beyond that darkness, someone panted, low and pained. Link opened his eyes to see the white completely gone. Now Link stood in the middle of a stone hallway, dancing torches lining the old, worn walls. Link stood still and listened, but there was only that harsh panting. He checked his weapons. All intact. Link rolled his shoulders, unsheathed the Silver Sword, and started forward.

The tunnel wound on, dark and cold. He heard whispers in a tongue he didn’t recognize but seemed familiar, nonetheless. The whispers came from everywhere, as if there were people walking past him, talking in low tones. He looked and looked but saw no one. There were no shadows, no marks. There was nothing to indicate that he wasn’t completely alone in the tunnel.

Link shivered. Where was he? Where had the Pearls sent him?

Behind him, the whispers grew in number and strength. Link spun on his heel, the Silver Sword flashing red in the torchlight.

The tunnel was empty.

Link rolled his shoulders again, but his shoulders and back remained tight, tension ratcheting up his neck. Magic weighed heavy in the air. Din’s magic? They were Her Pearls. If so, where did She send him and why?

Restless and chilled, he swung his sword in the air, watching the red light shine, and then continued down the tunnel.

It was usually easy for him to focus on the task ahead. Everything else could wait until later , until after the battle was won, the dungeon explored. Now, as Link walked through the empty tunnel, he wondered what Kali was thinking. Was she all right? Had the white light affected her, too? She was probably furious.

Did she tell Ganondorf that he was gone? If so, how did he react?

Link clutched his pendant again. It was still warm.

More whispers around the corner. No matter how hard Link tried, he couldn’t make out the words. Familiarity meant nothing when he couldn’t understand them.

A shadow out of the corner of his eye. Link swung around, sword raised. Nothing.

Another shadow, to his right. Link jerked but still: nothing.

Link’s heart pounded against his ribs. He inhaled sharply and held it, willing himself to calm down. When the shadow reappeared on his exhale, Link forced himself to remain still and think.

Three altars to Din around the Fortress. The Fortress was old, older than even Nabooru knew, and acted as a clear barrier to the desert. It also acted as a barrier for the Desert Goddess, the Spirit Temple, and that odd place beneath the sands. It was no mere building; otherwise, the twins would not have stayed in it as long as they did.

It was Ganondorf’s birthplace. Link had no idea why that was significant, but something inside him told him it was.

Three altars to Din, one hidden, and when Din’s Pearls were restored, this happened. A warp spell? If so, it probably warped him to another place important to Din.

Another shadow, like the thing was pacing around him. Link gritted his teeth. Well, what was the worse that could happen?

When the shadow moved around him again, Link took a deep breath and summoned Din’s Fire.

As the fire swirled and raged, the whispers quieted. There was only the soft roar of the flames. Then the fire whooshed out and the wolf was back, sitting calmly in front of him. Its bright golden glow was jarring against the dark stone. It woofed at him and bolted down the tunnel. With a growl, Link darted after it.

It led him downward. It reminded Link of Death Mountain, going through endless pathways but always knowing he was going deeper into the mountain. There was a change in the air, in the weight pressing against him. Still, he ran on, following the golden flicks of the wolf’s tail as it sprinted downward.

It ran to the end of a dead-end tunnel and then sat down, ears cocked. Behind it was a lone door, locked with a large, golden padlock.

Link slowed. He eyed the lock and thought of possible keys hidden in the endless tunnels.  He heard the panting from before, still pained and rough, behind the door. Link jerked forward but the wolf sat in the way. The wolf’s tail flicked behind it. Its mismatched, glowing eyes fixed on Link’s face. Despite its run, it wasn’t panting. Link tensed. The wolf wasn’t breathing at all.

The wolf nodded, satisfied, and then jerked its head at the door. Right at eye level, there was a grate with heavy iron bars. Link nodded back at the wolf and stepped forward. He had to shift to avoid blocking the firelight. With the only light coming from behind him, Link had to squint to see inside the room. This close, was the panting was louder than ever. Link’s sharp eyes focused on the source of the noise.

Then Link saw the figure and fell back on his ass. Pain flared from his tailbone, but he barely felt it. That face...it was bruised and dirty but that face .

“Close to your face, I know,” a man agreed. Link jerked his head so hard his neck hurt. The wolf was gone and the skeleton warrior was back, sitting with the door by his shoulder. The skeleton nodded. “He’s been trapped in there for four years. He’ll be released soon, and then his quest will begin.” The skeleton tilted his eye, hollow and glowing eye both boring into Link. “And almost as quickly, end.”

Between one blink and the next, the dungeon vanished, replaced by familiar trees. Link gasped and he heard the smile in the skeleton’s voice. “Yes, the Lost Woods. This is where my quest ended. Your quest is to give the story a different ending.”

For one moment, his words didn’t sink in. Instead, Link drank in the smell of the leaves and damp earth, listened to the song of the birds in the trees and the chattering squirrels, relished Farore’s wind as a cool breeze against his bared skin. Then they clicked in his head. For the first time, he caught the scent of copper, sharp and biting, cutting through the scent of the forest. Horror curdling inside him, Link spun around --

And came face to face with himself.

Older, worn, with a patch of leather covering one eye, the older Link smiled at him. Nausea grew in Link’s stomach as he recognized the golden armor on the older Link, armor promised to him by Queen Zelda if he ever took up her offer. Apparently in at least one timeline, he did. Behind the older Link, dark red stained an old tree.

The older Link tapped the top of one foot. “No scar. Even then I realized something was wrong, but I thought I had a duty to fulfill. I did, but I was wrong about what.” His smiled faded. “Go to Hyrule. Ask Impa to show you the library. Find out about Demise and the Goddess Hylia. Make the wrong things right.

The white glow returned, blocking out the glorious greenery of Farore’s forest. The older Link held his gaze to the end. With a rueful smile, he tapped the leather patch.

“And Link? Learn to duck.”

The world blazed white.

This time, no shadowy whispers greeted Link. Just shouted commands. He recognized one voice immediately. Ah, back at the Fortress then. He blinked away the last of the white light from his eyes to see Kali’s blanched, furious face above his own. Well, he had been right: she looked ready to kill him herself.

Sa’ven , what were you think-- Don’t move! Don’t move!”

Link ignored her insistent hands on his shoulders and pushed himself up. A large, familiar hand settled against his back. Link looked up to see Ganondorf helping him up. The Gerudo’s face looked drawn, the whites of his eyes reminding Link of a wild horse. Link scowled and looked around. Still by the last altar, with Din’s Pearl flickering merrily in its place.

Four years, the skeleton -- Link -- had said. A dungeon connected to Din somehow.

Impa recognized Link as a Hero because there had been others in the past. She and Zelda both promised to teach Link about them, open the grand Royal Library to him, if he ever settled at the castle. That had been another Hero, Link guessed, and the dungeon, the four years , Din’s Trial.

Perhaps stone snakes weren’t that bad.

Impa. The Royal Library.

Ganondorf was asking him something, but Link dismissed it. “How much longer until we go to Hyrule Castle?”

The Gerudo quieted, which was a relief. His head was starting to hurt, and they were all noisy. Link pushed himself to his feet, Ganondorf’s warm hand helping him up. Link side-eyed him. He didn’t look like someone who had just bolted away from Link like Wolfos were nipping at his heels.

Ganondorf caught Link’s gaze and dropped his hand. Never mind. Now he did.

“Two and a half days,” Ganondorf said quietly. “You have been missing for hours.”

Link frowned. It hadn’t felt that long, but if he was right and he had been in a different time... well… things probably worked different.

In another time, he died bloody.

Link fought a shiver, memory recalling the bloody tree.

Make the wrong things right.

“Link?” Ganondorf back again, Nabooru behind him. Link looked around to see the other Gerudo fading back into the shadows, their work done. Only Ganondorf, Nabooru, and Kali remained, with Kali looking like she was ready to punch him in the face. Nabooru… Her expression was odd, thoughtful. Her gaze flicked between Link and the glowing stone, her mouth a tight line.

Two and a half days. Link gave his head a little shake. His back still felt warm from Ganondorf’s hand. The rest of him felt chilled to the bone. Even the pendant had cooled again. Link shoved it all away. He could do this. “Do you have anything on Hylia and Demise?”

Kali audibly ground her teeth before tossing her hair. “My king, I’ll handle this if you wish. There are still preparations to make before our departure.”

At first, Ganondorf didn’t answer, dark eyes drinking in Link’s features. Link frowned at him. Hours ago, he had been quick to flee Link. Now he didn’t want to leave?

When this was done, Link would get all of his answers from Ganondorf. Not at swordpoint as he would like, something inside him shuddering at the thought, but somehow.

Nabooru was the one to touch Ganondorf’s shoulder and convince him to leave. Her eyes focused on Link’s face, annoyance and confusion twisting her mouth. Link frowned back at her, equally confused, but she only shook her head and led Ganondorf away. Both Gerudo looked back at Link before being swallowed by the darkness of the Fortress.

Kali’s hand clamped on Link’s shoulder. “I’ll show you our library, Sa’ven ...provided you talk .”

Link grimaced. Kali really had no idea what she was asking for.

He glanced back at Din’s Pearl. It glowed red, bright and fiery like the skeleton’s one eye.

Chapter Text

Link remembered sitting in the Royal Library, surrounded by multitudes of books while he and Zelda drank tea before a roaring fireplace. The books were of all colors and weights and more languages than Link recognized, but they rarely caught his attention. He was better at obtaining information from the people who read the books rather than obtaining that information straight from the source.

Like his meetings with Zelda.

As Impa watched from the shadows, occasionally adding to Zelda’s tales, Zelda told him more secrets of the Royal Family. In their very first meeting, in their original times, Zelda told him of the Triad, how they formed the earth and the waters and the life around them. It was during those meetings that Zelda gave him more information about the other deities surrounding them, about the Royal Family and their shadowed history.

About the Goddess Hylia, which Link struggled to tell Kali now. Like with Zelda, they sat in a library, but there was no roaring fire: only magic-bright red stones lighting the library and heating the room. There were few books and many scrolls tucked into hollows in the walls. The library taunted Link: unless the Goddesses allowed him to return to his own time, he would never have those meetings with Zelda again. If he did return, he would have those meetings but would he also have that bloody fate? Dying in the forest, a one-eyed spirit?

Link tried to focus on this library instead, about the goddess. He failed horrifically.

Each time he opened his mouth, the words stuttered and died on his tongue, while Kali waited on the other side of table. After multiple failed starts, Kali cut in, “Where did you go when you put that on the altar?”

Link considered this and then shrugged. He had no clue. Some dungeon with an ancient Hero --

Wait. Link held up a hand, stalling Kali’s next question. He thought of the warrior caged behind the door. The room had been dark but he recognized the similarities in their features, even through the grime and poor light. The way the man had stood… Probably chained, hands above his head. Even in the dark, his eyes had blazed, looking out into the light beyond the door. Another Hero, suffering through an extreme trial by Din. Why so intense? What was it about him that required four years of it?

A Hero related somehow to Hylia and Demise.

Across from him, Kali growled. Link shook his head. For her sake, he tried to think aloud. It was an odd practice. “The Royal Family...they had legends of Hylia.” Of Demise? Were there legends of Demise? “It was said that she…” Link frowned. What was the word Zelda kept using? He couldn’t remember. “She made herself human, the first Zelda of the Royal Family.”

Kali’s eyes widened. She leaned forward on her elbows. “You spoke before of the true royal line passing from mother to daughter.”

Link nodded. He still remembered Zelda combining her power with the Sages to defeat the monster Ganon. He never saw her use her power in such a way again, but when it was just them and Impa, she was casual in her use of small spells.

“The Sheikah follow them, Queen and Princess. Their loyalty is to Hylia, the Royal Line.” That loyalty led to massacres over the ages, those without the power of the Goddess lashing out at those loyal to Her. Always, bloody and wary, the Sheikah rose again, never losing sight of their duty. Still, no amount of duty could cleanse past sins. The Shadow Temple and the Well never let Link forget

Link cocked his head, trying to put the next words in order. “Din… There was another trial by Din. A Hylian was trapped in a dungeon for four years. I don’t know who he was or when it was, but he was like me.”

“Like you?”

Link scowled and tapped the back of his head, where the Triforce could still faintly be seen. A Hero. What was that Hero’s quest?

The answer came like a light arrow between his eyes. Demise. Perhaps the Hero’s quest had been to fight Demise. His, well, his older self showed him the Hero, referenced his quest, and said he died. His older self then talked about Hylia and Demise.

Link leaped to his feet and began to pace, Kali and the table fading into the background. A powerful creature like Majora, worshiped by the twins and with the power to turn Ganondorf into a monster. A creature hungry for the Sacred Realm and the Triforce. Perhaps the other hero succeeded and then died. That would explain why Ganondorf was needed. This monster couldn’t do it on its own, just like Majora needed its own puppet.

Demise , he thought, and it was like a key clicking in his chest. It fit. He didn’t have proof, but it fit. The creature who turned Ganondorf’s sweet wind into nothing but death was Demise.

But what was Demise?

When Link whirled back on Kali, she had that strange mix of worry and frustration on her face that he hated. “Do you have anything on Demise?”

She threw her hands in the air. “ Sa’ven , I don’t even know what Demise is .”

“Who,” Link corrected. His hand itched. He rubbed it and started pacing again. He had a name but still no physical form to fight. Something that probably… Link stumbled. Something that probably killed at least one of his ancestors who knew how long ago.

Sa’ven? Link?”

Majora had been trapped in the mask. Before Link had left Termina, he had used the Fierce Deity Mask to corner the Happy Mask Salesman and get more information on the mask before cutting the mask in half. The Salesman wasn’t able to give too much information, but he had been positive that an ancient warrior had sealed Majora’s spirit into the mask. The mask had been later awoken by a tribe which used its dark magic for their own rituals. After realizing they were using something beyond their control, they sealed it, but they left alone clues behind for the Happy Mask Salesman to find it and claim the mask.

Could this Demise be the same thing?

He needed to find the damned twins. Either they found Demise or Demise found them, but it didn’t matter. Anything that could destroy Hyrule needed put down.

Link only realized he punched the wall when Kali shouted at him and blood began to drip. He pulled his hand against his chest so no blood would stain anything in the library and scowled at the wall. As Kali reached him and started grabbing at his wrist, Link turned to her. “Is there a monster the Gerudo need dead?”

Kali paused, hands wrapped around Link’s wrist. Link wasn’t sure what she said in her native tongue, but he was pretty sure it wasn’t complimentary. Still, she frowned in thought even as she examined his hand. Nothing broken, Link knew, even if his knuckles were already hurting.

“There might be something,” she said at last. She scowled at him. “But I want more information and your word not to vanish again.”

Link nodded. To the best of his ability, she had his word.

Kali sighed, perhaps knowing that was the best she was going to get. “Along the mountains by the Fortress there is a path…”

Several hours later, both Link and Kali waved at Ganondorf when he burst into the Healers’ quarters. Both were smacked and told to stop moving.

By then, Link had heard certain curses enough times that he could pick them out of Ganondorf’s furious speech. Ganondorf finished by throwing his hands in the air and shouting, “What by Din happened?

Kali sat beside Link on the narrow bed. Her top rested on the bed between them. It made it easier for Healer Kina to spread ointment all over her bruised back. Healer Avila was still examining Link’s battered shoulder, growling at him about the necessary rest time for strained tendons. Link ignored her, worn muscles relaxed and at ease.

“The Molduga is dead, my king.”

Nabooru hurried into the room just in time to hear Kali’s statement. She promptly ran into Ganondorf’s back. Looking strangely wild-eyed, Ganondorf didn’t seem to notice. He stared at the bandages wrapping around Link’s chest and hand and left ankle, at Healer Avila testing the tendons of Link’s shoulder. He stared at the ointment-covered gash slicing through Kali’s collarbone, dangerously close to her neck, and the bruises covering her torso. Kali shrugged at him, earning fresh scolding from Healer Kina.

“The old passageway is now open again?” Kali offered. Nabooru began making choking noises.

All the times Link traveled through the Fortress, no one had told him of an old passageway connecting to the Death Mountain mountain range. In the first timeline, the Evil King and his monsters presented an active and immediate threat, distracting from other issues. In the second timeline, the Gerudo people were working on rebuilding their society after the war and after the loss of their king. The Molduga was a distant threat.

Now the great monster was in pieces along the passageway, a feast for the wolves.

“The Molduga was a threat from the Dark One,” Nabooru said faintly. “It’s said that no mortal warrior could kill it, that the spirit of it and its kin would always haunt the desert.”

Link perked up. Kali snorted. “Well, it’s a good thing that we have a warrior of the Goddesses to help us kill things.”

Ganondorf stared at Link, jaw so tense Link could see the muscles jumping under his skin. Link expected Ganondorf to be pleased at this show of strength, especially before they were scheduled to meet the Hylian King. Instead, he kept staring at Link’s bandages like he hadn’t seen this happen multiple times already.

“Link,” he said at last, voice oddly stilted, “I will assist you back to your room. If that pleases you.”

Link thought he heard Healer Avila murmur something about pleasing her , but he wasn’t sure. He eyed Ganondorf, who finally stopped examining Link’s bandages long enough to meet Link’s gaze. He looked blanched and tense and wary in a way Link didn’t recognize. Link nodded at him, which at least seemed to relax something in the set of Ganondorf’s shoulders.

As if catching a hidden cue, Healer Avila began rattling off Link’s injuries to Ganondorf, all of which Link ignored. He learned his lesson from last time. He would warp to a Great Fairy’s Fountain and heal up first thing in the morning. There was too high of a chance of the twins planning to intercept them on their way to Hyrule Castle. He needed to be in his best possible shape.

Even as Ganondorf nodded at each new item, which Link noted including all of his injuries and none of Kali’s, Link noticed Nabooru frowning at him. She looked confused and thoughtful, and Link wanted to explain that the warrior of the Goddesses’ thing was nonsense: he just had a lot of bombs on him and at least the Molduga couldn’t fly. She asked nothing, though, so Link kept quiet in turn.

“When will he be released?” Ganondorf inquired, and Link turned his attention back to him and Healer Avila.

“Now.” Healer Avila patted his aching shoulder and pulled away. “Remember: no picking up anything heavy and do not let him pick up his sword. Or any other weapon.”

Ganondorf nodded and stepped away from the door, clearing a path. He didn’t look at Kali, who slid off the bed, nor at Nabooru, who remained behind him, expression still thoughtful. His dark eyes remained unblinking on Link. “Shall we?”

Chapter Text

After they reached Link’s room, Link expected multiple things: a lecture, a disapproving stare, or the usual barrage of questions. Instead, Ganondorf sat on Link’s bed beside him and asked to see his hands.

Link had no idea what Ganondorf expected to see as he studied Link’s hands, small and pale in the Gerudo’s own. There were scars but truly not many. He knew many powerful creatures and places throughout the lands, all thorough in their healing magic. The stories buried in his skin hid under his clothing, telling the tales Ganondorf most likely wanted to see.

Link’s callused hands seemed to share some information with Ganondorf, though. Ganondorf frowned at them, studying the palms and fingers and knuckles. Whatever he saw seemed to ease the wildness in his eyes.

Curious, Link looked at his hands, too. There was dirt that he could never quite get out from under his nails. Faint scars gleamed in the torchlight. His fingers were tanner than his hands, thanks to his typical fingerless gloves. They were strong, broad even if they looked small in comparison to Ganondorf’s, and capable.

Then Ganondorf paused at his knuckles, rubbing them with his thumbs. “The second time I saw you, you were in the dungeon, your blood still dripping from the dungeon wall where you had punched it.” He looked up and stared at Link. “I fear if I ban you from attacking things in the field, all of that energy will direct inward instead.”

Link’s fingers twitched in Ganondorf’s grasp. Link looked down at them, saw blood along his thumbnail the healers had missed. Ganondorf could try and ban him all he wanted, but it was not like Link was a tame dog, desiring a leash. If Ganondorf tried it, he would regret it, and there was a good chance Kali would shed blood by the end of the day. As for Link…

He visited a town once, several days beyond the mountains, where they had captured a young wolf. Link had no idea what they planned on doing with it, but when he saw it, it had been trapped by a single rope around its back right paw. The fur above the rope was gone, the flesh bloodied and mangled. Link healed it with a fairy’s magic before cutting the rope and letting it free. He didn’t think too much on the action then, or much in the time following.

He tried not to think about it now.

“I fear I am beginning to understand why you have so little respect for the Hylian king,” Ganondorf said, and it sounded more like he was talking to himself than Link. “A divine warrior who kills such a creature on a restless whim...it makes one wonder what you will do when this threat is past.”

This was not the conversation Link had expected. He tugged his hands, and Ganondorf released them without a word. His hands looked no difference from Ganondorf’s tender touch, yet Link found himself pressing them by his thighs, hiding them from his sight, anyway. When he looked back up at Ganondorf, the king looked tired and old in a way even his future counterpart hadn’t.

To Link’s surprise, Ganondorf raised a hand to Link’s face. One of the thumbs which rubbed his knuckles now rubbed his lower lip. “What interest would one like you have in mortal kings, indeed?”

Sometimes he toppled them. Sometimes he helped save their kingdoms. Link didn’t think Ganondorf meant either of those things.

Link cared little for mortal crowns. The mortals themselves…

Link leaned into Ganondorf’s touch and stared at him with solemn eyes. Ganondorf stared back, unblinking, eyes burning like Din’s fire. Ganondorf’s necklace felt heavy around Link’s neck.

“Mortal kings may mean little to you,” Ganondorf said softly, and the weariness fell from him like boulders from a mountain, “but by the end of this, I will mean much more to you than one to be saved. Even if the goddesses call you from here, I will ensure you always know exactly where to return.”

Ganondorf’s kiss scorched Link’s mouth, took his breath away. After a heartbeat, Link arched into it, tasting something spicy and sweet on Ganondorf’s nimble tongue. Too soon, Ganondorf pulled back.

“There are many preparations I must make before we depart.” Ganondorf kissed the corner of Link’s mouth, then stood. “We will leave soon. Please attempt to withhold any further Molduga hunting until then. Such reports are...distracting.”

Even as Link scrambled to put words together, have mind and mouth for once work well together, Ganondorf left. The door clicked shut, silencing all of Link’s half-spoken words.

Link already had his reason to return. He didn’t know Ganondorf, not truly, but he knew enough to know that he wanted to keep learning. Maybe with time and practice he could figure the confusing Gerudo out.

xoxoxox

Despite Ganondorf’s words, Link saw little of the king prior to their departure for the castle. Link and Kali went to the Great Fairy’s Fountain to be healed, where Kali could not decide if she was enraged by Link’s reckless plan or enchanted by the Great Fairy. The Great Fairy took little notice of Kali, but it didn’t seem to bother the Gerudo. She spent the rest of the day touching her skin where the Great Fairy’s healing magic had sunk in. Nabooru watched them upon their return, something other in her sharp eyes which made Link wonder how much connection with the Temple the sleeping Sage had.

Otherwise, Link and Kali remained in the library. Within two hours, Link was ready to throw a bomb into the entire mess and be done with it.

“Nothing about any creature named Demise,” Kali said with a sigh. Without looking, she slid her hand across the table, cushioning Link’s head where he had been repeatedly hitting it. Link turned his head just enough to scowl at her. “Barely anything about even Hylia. I suppose there is a reason you were told to look in the Royal Library and not here.”

Link groaned. Kali shifted her hand so her palm faced Link’s head, gently tapping his temple with her fingers.

“Have you tried asking the Elders?”

Kali stiffened. Without looking up, Link waved at Nebu. His head hurt. “The Elders?” Kali repeated.

Nebu sat on Link’s other side and began to pet his hair. Link shifted just enough to lean into her hand. He had no idea he hated libraries this much. “Truly,” she agreed. She moved beside Link and Link thought she motioned or something. He didn’t care enough to look up. Kali had no idea how tempted he had been to warp to various Temples and --

Wait.

Link sat up, dislodging both their hands, and stared at Nebu. She grinned at the realization dawning on his face.

Link’s favorite method of information gathering was listening to people gossip and tell stories. If the regular population of Gerudo knew anything, then Kali surely would have known. Who knew what the Elders specifically knew? The twins had to have found out from somewhere, and perhaps the other Elders would have similar information.

Nebu grinned at Link, looking as young as she had when Link first played the Song of Storms for her. “My mother is on the council. I’ll be happy to introduce you.”

Impulsively, Link leaned over and kissed her cheek. Laughing, she shoved him away. “If I was twenty years younger...but lunch first. The Lady Nabooru sent me.”

Still, Nebu beamed as she escorted them both out of the library. Link focused on that and not how Kali kept elbowing him in the ribs.

Link kept lunch short before pushing and hinting and dragging Nebu the wrong way before the Gerudo corrected him. She then took him and Kali deep into the Fortress, past where stone joined cliff. To her quarters, she explained, where hopefully they could catch her mother before she took her afternoon nap.

By the sign on the door when they arrived, they failed. Nebu sighed and rubbed her face. “All right,” she murmured. “It might be for the best if we come back later.”

“We leave at dawn,” Kali reminded her. “We don’t much much later at this point.”

Nebu hummed and tapped her bottom lip. “She will nap for an hour, perhaps two. That’ll give you both time to find her a bribe.”

A muscle in Kali’s jaw twitched. The corridor was dark, reminding Link more of the other Hero’s prison more than he would like, but the torches on the wall clearly showed the darkening of Kali’s eyes and the flex of her shoulders. “This is --”

Link touched her arm and shook his head. He knew this dance. He looked at Nebu and raised an eyebrow. What bribe then?

Nebu grinned at him. “My mother is old and suffers from great aches and pains. Surely a warrior who can call rain from the sky can assist with this?”

Link rested a hand on his hip and raised an eyebrow even as Kali stuttered beside him. Challenge accepted.

Kali quieted and stared at Link with narrowed eyes. “...I’m not going to like this.”

Chapter Text

“We should be preparing. We leave at dawn and you are not listening to me in the slightest.”

Humming to himself and tapping his ocarina, Link strode confidently back to his room. Mostly confidently. He took several wrong turns, but he thought Kali was too busy lecturing him to catch it. He wasn’t sure why she was lecturing him this time. He was information gathering and, if everything went well, gathering necessary supplies.

If. A problem with time travel: not know where people were, what they were doing, or if they could help him at that point or only at a different point in time. At least for once he had backup plans if his first plan failed.

Link nodded, satisfied with himself. He thought he heard a growl behind him and glanced back to see if the golden wolf was back. No. Only Kali. He shrugged and hurried his steps. He could do this step from anywhere, but his room allowed for more privacy.

No, all of that would be easy. If the first plan didn’t work, there were multiple options. The questionable part of the plan was how to get there.

Kali followed him back to his room and, at his wave, closed the door behind him. She crossed her arms and glared at him with kohl-lined eyes. “ Sa’ven , I assume you have a plan.”

If he didn’t, it sounded like she would be more than happy to physically deliver him one. He shrugged at her and started digging through one of his bags. To his relief, not only were there clothes hidden under some random treasure, there was a large cloak. He tossed that to Kali even as he began to change. Kali’s eyes narrowed. “Whatever your plan is, I already don’t like it.”

Something about her words sparked an involuntary smile. Whether it was the tone or the thought of them, Link didn’t know. Maybe it was the thought of her reaction if this worked.

Link waited for Kali to put on the cloak, then jerked his head for her to come closer. Still scowling, Kali obeyed, her temperament not improving when Link hooked his arm through hers. He pulled out his ocarina with his other hand. Only one way to find out.

Sa’ven --” Kali started, and Link played the Nocturne of Shadows.

Guards ran to Link’s room at the sound of Kali screaming. One kicked the door in while the other led the way with her glaive.

The room was completely empty.

xoxoxox

When they landed, Link let Kali go and rubbed his right ear. He glared at her when the rubbing did nothing to ease the sharp ache. That hurt .

Standing on the platform before the Shadow Temple, Kali already had her sword out. She whipped her head to the left, then the right. Before her, the graveyard stood empty, odd in the bright sunlight. She then spun around, sword pointing at the Shadow Temple entrance. It looked like nothing but a cave, but Kali’s shoulders remained tight, the muscles in her arms clear as she braced for battle.

Curious, Link rested his hand on his hip and stared at the entrance. The darkness within whispered words he could not understand, old and angry but sleepy. Thank the Goddesses the Temple slept.

Yet the sleep was restless, and Link frowned and stepped forward, right to the cave’s entrance. From there, he could see the true entrance, still closed and locked away. The monster was still trapped at the bottom of the well. He doubted Kotake and Koume had reached this far. So why --

“Link. Where are we?”

Link blinked and turned back around. Kali looked over the empty graveyard. Her sword was hidden under Link’s cloak. All of her was hidden under the cloak, the thick fabric wrapped around her like a shield. When Link stepped up beside her, he could barely make out her sharp eyes under the hood.

“Kakariko,” Link said. He walked forward and peered over the small fence. Some of the graves looked fresh. Some didn’t even have gravestones yet. From the war, he supposed. Link frowned and looked over his shoulder. Was the war enough to call the shadows within the Temple?

Kali’s shoulder slammed against his hard enough to distract him. “You mean the village Kakariko. The Hylian village Kakariko.” Her voice was flat, beyond disbelieving into murderous.

Link smiled at her and patted her shoulder. Before she could respond, he hopped over the fence to the graveyard below. Kali snarled before leaping to the ground beside him. He tossed her another grin and started walking.

His Kokiri clothing felt soothing and familiar against his skin, and Link clung to that comfort with each fresh grave he passed. Old boots tread what should have been a well-worn path, but every inch of fresh dirt reminded him that this was not his Kakariko. He could put on old clothes, walk in old places, but that didn’t make any of it his.

It reminded him as well that old paths didn’t lead to the same endings.

Sometimes, they also presented new questions. Link’s eyes lingered on the new gravestones, even as he knew there was no point. The Deku Tree told him that she had traveled from this area, but she hadn’t died here. Not that it would have mattered if she did. Link didn’t know her name.

“Link,” Kali hissed. “I am Gerudo . We are at war . I can’t be caught here!”

Link didn’t pause in his steps. He raised an eyebrow at her and kept walking. Easy enough: just don’t get caught.

Kali growled but fell silent when they walked into the village. Link didn’t notice. Kakariko loomed before him, stealing his breath.

He had been ten, seventeen, somewhere in between when he ran up the steps to Kakariko. There had been no sound but he felt the drumbeat in his bones, slamming into his chest like a fist, even as he had no idea what it was. All Link knew was that the town was on fire. The shop where he won a new quiver.  The bar where the bartender always gave him free milk and dinner and always seemed to think he was lying when he said he could pay for it. Anju’s home. Everything was burning, and the monster beneath the well writhed, blood and smoke in the air.

There was no fire, no smoke, no Sheik ( Zelda ) before the well. Just fewer buildings than he remembered. Several looked blackened, like there had been a fire recently. Carpenters walked past with large boards over their shoulder. There was a husk close to the town entrance with a handful of soldiers milling by it, heads bowed as they discussed something.

There was no Anju. It was odd, but Link had expected to see Anju.

The sight of the soldiers kept him moving. This was Kakariko but not his Kakariko. He needed to treat this like any hostile territory. He passed as Hylian ( was Hylian) but it may not be enough for him and certainly would not help Kali.

Keep moving, keep calm, keep out of sight.

The Medicine Shop was there and open. Link thanked the Goddesses and refused to hurry his steps. Kali was a shadow beside him. He couldn’t hear her breathing.

The woman behind the counter looked up when Link and Kali walked in. Her bright red hair threw Link off for a moment, as did her smile. Then he noticed the door behind her was shut and a sign hung over the doorknob. His heart sank. He couldn’t read the sign from this angle, but the meaning was easy enough: Closed .

“Let me guess,” the redhead said. Link looked back at the redhead. This smile was not Anju’s smile, more wry than anything Link had ever seen from the woman. “You’re looking for Granny.” She shook her head and sighed. “I don’t want to know why. She’s going to get into such trouble one day. She went to the forest to go hunting for mushrooms. If I was you, I would just wait for her to come back. Those woods are dangerous. Only people crazy like Granny go there, and most people never return.”

The forest...perfect. Link flashed her a thankful smile and bowed. When he straightened, the woman’s cheeks were as red as her hair. He turned around and walked back out of the store, Kali still on his heels.

“You didn’t need to say one word,” Kali hissed as Link looked for a safe spot. Behind a building would do. “No wonder you never speak, Sa’ven , if the rest --”

They turned a corner and Link almost lost his footing when someone walked out from behind the house. Kali cut herself off, but the guard -- because of course it was a guard, of course -- was already holding a whistle to his lips. The guard stared at Kali with wide, petrified blue eyes even as he whistled shrilly, the sound cutting through Kakariko like a blade. A cut slid from his hairline, splitting an eyebrow, and down to the young man’s jaw. “A Gerudo!” he howled. Dropping the whistle, he pulled out his sword. “I know that accent anywhere. A Gerudo!”

Shouts rose like a wolf pack howling. Kali yanked out her blade, but before she could use it, Link grabbed her wrist and darted for the graveyard. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the carpenters yelping and running. Despite the knowledge that there would be no simple eviction or imprisonment awaiting them if they were caught, Link still wanted to laugh. Some things did not change.

Sa’ven! ” Kali snapped. Link ignored her. The shouts were growing loud, closer. He heard the jangle of armor and blades.

The graveyard still stood empty when they arrived. Link hooked Kali’s arm with his and pulled out his ocarina. Before Kali could do more than curse him, Link played the Minuet of the Forest. By the time the guards arrived, the graveyard stood empty again.

xoxoxo

When the song faded from the air and the world settled around them, Link stumbled. He almost fell to his knees but Kali dropped her blade and steadied him with both hands. He blinked and breathed until everything steadied again. The dizziness passed quickly, warning given: warping with two people was manageable but still not something to take lightly.

“That was foolish, Sa’ven ,” Kali grumbled, “but telling you not to do foolish things would be like telling the sun not to shine.” She scowled and grabbed her sword off the ground. “Where are we now.”

With a deep breath, Link straightened. The air smelled moist and sweet. It was spring, Link realized. He had not caught that in the desert but here? In this place? He could smell the leaves, the earth, the flowers. Saria’s magic -- the magic of the Forest Temple -- lingered like a tender breeze on a hot day.

Link smiled, and the sense of home settled into his bones, even as his heart recognized the lie. “The Lost Woods,” he said.

Somewhere where, in another lifetime, he died.

Chapter Text

Before the Deku Tree’s death, Link loved to daydream. He dreamed about the day he would have a fairy of his own. He dreamed about the day he would show up Mido. He dreamed of exploring the forest and playing the ocarina as well as Saria. He even dreamed about exploring the mysterious lands beyond the forest, even as he believed it impossible on pain of death.

Then the Deku Tree died. After that, no time remained for daydreaming. There was another battle to fight, another person to save. It felt like there was no time to breathe until after he left Termina. By then, his mind conjured nightmares far quicker than dreams.

Even now, it didn’t seem like Link daydreamed. He looked around the forest and saw shadows. He saw Saria sitting on the stump, playing her song, while he himself danced as only a child could. He saw himself in the body of an adult, still testing out his too big feet and too long legs, walking toward his first temple. He saw himself, older, tired, one eye bandaged, sitting on the stump with the Ocarina of Time in his hands. He played Saria’s Song but there was no dancing.

He saw the monster that would one day become Ganon walk toward the Temple’s entrance, and his steps on the fertile soil were as poison.

Link swallowed and looked around, but it was only him and Kali. His chest ached.

Sa’ven ?” Kali called quietly. “Link?”

Link glanced at her to see her frowning thoughtfully at him, sharp eyes studying his face. He only shook his head and walked forward.

Kotake’s and Koume’s dark magic hadn’t reached the forest. Not yet. The forest's magic, as pure and sweet as the breeze, curled around Link as he led Kali into the Lost Woods. He felt the triforce on the back of his hand thrum with it. The path from the Temple to the Lost Woods was clear, even as Link waited for a monster to leap from behind a hedge. Even then, Link drank in the deep greens, the sweet bird songs, the laughter of a fox in the distance.

During his journey, he encountered few others who could use an ocarina, but he remembered playing with a young man hidden on a dark mountain. The young man left his village a boy. By the time Link found him, at the request of his father, the boy had grown into not just a young man but a beast. He had sought a treasure out of pride and greed, and the treasure transformed him, changing hands into paws, teeth into fangs. Still, Link tried to convince him to go home to his grieving father.

“Sometimes, you can’t go home again,” the young man told him and then asked Link to play his ocarina with him. They played, the young man teaching Link a new song even as Link taught him Saria’s Song, hoping it would help lighten his heart. Link never knew if he succeeded, but those words remained with him.

It didn’t stop him from breathing the scent of the forest deep into his lungs, like if he tried hard enough, he could take it back to the desert with him.

“This is your home, isn’t it, Sa’ven ,” Kali murmured. Her voice was distant, absent of pity. The words were a knife nonetheless.

Link walked past a hedge where he remembered pushing Mido. Neither realized a bird had made her nest in the mess of branches and leaves. They ran screaming into the Lost Woods and Saria needed to fetch them.

Link expected that to hurt, too, but he smiled instead. Things had been sweet, once, and simple. He couldn’t go home again, but perhaps…

He shook his head, at both Kali and himself, and continued on. He knew why Granny was in the woods: to find her mushrooms. He also knew that she wouldn’t be around the patch because in every lifetime she had needed his help to create her potions.

After the hedge maze, the path split. Link hesitated a heartbeat, expecting the path to the village to call for him. Instead, there was only the sound of his breathing, a touch too harsh. Couldn’t go home again, because after a while, it wasn’t home at all.

Laughter echoed from the path leading deeper into the Lost Woods. Kali held her blade before her again before Link could stop her. “You have a strange home, Sa’ven, ” she said through gritted teeth, looking around. Above them, a bird sang once before flitting away.

Link reached out and pressed at her wrist. She looked at him like she questioned his sanity, but she regularly did that. Sighing, she lowered her weapon. Link didn’t bother telling her that it would mean little against the magic of the Lost Woods: a reminder to find the mushrooms, find Granny, and leave swiftly. Just because Link was immune didn’t mean Kali was.

He kept his hand on her wrist as he led her into the Lost Woods. Kali’s pulse jumped under his fingers when another laugh rang out. It was high and mocking, childish in the worst of ways. A stillness settled over Kali, and when Link glanced at her out of the corner of his eye, he saw her looking around like she expected an attack any second.

“You’re safe with me,” he said quietly. Mostly true.

The path narrowed until it resembled a deer trail. The sun still shone above but the trees grew denser and the shadows deeper. Kali hissed a curse when the laughter transformed into mouthless whispers, curious and hungry and carelessly ruthless. This time, Link understood the words when Kali did not and he tightened his grip on her wrist. At the same time, he hummed Saria’s Song. The whispers quieted. Link pulled Kali onto a separate trail.

If he kept on the first trail, it would have led him to the mushrooms, probably quicker, too. Yet Kali wouldn’t know the difference, and Link needed to see it with his own eyes.

When he reached the small clearing, the laughter and whispers stopped. There was no birdsong. There was only the wind, unseasonably cold.

Link found the tree his...other self? one-eyed self?...showed him with ease, even if it lacked the bloodstain. He still remembered the pattern. It had been a wide smear, like the other Link had leaned against it and then slid downward. From there, he never got back up again.

Had the Kokiri found him? If they had, only Saria had the ability to recognize him. No Hylian would have found him this deep in the Lost Woods.

Link didn’t even know what killed him.

Sa’ven ,” Kali asked quietly. “What are we looking for?”

Link looked away from the tree. “Mushrooms.” He continued toward the small patch. He knew they would be there. The Deku Tree kept the forest and its children changeless and eternal. Only its death could affect that.

The mushrooms were gathered quickly and in silence. Link felt Kali studying him but she said nothing. When they left, they left armed with over a dozen red-capped mushrooms. Aware of how quickly the mushrooms spoiled, Link hurried enough to distract Kali into cursing him again.

Granny was exactly where Link expected her: in a small glen off the trail, knee deep in mushrooms and too close to the Lost Woods for any normal Hylian’s sanity. That wasn’t what almost made Link trip over a branch. It was the fact that she looked identical to when he met her in the future. Did she age? How old was she exactly?

Grumbling low and sullen about the “wrong one, wrong mushroom, they’re all wrong ,” Granny didn’t notice their approach until they were right on top of her. She blinked at them, unimpressed. If the sight of a Gerudo bothered her, it didn’t show on her face. “I’m looking for mushrooms,” she said briskly. “Unless you have one, leave me --” She paused, lean body stiffening. “That mysterious smell...show me what have!”

Without a word, both Link and Kali held out their mushrooms. Link thought Kali might have been snickering but he couldn’t be sure. Granny didn’t seem to notice or care. Grunting, she swept the mushrooms out of their arms so greedily she almost knocked them off balance. Link grabbed Kali’s wrist before she could grab her sword again. Inspecting her goods, Granny didn’t notice.

“Yes, yes,” she murmured. “These are the right ones.” Granny grunted, uncaring of Kali’s white-knuckled grip on her sword handle. “With these…” She turned and walked to the path. With stunning ease considering her gnarled hands, Granny put the mushrooms down. She then pulled out a bag her size out from under a pile of mushrooms. Link frowned and cocked his head. The bag itself was all white except for a green cucco on it. An ancestor of Cojiro’s, perhaps?

Granny mumbled to herself as she pulled items out of her bag, including a cooking pot. Link saw a cat on the other side of the bag, all black and staring forward with unimpressed green eyes. He thought it looked familiar but had no time to think about it before Kali tugged on his elbow.

“I decided, Sa’ven ,” she hissed. “All Hylians are insane. All of them.

Awkwardly, Link patted her hand. She growled in reply. Shuffling his feet, Link turned his attention back to Granny.

The mushrooms themselves went bad quickly, but as long as the created potions were correctly bottled, the potions themselves were good for weeks. Link watched as Granny pulled item after item from her bag, including what looked like a bottle of blue jelly. It occurred to him that her bag was similar to his magical ones. More importantly, it looked like she was creating the ultimate potion first.

Granny looked ancient but went through the motions like a much younger woman, swift and steady and apparently careless of everything else around her. It took no time for her to start filling empty bottles with bright blue potion, which she promptly shoved back into her bag.

Kali growled again when Link walked over to Granny, but since she wasn’t trying to stab anyone, Link thought it safe to continue. Link held out six purple rupees and nodded toward the bottles. That convinced Granny to pause but only for a brief moment. “Deal,” she said, and they traded without another word. Kali’s growls had moved to an odd sputtering noise.

Link nodded his thanks and then returned to Kali. He held out his arm to her. She stared at him. Her eyes seemed a little wild to Link.

“Did you know what she had?” she hissed. “Did she know what you came for? What just happened? Have you done this before?”

Not in this lifetime, but Link didn’t think Kali would appreciate that. He held out his arm again, more pointedly, and grabbed his ocarina with his other hand. She muttered something under her breath and grabbed his elbow. Link still had no idea what killed him in the other timeline, but looking at Kali’s face, he had a good idea what would end up killing him in this timeline.

“You still didn’t need to speak,” she murmured, and then the ocarina’s song swept them away.

Exhaustion weighed on Link when they arrived back in the desert, but he kept his feet and kept his face blank when Kali studied him again. They were done, at least. No more need for warping. The sun was low in the sky, lower than Link expected, and he frowned as Kali whistled for a snake. Later than he hoped, but if the goddesses were on his side, worth it.

Sa’ven ,” Kali said abruptly. She stared out into the desert, watching the sand shift with the impending arrival of a snake. “I started calling you that -- little savior -- as a joke but...” She clenched her fists at her sides. Link couldn’t see her face. “I now believe it. The king has always believed it.” The snake arrived with a burst of sand. Kali ignored it. She turned to Link, eyes blazing. “The king sees you as sa’ven first, Link second. He has seen you bleed, has seen you make yourself bleed, and that has helped, but..” She shook her head. Her hair flopped against her cheeks, still damp from the forest’s humidity. Link hadn’t noticed before. “During the journey to the castle, stay close to him. Make sure he sees you as Link . He still sees you as a prize, as a present from the Goddesses to be wooed and won.” She hesitated, like she might say more, and then she walked over to the snake. After a moment, Link followed.

I underestimated that boy. No... it was not the boy I underestimated, it was the Triforce of Courage.”

Link shivered. Perhaps the bloodstain in the forest wasn’t completely ruled out after all.

Chapter Text

En route to the Elder’s room -- “Elder Neda, one of the oldest and one who has been on the Council since before the king was born, so be respectful!” -- Link and Kali met Nebu again, who escorted them the rest of the way with an odd smile. Link watched her peek at his bare hands and heavy bags like they would reveal their secrets to her. Nebu raised an eyebrow at Kali, who only shook her head back. As neither actively asked him anything, Link thought it safe to focus on their path. Every time he looked, it seemed like there was another tunnel burrowing a path into the canyon. Perhaps later he could explore in ways he could never in any other time..

Nebu paused at the Elder’s door and looked at the pair. “I already told her to expect you. After hearing of your trick with the rain, she is expecting great things.”

Nebu slipped into the room to announce them, leaving them outside.Link shifted on his heels as he waited. He considered pulling out his sword for some quick practice, but Kali seemed edgy beside him, eyes flicking to Link’s bag. Link tilted his head at her, but she only shook her head in return.

“Come,” Nebu called out. With one final look at Link’s bag, Kali walked in, Link at her heels.

The sheer familiarity startled Link when he walked in, and he stumbled against Kali’s back. Kali shrugged her shoulders in a hard jerk and didn’t look back at him. Her attention remained forward, but she was tall enough to block him from sight and let him look around unnoticed. He swallowed the deku nut in his throat.

He didn’t believe he had seen any other rooms during this jump in time, but during his other quests? He visited Nabooru’s room on multiple occasions, each time the Gerudo encouraging Link to get drunk. She seemed to find it hilarious. Most of the other visits were purposeful, Gerudo women seeking warrior seed. Most offered to let him stay the night. Several didn’t so much offer as actively encourage. All shared at least a handful of things in common.

Elder Neda’s room was less room and more rooms , larger than all but Nabooru’s. A long couch with a low back filled most of the room, with several openings behind it leading to other rooms. A large wooden table filled the right side of the room. The room itself exploded with color: bright red blankets hung from the walls, as did masks with jewels for eyes and vivid paintings. On the table was a pitcher filled with golden and crimson flowers. It made Link wish he thought to bring flowers back from the forest.

Several of the masks drew his eye, although he couldn’t place them. One was large and golden and bright. Another looked carved from stone. Link squinted at them.

“So this is he.” The voice cracked at the edges, the syllables rolling with a heavy accent. Link looked away from the masks to look around Kali. Nebu sat on the couch beside a woman who made Granny look young. Kohl lined aged eyes and dark red painted her lips, but otherwise she wore no makeup. Jewels decorated her thick hair, one dangling between her eyes, with vivid fabrics covering her hunched frame. Her dark eyes remained sharp and fixed on Link’s face.

Kali bowed, then kicked Link’s shin when he didn’t immediately follow. “Elder Neda.”

Link mimicked Kali’s bow. His head jerked up when Neda laughed, sounding like a crow mocking him. “Ah, so a servant of the Goddesses bows to me. I feel special this day.” She cocked her head at Link, and her eyes glittered. “He seems as quiet as they say.”

Link raised an eyebrow. As they say?

“He is certainly quiet, Mother, but no less powerful for it,” Nebu cut in. “He needs your help now. He brought you something in exchange for your wisdom.”

Taking that as his cue, Link stepped forward and fished the blue potion out of his bag. Neda took it with a hum in her clawed hands. “I have taken many potions, young one, to address my aches and pains. Do you believe yours will be any different? Although I haven’t seen one with this color before…”

Link settled his hands on his hips and waited. Neda smiled at him as Nebu opened the bottle for her. Neda toasted Link like it was a bottle of a completely different type and then tilted it back.

The room fell silent as she gulped it down. Link watched, impressed at how quickly the bottle emptied. Neda finished with a sigh and handed the bottle over to Nebu. Nebu and Kali both leaned forward. Link just waited.

From experience Link knew potions kicked in quickly, especially the blue potion. He relied on them often in the middle of battle. He watched as the tight lines relaxed around Neda’s thin mouth, as her slender shoulders relaxed away from her ears. He leaned back on his heels as her eyes seemed to brighten. At last she laughed, high and cheerful, and Nebu grinned.

That ,” Neda cheered, “is better than even Nabooru’s brew!”

Kali exhaled sharply and stepped up to Link’s shoulder. “Does that mean you’ll help us?”

Neda chuckled and slapped her knee. Nebu remained silent but looked pleased beside her, like she had been the one to bring the blue potion. “Of course, of course! Ask your question, young ones!”

Kali shot Link a pleased smile before turning back to Neda. “We searched through the library but was able to find little. Do you know anything about the Goddess Hylia and a creature named Demise?”

Now Link leaned forward as Neda hummed and rapped her knee. Her fingers unfurled and starting tapping. “Hylia, most certainly. Demise…” She frowned and shook her head. Then she scoffed and waved at them. “Sit, sit! Nebu, get us tea. There are tales to tell!”

There was another couch behind them, smaller and hidden by the door when they walked in. As Link and Kali made themselves comfortable, Nebu returned with a tray covered in heavy mugs, a pipe, and a bag. Link took his steaming mug with a nod and continued staring at Neda. She recognized the name Demise. He knew it.

“Make sure to let it steep,” Nebu advised, letting Kali grab her own mug from the tray. She then took the tray over to her mother. The Elder ignored the tea and went straight for the pipe and bag. Neda didn’t seem to notice them, her hands moving automatically to stuff the pipe, her dark eyes staring into the distance. When she was done with the pipe, Nebu leaned over and lit it with a small tube which looked like a black and red dragon. Even Neda’s first puff of the pipe seemed automatic, eyes unfocused.

“Demise and Hylia,” Neda spoke at last. “Hylia, yes, yes. Demise...tell me more.”

Link leaned forward. “A demon,” he said. Nebu and Kali both jumped. Link ignored them. “Or similar. Something powerful. Dark."

Neda hummed and took another puff of her pipe. The embers flared. “Hmmm… Connected with Hylia, I suppose, if you are asking both together. There might be something .”

That coaxed the Gerudo to stop staring at Link and turn back to Neda. “Truly, Elder?” Kali asked. To Link’s surprise, she sounded eager. Perhaps he wasn’t the only one invested in this hunt.

Neda exhaled, and smoke rose from her mouth and nose. “Perhaps. There are tales… Do you know the tale of the Triforce and its creation?”

Link nodded, but both Kali and Nebu frowned and shook their heads. Neda tapped her pipe against her bottom lip. “I shall start there, then.

“At the beginning, before the desert and waters and green grass, many deities ruled the heavens. Few, though, took notice of the land. It was the Three -- Din, Nayru, and Farore -- who descended and brought life to our world. Din, the Goddess of Power, created the red earth and the sands and fire. Nayru, Goddess of Wisdom, brought forth the waters and graced the land with law. Farore, the Goddess of Courage, brought forth the greenery and the life which would obey the law. After this, They left, but not before leaving the Triforce, Power and Wisdom and Courage in perfect harmony.

“The Triforce turned out to be too powerful a lure. Dark forces arose to take the Triforce for themselves. The Goddess Hylia fought against them and, it is said, with the help of a powerful hero, sealed the darkness away. The stories from there are not clear. No one knows where the darkness was sealed, only that the darkness was not truly defeated. It is said that Hylia was slain in battle but rose again. It is said that Hylia joined the Three and continues to watch over Her land. It is said that her Champion fell but now stands as eternal guardian over the Triforce. Other say there was no Champion, only Hylia and her mortal army who drove the evil back.”

Neda took another puff and nodded at the walls. “The tales -- and their disagreements -- are old, written into the stones. It is said that they were copied from tales hidden beneath the Desert Goddess. All agree that the darkness was not killed. The tales were not written in memorial: they were written as warning.”

Link stared at the tea, still untouched in his hands. Through the steam, he saw Ganondorf transform, eyes and body ablaze, into a monster. He remembered the Sages sealing him and his promises as the darkness took him.

“If this tale is so important,” Kali asked quietly, “why do so few people know it?”

Neda shrugged. “Because fewer and fewer people believed it important. War rages but by mortal hands, not demonic or divine.”

Link scoffed. He felt their eyes on him, but he didn’t look up from his tea.

Hylia became mortal and began the royal line of Hyrule. He knew that. Hylia’s Champion… Could that be?

Sa’ven ?” Kali prodded. He didn’t answer.

Neda hummed. He felt the weight of her gaze, no less heavy for her years. “Perhaps we were wrong, if these times call upon a divine servant. It is said that you travel to Hyrule with the king. I will research more tales while you are gone and talk with the other Elders. Maybe us mortals haven’t been abandoned, after all.”

That made Link smile. She had no idea.

Link said nothing on the walk back to his room, and Kali left him to his silence.

Xoxoxox

Dawn found Link sharing a breakfast of dried fruit with Afrit, watching the Gerudo saddle their own horses. Kali had kept him company long enough to see him with Afrit before she vanished back into the fortress. It was for the best. His thoughts were not idle, caught between too many times and places.

There was still no sign of Ganondorf.

After he finished eating, Link sat on Afrit’s back and played Epona’s Song. Afrit huffed under him and tossed her head. Link thought she liked the song. He wondered if she would like Hyrule Field and its apples.

When Ganondorf arrived, he walked with Kali and Nabooru one step behind him and three more Gerudo behind him. Link recognized them but didn’t know their names. The Gerudo prepping their horses stopped and greeted their king. Link scratched Afrit’s head and studied Ganondorf. He seemed alert, eyes sharp and cunning, mouth curved in a fierce smile. That smile relaxed when he saw Link, and Link nodded back. Ganondorf made his way to Link, stopping to talk to his people en route, and the Gerudo following him dispersed to their own horses. Kali caught his eye once and nodded toward Ganondorf but then vanished in the crowd.

He hadn’t forgotten. Even with everything else, he hadn’t forgotten.

When Ganondorf reached Link, he clapped a hand on Link’s thigh then rested it there. It burned like the desert sun. He looked Link over once, smile growing into a grin as he took in Link’s green clothes. “These suit you,” he said, “but I will miss seeing you in the desert’s colors.”

Link raised an eyebrow at him. Whatever else he saw on Link’s face made Ganondorf throw his head back and laugh. “Such a look! But all will be well. Soon enough we will return.”

There was something odd in the last statement. Rather than overthink it, Link rolled his eyes and made as if to kick Ganondorf away. Ganondorf laughed and raised his hands, finally releasing Link’s thigh. “Do not worry, Link. Only a fool would seek to bind a wolf.”

Did Ganondorf’s words always sound odd or had Kali’s words affected him? No. Link thought back to him telling the Gerudo King about Zelda and the royal line, Ganondorf’s response and feverish eyes. No. It wasn’t always there, but it was there enough.

Ganondorf threw him another grin as he made his way back to his horse. Link found himself smiling back, just a little.

Not always there, and hopefully less than before. That had to be enough, too.

“Let us ride!” Ganondorf shouted. “To Hyrule Castle!”

Female voices rose in laughter and shouts. Afrit whinnied and charged after her kin as Ganondorf led them from the Fortress, toward Hyrule Field.

Three days, Link though, and pushed Afrit to run at Ganondorf’s side.

Chapter Text

Within ten minutes of leaving the desert, Link saw them. Their uniforms looked little different than they had from when he was a child, royal soldiers tall and proud and watchful on horseback. Link settled back in his saddle, trusting Afrit to follow Ganondorf’s horse, and watched them back. They remained back where Din-red gave away to Farore-green, at the border of Hyrule Field. Their silhouettes looked like tin soldiers.

“They will report back to their king that you ride with us,” Ganondorf called. Link glanced at him. The Gerudo King scowled. “Your colors are like a beacon. There is no turning back now for you.”

Link scoffed and looked back at the soldiers. Two split off from the others, possibly to report a Hylian riding with the Gerudo. That didn’t bother him. Link looked at their numbers -- six left, by his count, with two of them trying to hide -- and knew almost every single one of them died in one timeline, with others still falling in another. How many would in this timeline?

When Link didn’t otherwise respond, Ganondorf laughed and shook his head. “We’ll ride a little farther and then slow for the rest of the trip. He knows we are on our way. Let that be enough.”

The scorn cut through the air like a heated blade. Link huffed. It made him miss when creatures like Majora was trying to kill him.

Ganondorf looked at him again and laughed loudly. When Link looked askance at him, Ganondorf said nothing and rode on, a grin splitting his face.

The sands faded first, replaced by the crimson stone of the canyon. Even as grass began to sprout, weeds and sunflowers creeping through the cracks, the stone remained, hard under the hooves of the horses. Link looked beyond it, to the field in the distance and coming closer with every moment. When there was finally more grass than stone, Link breathed in the scent. Sweet and damp, and he remembered leaving the forest for the first time, the open field exploding into view.

When the red faded behind them and the soldiers fell out of sight, Ganondorf raised a hand. All of the riders began to slow. Link expected Kali to join him. Instead, everyone remained behind him and Ganondorf. Odd. There was something comforting about knowing she rode behind him, though, and he heard Nabooru’s voice, words lost to the breeze.

Perhaps more odd than their formation was how easy it was to ride with the group, Ganondorf towering over him but with a relaxed set to his shoulders. Link thought back but couldn’t remember riding with a group for any extended time. The longest was typically a group pointing out what monster he needed to kill.

Lost in thought, Link almost bit his tongue when Ganondorf spoke. “The green suits you,” he remarked.

Link looked out wistfully over the field. Green grass, as far as the eye could see, with small groves of trees and flowers. He also remembered climbing up some of those trees to escape stalchildren. “Not enough,” he said quietly. Not enough to let him stay.

Ganondorf raised an eyebrow. Their horses were so close Link could lay a hand on the Gerudo’s bicep. If Link fit in with his coloring, the Gerudo stood out like vivid flowers in the field, bright and colorful against the green. He wondered if they would like Darunia and his people.

“Truly,” Ganondorf mused. “One would think a servant of the Goddesses would be comfortable anywhere.”

Link almost shrugged the comment away, but then he remembered Kali’s advice. Instead, he licked his lips and petted Afrit’s neck. The horse was relaxed under him, as home with grass under her hooves as stone. “I have been comfortable in many places. The Goddesses call me from near and far.” He thought of the Zoras who gave him the sword on his hip and shook his head. “Comfort isn’t enough.”

Ganondorf hummed. Link glanced at him. The Gerudo sat tall on his horse, shoulders back and chin high as he looked thoughtfully into the distance. Link wondered what he saw. Link looked out in the direction of Lon Lon Ranch. At this pace, they would reach it in two days, the castle in three.

He missed Malon. Link swallowed. He missed Epona. He hoped his beautiful mare made her way home.

“What would be enough,” Ganondorf asked, so softly Link wondered if he was talking to himself, “to keep one such as you then?”

Keep ? Link narrowed his eyes. Ganondorf glanced at him and shook his head. “My apologies for my poor wording. You know my hope: for you to see the Fortress as your home, as a place you can leave but always return. If comfort is not enough, what is?”

There was an unexpected earnestness in Ganondorf’s wide eyes and curved mouth that Link couldn’t deal with, not when he had been asking himself that same question for years. He turned back to the field, to the birds in the blue sky and the rabbits running away from the horses. There were two new soldiers in the distance watching them. How many were in the field? How many were there only for the Gerudo?

Link shook his head. What could he say? Words were meaningless . He tapped Afrit’s neck. “I will go scout.”

Kali’s voice raised in an almost yelp, but Link didn’t look back as he urged Afrit into a gallop.

Beyond the soldiers, Link saw no one else in the field. Birds flew ahead, and he saw a doe grazing by a clump of trees. She jerked her head up at his approach and then bolted. Good signs. This trip provided two openings for the twins: to attack their group or to practice their magic in the desert without interference. Link could do little about the latter but could keep an eye on the former.

He could also keep an eye on the two soldiers riding in his direction. Within a breath, Link’s bow was notched and ready. He aimed at the ground but was ready to raise and fire if they blinked wrong. Neither grabbed their own weapons. They kept their hands on the reins as they rode out toward Link.

Two males, both brown-haired, one clearly older than the other. He was the one who took charge, raising his hands and smiling at Link while the other remained back. “Peace, friend. I was unaware that a fellow Hylian rode with the Gerudo and was curious, no more.”

Link didn’t move, arrow still cocked. He tilted his head and studied the man. There was a clear rank on his collar, but Link had no idea what it meant. The main thing he knew about the guards was that they yelled loudly at him when they caught him in the castle and younger ones were easy to make cry.

The man’s smile faltered. “Do you speak Hylian, friend?”

Link nodded, glancing back at the younger soldier. He looked suspicious but made no motion to grab a weapon. He sat awkwardly on his horse, hands too tight on the reins. If a fight happened, at least he would be easy to drop without much injury.

The older man coughed. Link looked back at him. He was still smiling but looked confused. “ Can you speak?”

Link bit back a sigh. He nodded.

The soldier’s smile wobbled. “Ah. I...see. Ah, well, I hope to speak with you again. Your...companions are joining us.” He gestured in the direction of the castle. “There will be more of us keeping the peace in the fields. Word is already being passed that you travel with the Gerudo. If you ever need help, just come find us.”

With a final smile and nod, the soldier turned his horse around and rode back toward the other soldiers. His younger companion squinted at Link before joining them. Link didn’t return his arrow to the quiver until Ganondorf rode up beside him.

“Are you well?” he asked quietly, watching the Hylians ride away.

Link nodded, watching them as well. Such odd people. Shrugging to himself. He slung his bow back to its original place and tapped Afrit’s sides with his heels. Afrit obligingly trotted forward.

Ganondorf grabbed the reins before he could go more than a step. Link narrowed his eyes at Ganondorf. Ganondorf instantly released the reins but didn’t move away. “You need to stay close to us. The Hylians may view you as a threat. You are safest with us.”

Link scowled. Had Ganondorf learned nothing yet? Had he not proved himself to Ganondorf? Did Ganondorf think him still that weak idiot who failed against the Wolfos? Frustration burning in his throat, Link tapped his heels and pulled back and Afrit obligingly reared, sharp front hooves flailing in the air. Afrit’s whinny carried through the field as Ganondorf jerked away, eyes growing wide. In Link’s peripheral vision, he saw the other Gerudo pull back as well. Afrit’s hooves slammed back to the earth, and the mare threw back her head and whinnied again.

“There is no mortal soldier who can defeat me,” Link said coldly. “And there is no mortal king who can command or keep me.”

Ganondorf stared at him for a long moment, mouth tight. He inclined his head. “Of course, but do not forget: I know that, my warriors know that, and you know that, but they do not.” He gestured toward the Hylians. The younger one now had a hand on his sword. The older one watched, hands on his reins. “While you travel with us, even if you do not need it, you are under my protection.”

Link bit his lip and turned away. He tapped Afrit’s sides with his heels. Immediately, Ganondorf did the same, riding alongside him. He felt flushed, with frustration and embarrassment both. What did Ganondorf want?

What did Link want?

Ganondorf seemed too quiet beside him, too still on the saddle. He never should have grabbed Link’s reins, but.. Link shifted on the saddle.  It took him several tries to form a reasonable sentence. “I think they wanted to protect me from you.”

That pierced the tension rising between them. Ganondorf threw his head back and laughed, the sound echoing. Link watched the older soldier grab the other, steadying him. “I hope that a monster attacks us, Sa’ven . Let them see what they wish to protect.”

Something that Link didn’t realize had tightened in his chest relaxed at that. Link studied Ganondorf as they rode, and something horrific occurred to him: he needed to talk with Kali. All of his normal confidants were beyond his reach, and Kali made it clear she understood what was going on. Link thought of Ganondorf’s kiss and how he talked about Link as a divine servant and how he wanted to view the Fortress as home . Perhaps a trade? Information for information? An idea occurred to him, and Link bit back a smile. He knew a good bribe, if not for Kali then for Nabooru.

Now how by the Goddesses was he supposed to ask ?

As the Hylian soldier said, Link caught glimpses of soldiers as they rode on. None approached. Even with his addition to the party, it was clear that it was King Ganondorf leading. They had right of passage. The thought scratched at too many sensitive places. Many times in his travels, he had to get permission, often royal, but that was to traverse to dangerous or holy places, not to cross a field. How ridiculous to feel so caged crossing Hyrule Field. Link watched the skies and the fields, but the birds continued to fly, the beasts continued to run and feed. Unfortunately, everything remained peaceful. A target would have been perfect.

Ganondorf traveled close to him but remained silent. Link watched him out of the corner of his eyes. All of this was so odd to him, but that wasn’t Ganondorf’s fault. Perhaps… He pointed across the fields. “I grew up close to here, in the forest.”

“Oh?” Ganondorf raised an eyebrow. “In the forest? Rumors reach even the desert of the forest’s magic, speaking of spirits and creatures. Is that false then?”

Link shook his head. He shifted in the saddle and looked in the direction of the forest. No, all true.

“Is there a village there?” Ganondorf inquired. A smile teased his mouth. For some reason, he looked entertained. When Link nodded, Ganondorf guessed, “But not a Hylian village.” When Link nodded again, the small smile grew into a grin. “I see. Of course not.” He waved at the field. “And Zora’s Domain. Have you been there?”

This game of questions continued until they reached a creek and Ganondorf called for lunch. Kali and Nabooru had started laughing after a bit, and Link decided he would never understand any of the Gerudo. Link watched the others dismount, Kali and Nabooru still snickering,  but remained seated on Afrit’s back. Ganondorf shifted as if to dismount before realizing Link hadn’t moved. “Link?”

Link nodded toward a grove of trees downstream. Then he deliberately pulled out his bow and an arrow. Why have dry, salted lunch when he could have fresh?

Ganondorf frowned but nodded. “Of course.”

Kali shifted, as if considering getting back in the saddle, but stopped at a handwave from Ganondorf. Link nodded his thanks at him and headed toward the grove. If Ganondorf mentioned anything about him needing protection going into a small grove, Link would shoot someone.

A part of him expected a soldier or a monster like a Wolfos to be waiting. Indeed, the grove was quieter than he expected, the birdsong there but distant, soft. The grove was small but large enough to provide shade and shield Link from the Gerudo’s view within moments of entering. The deer tracks were fresh and the birdsong present enough to keep Link’s shoulders relaxed and loose. He even saw plants he knew would taste good cooked with some meat.

Link paused at the sound of familiar clucking ahead. Link stopped Afrit and slid down. Arrow cocked, Link crept through the trees and ducked behind one of the larger ones. Slowly, carefully, Link peeked around the tree.

Cuccos. A gaggle of cuccos. In the wild. Link shuddered. He had never eaten cucco, and for all his courage, he didn’t want to try today. He licked his lips and looked around. There was possibly a dozen there milling around, but he knew cuccos: there were always more hiding, waiting to descend in feathery fury.

Beyond the cuccos, though… Link smiled and carefully raised his bow, aiming. It had been a while since he had boar.

The cuccos fled shrieking at the first shot, and the boar died by the second arrow. Pleased, Link rose and jogged toward the fallen beast. Now this would be lunch.

Link remained smiling as he knelt and prepared the boar for its journey back to the camp. He remained smiling despite the smell and gore. He remained smiling until he saw the giant hoofprints beyond the boar. Fresh, giant hoofprints.

Link hadn’t seen those prints since his last journey through the mountains, but Link never forgot what a Lynel’s hoofprints looked like.

Link swallowed, hauled his kill over his shoulders, and hurried back to Afrit. Afrit huffed at him when he put the boar over her back but otherwise appeared calm. Good. No animal, not even one trained for war, remained this calm when a Lynel was near.

As Link left the grove, the last of the birdsong fell silent.

Chapter Text

The journey back to Hyrule had been longer and more tiresome than Link expected. Perhaps it had been due to the battle in the Zora’s territory. They offered him the chance to rest and recover, but he couldn’t bring himself to do it. He needed to flee, away from their sincere but dismissive smiles. The good-byes had been in their eyes even before Link’s bleeding stopped. The decision to return to Hyrule had been automatic.

No. Not automatic. Resigned. Perhaps even more than that.

He and Epona traveled through the forest, high into the mountains, heading toward the Kokiri Forest. Epona paused with a distressed huff and toss of her head, and Link saw the tracks, fresh and deep in the damp ground. Only then had his weary mind caught onto the eerie silence of the wood. He looked around and saw the tracks leading deeper into the forest.

Link studied the tracks while Epona waited under him, faithful and ready. Mind blank, he sat and listened to the wind through the trees. Then he tugged on Epona’s reins, and they went the other way. There had been no fight in him that day.

Then all Link wanted was to find a quiet cave and sleep, to rest and lick his wounds. Now Link slid off Afrit’s back and smacked her rump. With a low whinny, the horse ran back to the camp, Link’s kill on her back and Link’s memories in the dust behind her.

Now was a different story.

The Gerudo sat in a semi-circle beside the stream. Beyond them, Link saw the faint silhouette of two Hylian soldiers. As Afrit ran to the camp, Ganondorf stood up and waved a hand at Link. In response, Link pulled out his sword and held it up in the air. As if on cue, something roared behind him.

Link had been too tired to fight then but now?

Link spun around to face the grove again, only to immediately dive and roll. Three arrows slammed into the ground where he had stood. He heard Ganondorf shouting and took a deep breath.

Lynel!

With an earthshaking roar, the Lynel burst from the grove into the field. It reared on its hindlegs and stood almost as tall as the saplings around it, red as the desert and its massive maw open in a snarl. When it slammed down, the ground shook, and Link backflipped away from the shockwave.

Massive beasts and among the deadliest Link had ever encountered outside a temple or dungeon, Lynels were thought to be legends in Hyrule. Link had never encountered them until he traveled beyond Hyrule’s borders. The first encounter left him with broken ribs and a broken sword arm. Overconfidence and the childish belief that there could be no truly dangerous monsters in the wild almost got him killed.

After that encounter, though…

Link grinned, gripped his sword with both hands, and charged.

The Lynel’s own sword was twice Link’s size and whistled as it swung at him. Instinct more than skill stopped Link and he backflipped over it, feeling it swish under him. As soon as his feet hit the ground again, he threw himself forward, his own sword biting into the Lynel’s leathery skin. The beast roared and Link barely ducked away before the massive sword swung again.

Then arrows rained from the sky. The Lynel’s roar shook the air as the arrows nailed its muscled torso and the thick fur around its face. Most of the arrows fell away, the Lynel’s skin too tough for them to catch on. Lynels wore little armor because they needed little armor. Link had seen them take on entire armies if the people were foolish enough to march through the Lynel’s territory.

The Lynel shifted to face the coming Gerudo, and Link took advantage to run and leap onto its back. Voices rose and Link ignored them, grabbing the massive body beneath him with his knees and thighs as he chopped at the monster’s back. Its roar hurt Link’s ears and it began to buck like a raging bull. Link clung just long enough to break its skin before the Lynel threw him off. Grunting, Link slammed into the ground and rolled into a tree.

More shouts and strange screams but Link focused on pushing himself up and rolling forward, just dodging an arrow. It caught his sleeve and shredded it before Link stopped in a crouch.

Half a dozen Gerudo surrounded the Lynel, Ganondorf in the lead. Two Gerudo had fallen back, and Link snarled when he saw arrows still embedded in their skin. Both were still up and mobile. The rest of the Gerudo remained with the horses, and to Link’s annoyance, he saw the Hylian soldiers charging forward. Those idiots couldn’t even catch him when he was a kid! What did they think they could do against a Lynel?

Link growled and braced for another charge before he registered the annoyed sound beside him. Link looked down. Link grinned.

The cucco looked back at him and squawked again.

In a breath the Silver Sword was back in its sheath and the cucco was in his hands. It shrieked as Link ran forward, holding it above his head. Its feathers trailed behind him.

Standing right in front of the Lynel, Ganondorf almost stumbled. “Link?”

The Lynel growled and took advantage of his distraction, swinging his sword.

Link threw the cucco into its path.

The sword slammed into the cucco as Ganondorf threw himself backward, barely dodging the sword and cucco both. As Link watched, the cucco went flying, shrieking like mad as it hit the ground and rolled. With a furious screech, it hopped to its feet. Then it threw its head back and screamed .

Its people descended like a storm.

Impa told Zelda and Link a story when they were still young, after Link had traveled back in time and passed on his warning. She said that while most symbols of the Triforce were only of the Triforce, there were some connected with pictures of birds and were connected to Hylia’s line. There were legends of Hylians riding great birds and communicating with others, gaining stories and wisdom. There were even tales of Hylians living in the air and needing birds to survive.

Watching a cucco in action, Link believed it.

The Lynel roared and writhed, striking with its sword, but the cuccos were small and hard to hit. They also bounced back from every strike, more durable than any creature Link had ever encountered outside certain dragons. Link grinned and took a moment to enjoy the little beasts attacking someone else for a change before he ran forward.

Again, he leaped onto the Lynel’s back, and the Silver Sword blazed as he swung. The Lynel roared and tried to buck again but couldn’t keep a rhythm. The cuccos battered at its face like feathery cannon balls, shockingly sharp claws raking over thick skin. Triumph blazed in Link’s heart as that damned skin finally gave and his sword cut deep.

The Lynel’s howl echoed and it reared. When it slammed back to the earth, the shockwave sent Link and the cuccos flying.

This time, Link didn’t hit the ground. With a gasp, he slammed into something warm and solid. Ganondorf grunted and held him in his arms. Together they watched the Lynel stumble, heavy head lolling. With a deep groan, it collapsed, all of the Gerudo leaping away. Its head rolled back on its shoulders. With a final roar, it faded into golden dust.

“By Hylia !”

Still in Ganondorf’s arms, Link blinked at the two Hylian soldiers standing behind the Gerudo, swords drawn. He shrugged and waved at them before looking back where the Lynel had stood. No artifact this time. Nothing but dirt and blood and cucco feathers.

Link tapped Ganondorf’s bicep. Ganondorf started and looked down at him. His eyes were wide and dark, and Link had to grin at him. He tapped again, and this time Ganondorf set his feet back on the ground. He didn’t let go of Link.

Several cuccos squawked and wandered away. Gerudo and Hylian both leaped out of their path. Link’s grin widened. He knew he could weaponize those assholes.

At last, Link was able to return to Afrit and his boar and work on lunch. The Gerudo returned to their own lunches and helped the two who had been shot with their wounds: one an arrow to the shoulder, the other with scraped ribs. The Hylians returned to their post, shaking and whispering.

“We should have brought Ziela,” Nabooru mused, helping herself to some of Link’s boar. Link raised an eyebrow but let her have it. “If there are going to be odd monsters appearing, we could use her expertise. What did you call the beast? A…?”

“Lynel,” Link said. He frowned at the chunk of meat in his hand. He meant to grab some plants for spices but was distracted by the Lynel. Shrugging, he bit a chunk off anyway.

Ganondorf pressed so close to his side that they bumped each other with every movement. Link found himself not minding. “Elders Kotake and Koume must have sent it,” he said. “I have never seen such a beast before.” He shook his head. “It was different from the others. What does that mean?”

Kali sat across the fire, stretched out with her legs by Link’s and her shoulder brushing against Nabooru’s. Nabooru handed her a piece of Link’s boar. Kali bumped her shoulder in thanks. “ Sa’ven . Any ideas?”

Link’s fingers tapped against the chunk of meat. The fight seemed too quick for his tastes, even if he loved seeing the cuccos fight someone else for a change. He didn’t want to talk: he wanted to fight . Scowling, he bit down hard on the chunk of meat. Eating worked, too, especially since it was his kill they were eating.

“Did they conjure it out of the air or…?” Kali murmured.

Link shook his head. Lynels were real monsters. That was only a red Lynel, though. Did that mean it was the strongest they could call for or the quickest? They hadn’t used an artifact of power to call the beast, but how could they have moved such a territorial monster as a Lynel? “We’re missing something.”

Ganondorf’s hand settled on his shoulder. They finished their meal in silence.

In the end, the two Gerudo -- Delu and Kina -- were good to travel and eager to carry on. Link and Kali scouted the grove but saw no other sign of the twins. Link nodded once at the remaining cuccos and watched Kali flinch at their farewell screeches.

The red Lynel continued to bother Link as they rode on. He heard Kali and Nabooru talking about it in hushed tones behind him. Ganondorf remained beside him, eyes more on Link than the field.

“They will attack again before we reach the castle,” Ganondorf said quietly. Link nodded and kept studying the fields. “Do you have any idea the form it will take?”

Below him, Afrit huffed, sensing Link’s restlessness. Link absently patted her neck. He looked at Ganondorf and shook his head. He hadn’t expected a Lynel. It couldn’t have been in that grove for long. There was nothing indicating that the Lynel owned that territory.

“They have a new power source,” Link said at last. The field seemed lush and green before him, untouched by the war and its crazy mortals. “Maybe something from their master.”

Demise . They had no proof and only bits of evidence, but Link had gone on less before. It fit , somehow, a key twisting in a lock. Link frowned. “Did they ever mention a creature named Demise to you?”

Kali and Nabooru quieted. Ganondorf swept a look over all of them. “No. They spoke of many things but never gave names.”

“My king,” Kali said, but when Link looked over his shoulder, it was he Kali looked at, not Ganondorf, “I believe when we stop for the night, we must share what information we gathered. The Elders Kotake and Koume spoke to you more than anyone else of their plans. That beast caught us completely off guard.”

Link grunted. No. It caught him off guard. It, like the rest of their monsters, went after Link .

The twins still wanted Ganondorf. They needed him alive.

Link had only stalled their plans; he hadn’t stopped them entirely. And this time, there would be no Princess Zelda and her magic to aid him.

A hunter’s calm fell over him as he looked back at his companions. He did have them. Now how to best arm them?

First, though… Link tugged the reins and nudged Afrit into a trot, riding just in front of Ganondorf. Around them, darkness began to fall: closer to winter than summer, and night still fell early.

“Link?” Ganondorf called as Link led them onto the paths. Not as quick as the direct route of the fields, but safer. “Care to explain the new route?”

Not really. Link rolled his shoulders and pointed to the setting sun. “Night will be on us, soon.”

This section of the path was wide enough for two horses to ride side by side. Link let Afrit slow again to ride beside Ganondorf. Ganondorf raised a thick eyebrow at him. A wry smile tugged at his mouth.

Clad in the bright red of the Gerudo, dark skin shining in the sun and smiling, Ganondorf looked good to Link right then. Link swallowed and turned back to the path. He wanted to tell Ganondorf to stay this way: to turn away from the twins’ dark promises. There was no sweet breeze there, only death. Only Demise’s darkness.

“Why does that mean we need to be on the path?” Ganondorf prodded.

Link shook his head. “Stalchildren,” he said, pushing aside his fear. He had to focus.

“Stal what?”

“Stalchildren,” Kali said behind him. “Is that what the skeletons are called then?” Link nodded. “And they will leave us alone if we stay on the path?” Another nod. Kali laughed. “ Sa’ven , expect an interrogation tonight.”

Nabooru barked a laugh. “Link, you prepare for your interrogation. Kali, figure out how far you can get with yes and no questions.”

Link sighed when they both started laughing. Ganondorf only watched them, an odd fondness on his face. He shook his head.

“It’s strange,” Ganondorf murmured. “Once that king felt like my primary opponent. Now he is just one of many, and it seems like he is not even of the important ones.”

Link beamed and patted his arm. Now he was getting it!

Chapter Text

The waning moon provided little light over Hyrule Field, but between that and the crackling fire before him, Link could look around with ease. Warm and comfortable, Link watched the Hylian soldiers watch them and wondered if they were comfortable, too. Considering they were two men larger than Link trying to fit in a small tree, Link doubted it. One of the soldiers stretched out on a branch clearly not meant for his girth.

Beside him, so close they bumped with each breath and movement, Ganondorf hummed. The field was more temperate than the desert, but Link still appreciated his heat. Several times, Link found himself leaning toward Ganondorf. Surrounded by the crisp dampness of Hyrule Field, Ganondorf smelled incongruously warm and spicy.

“That branch will break before dawn,” Ganondorf said, nodding toward the tree. Link didn’t doubt it. Link kept his bow and arrows close at hand, ready to shoot at any stalchildren who went for the easy mark.

The rest of the Gerudo spread out along the path with three different fires going. Thanks to the flickering light, Link saw the Gerudo holding up money and pointing at the soldier. Link guessed he would fall by midnight, himself.

Ganondorf hummed again and his arm pressed against Link’s shoulder. If Link leaned a little, he could rest his head against the solid muscle of Ganondorf’s bicep.

Across their small fire, Kali had no issue resting her head on Nabooru’s shoulder. Her head moved oddly as she chewed on a chunk of dried meat, too stubborn to lift her head off Nabooru to eat. Making a bet with the Gerudo behind her, Nabooru didn’t seem to notice. Kali’s whole body seemed to move when she swallowed. “ Sa’ven , my king, I am unsure where to start.”

Link shrugged. There was a reason he avoided explanations on the rare occasion people wanted them.

Kali sighed, mouth quirked. “Of course, Sa’ven .”

Ganondorf and Nabooru laughed, and Kali and Link shook with them. Link didn’t bother trying to understand.

“I’ll start with Demise,” Kali said drolly. While Link kept an eye on the soldiers, Kali explained what the Elder told them. As she spoke, Link felt Ganondorf’s muscle tense against him. Link looked up but from his angle, Ganondorf’s face was lost in shadow.

“So you think this myth has something to do with the Elders Kotake and Koume?” Nabooru asked. She popped a piece of meat in her mouth and glanced at the soldiers. Both remained steady in the tree.

Link licked his lips and thought of Majora. Before he could figure out how to explain it, Ganondorf said, “Yes.”

Yes? Link cocked his head. Ganondorf stared into the fire. His arm felt like a brick wall against Link. Behind Nabooru, one of the Gerudo threw her head back and laughed loudly, while her companion snickered.

Then Ganondorf shifted, his body seeming to spasm. “The Elders...they spoke of a great power, just waiting to be uncovered. They promised power enough to turn the tide of battle, to drive the Hylian king to his knees.” Ganondorf chuckled mirthlessly. “I thought they spoke of the Triforce. They did speak of it and its hiding spot. Yet now I realize their language was wrong. They spoke of the Triforce and this great power separately.” He shook his head. “They made many promises of this power.”

Link rested his head on Ganondorf’s bicep, trying to get a better look at his face. To Link’s surprise, Ganondorf shifted his arm away, only to wrap it around Link’s shoulders and drag him close. Link sucked in a startled breath and the scent of cinnamon and musk threatened to overwhelm his senses. He swallowed.

Kali leaned forward, and her eyes seemed endless. “Anything specific, my king? Specific terms, language, references?”

Several Gerudo cheered. Link shifted enough to see the soldier flail on his branch before he caught himself. When nothing else happened, a round of groans rose.

“They were always vague,” Ganondorf said. “They told me that they would tell me when the time was right.” He shook his head. “I suppose the time was never right.”

“Because they didn’t have this Demise yet,” Nabooru guessed. She hummed and leaned back on her hands. “An ancient shadow… I suppose regular monsters weren’t ambitious enough.”

“But how did they plan on summoning him?” Kali asked. “What are they missing?”

“A vessel,” Link said promptly. He remembered the imp falling lifelessly to the ground. He looked at Ganondorf and for a split second saw the monster who tore Hyrule apart. He shivered.

Ganondorf tightened his grip around Link’s shoulders. He felt warmer than the fire. “The power they spoke of...they planned on using me to bring it forth.”

“And the darkness would rise again,” Nabooru finished. Both Gerudo sounded cold and grim. “They’re using the Desert Colossus somehow. They’re twisting the power of the Desert Goddess to help them.”

Could she feel it? How they desecrated her temple? What else could she feel?

“All this,” Ganondorf murmured, “in the name of power.”

Link could read nothing in his tone. His arm remained steady on Link’s shoulders.

“We’ll deal with the Hylians, my king,” Kali said, “and then we’ll deal with them.”

Ganondorf hummed, sounding unimpressed. “All of this…” He looked down at Link. “And the Goddesses sent you to us to stop it.”

And save you. Link reached up and touched Ganondorf’s jaw with his fingertips. Ganondorf’s necklace felt heavy against his chest, under his clothes. Link knew he was running out of time, but he wasn’t too late. He knew it.

He wanted to arm them against the coming darkness but how? Especially when he didn’t know what form it would take. The tools he used before wouldn’t apply here.

Something cracked in the dark, and Link’s breath caught. Behind Nabooru, the Gerudo laughed and cheered. The thump -- and the accompanying yelp -- echoed.

Sighing, Link shrugged off Ganondorf’s arm to grab his bow. Time to save the idiot.

By the time the soldier had found a new branch and the stalchildren returned to the ground, the Gerudo had moved onto placing bets on Link’s shots and something else he couldn’t translate. Whatever it was, Nabooru was sulking and Kali was putting a small fortune in her bag. Ganondorf sat with legs crossed, watching Link. He patted the ground beside him. When Link sat again, Ganondorf didn’t hesitate to wrap his arm around Link’s shoulders.

“We need to focus on next steps,” Ganondorf said briskly. “The Elders were last seen at the underground location. Kali, choose several warriors to accompany you and Link when you investigate. Nabooru…” Every inch of Ganondorf seemed to scowl along with his mouth. “We will be busy with whatever the Hylian king is planning. If this is truly the end of the war, plans must be put in place to work on trade and establish communication with the Zora and the Gorons.”

Link frowned. Nabooru was a Sage, even if she was unawakened. She might be helpful in repelling the twins from the Spirit Temple. Also… He stared at the fire, reflecting on his original time. What trade was there? Between anyone? He remembered no hostility, not counting the carpenters, but everyone, especially the Gerudo, seemed isolated.

“You seem to disagree with that, Sa’ven ,” Kali said, voice mild. When Link looked up again, all three stared at him. Link scowled at them.

“I am still king, Link.” There was an odd gentleness to Ganondorf’s voice. Link twisted to look at him. Ganondorf tightened his arm around his shoulders. “No matter what happens with the monsters and the shadows, I must take care of my people.”

Link scowled at him. He knew that. He watched Zelda rise from princess to queen, watched her rule over her people. In fact, it wasn’t until… Link’s face softened in surprise, and he looked out into the field, not seeing anything. It wasn’t until Zelda started taking command that there was active trade and communication between the people of Hyrule, slim though it was.

How could he explain that , though? Especially when he didn’t understand why?

He could help with trade. He knew that. In every other timeline, he was able to forge ties with the other races. One silent fear kept Link from making that offer: he still had no clue what the goddesses planned for Link after this. Would they return him to his original timeline, like Zelda had? Could he stay?

Link licked his lips and looked back up at Ganondorf’s face. He wanted to stay.

The shadows hid most of Ganondorf’s face, but the fire lit Link’s easily enough. Whatever Ganondorf saw, he sighed and shook his head. “I hope at some point you will explain what worries you with that plan.”

“I hope,” Kali added wryly, “that at some point you will explain much more to us. Like the orbs.”

Link frowned at her. He thought the orbs were pretty self-explanatory. Besides, they had more immediate concerns. He looked back to the soldiers, unsteady in their tree. “There will be more monsters. Ganondorf should be safe, but everyone else is at risk.”

Especially the Hylians, but Link saw no reason to mention that. If those idiots couldn’t handle stalchildren, they would be destroyed by whatever monsters the twins threw at them next.

A memory tugged at him, but he couldn’t place it. Link shook his head. They had two more days before they reached Hyrule Castle. He would use that time to figure this out.

Ganondorf squeezed his shoulders and then called out, “First shift, set up guard. We’ll move out at first light.”

The Gerudo used no tents, only sleeping mats. Stuck to the path unless they wanted to attract monstrous attention, it was still an awkward fit. When Link moved to set out his own, Ganondorf touched Link’s arm. Nabooru paused where she was dealing with their fire. Ganondorf shifted so he blocked her view of Link.

Link waited. Ganondorf’s fingers lingered on his arm, his heat a brand. Then Ganondorf’s hand trailed to the center of his chest, somehow finding the necklace even through Link’s clothes. Ganondorf’s mouth opened before shutting again, the Gerudo shaking his head. He tapped the necklace. “Sleep well, Link.”

Before he could pull away, Link grabbed his hand and held him in place. He kept his voice low, too aware of not just Nabooru but Kali watching them. “What is this?”

Two kisses, a necklace, the touching… Ganondorf said he wanted him to stay.

Ganondorf looked down at their hands. Link’s brown gloves seemed black, his bare fingers pale. “Not what I originally planned.” Ganondorf seemed to hesitate, and then he brought Link’s hand to his mouth. He pressed his lips to Link’s fingers. “What would a servant of the goddesses give me?”

“His sword,” Link replied promptly.

Ganondorf’s mouth quirked. His breath was damp against Link’s hand. “And Link?”

Link said nothing.

Ganondorf kissed his fingers again before cupping Link’s cheek. Link leaned into his touch. Ganondorf smiled at him but seemed to look through him. “Good night.”

xoxoxox

Just prior to dawn, one of the soldiers awoke Link by falling out of the tree again. Slightly stiff from sleep, Link took the opportunity to exercise by walking out and stabbing the stalchildren. Half-asleep and grumbling, Kali joined him, as well as several laughing Gerudo. The other soldier jumped down from his perch to help, and Link noted that both soldiers possessed more skill than he expected, even if one of them looked startled every time the stalchildren gathered their bones and began attacking again.

By the time the sun rose and the stalchildren collapsed back to the earth, the rest of the Gerudo were ready to go again. The soldiers thanked not only Link but the Gerudo for their aid. Then they scurried off to a safe distance. Link assumed their replacements would arrive soon, free from the dirt now coating both soldiers.

Delu laughed and clapped Link’s shoulder. “Thank you. That was an excellent way to stretch first thing in the morning.”

Kali grumbled and stretched her arms over her head. “Don’t give him ideas. Next thing you know, you will be battling a great serpent or a dragon.”

“As long as it’s not another Lynel,” Delu retorted. “Monsters shouldn’t be allowed bows.”

Link bit back the comment that it was only a red and shrugged instead. At this rate, they would find that out soon enough.

Within minutes, everyone was back on the road and trotting toward Hyrule Castle. Like the previous day, Ganondorf rode close to Link.

For the first part of the morning, Ganondorf and Link rode in silence. More Hylian soldiers appeared, all watching them from a distance. Link tracked them as they rode, thinking of how the soldiers compared to the Gerudos in fighting. They were more equal than he expected. That conclusion did nothing to cheer him.

Perhaps Link spent too long making poor comparisons. He compared them to a child they hadn’t wanted to hurt and to a force apparently older than Hyrule itself. They might be stronger than he originally thought.

They still fell, shredded in the first assault on the castle.

“Bad thoughts?” Ganondorf inquired eventually. Before them, the fields stretched on, endless green. Link could imagine Farore sweeping out Her hand, magic flowing over formerly dead land.

Too easily, he could also imagine Ganondorf riding across the field, shadows following him and the green turning grey and cold. Link licked his lip. “Kotake and Koume wanted you to be Demise’s avatar.”

“I know.” Ganondorf stared at the field, so different from his desert. Link wondered what he saw. “I believe they want me to play that role still.” He shook his head. “But…”

Link cocked his head. But?

Ganondorf shook his head. “My… The Elders are old, the oldest of all the Gerudo. It makes sense that they have planned this for years, perhaps centuries. I cannot believe that they would not have a backup plan if using me failed.”

That...that was a good point. Link thought of the Lynel, attacking them only hours after they left. Yet… “They don’t have a backup plan,” he said, thinking of the fight with them in the Desert Temple. They had all but withdrawn from the war, content with their small battlefield. “ Demise does.”

In the distance, the soldiers continued to watch them, three this time. Their horses were huddled close together as the three seemed focused on talking with each other. They were too distant for Link to make out anything else about them.

About the soldiers, anyway.

With a small tug, Link stopped Afrit. Immediately, the Gerudo stopped. Ganondorf didn’t have time to ask what the problem was before he scowled at the soldiers. The soldiers’ horses danced beneath them, but focused on their conversation, the soldiers didn’t seem to notice.

“Link, I doubt they will attack you. Go investigate. We’ll be here as support.”

Link nodded and tapped his heels into Afrit’s sides. With a low nicker, Afrit broke into a gallop. At last, the soldiers looked up from their conversation. Two immediately placed their hands on their swords. The third pulled away and rode to meet Link.

“Stranger,” the soldier called.

In hindsight, Link had no idea why he was surprised when fire exploded from the ground.

The soldiers shouted and their horses whinnied as the fire roared like a living thing, scorching the grass as it spiraled around them. It formed a wall between Link and the lead soldier off from the others. Afrit whinnied and shuffled under Link. Link jumped off her back and yanked out his sword. Across from him, the soldier did the same.

“Link!” Ganondorf shouted, but his voice was distant and drowned out by the fire. Through the flames, Link saw Ganondorf break from the Gerudo to charge toward him.

Then the fire shrieked and rose, completing the circle around them. Afrit whinnied shrieked and bolted, the soldier's horse following at a dead gallop. Link jerked as a part of him wanted to follow, but it was too late: the fire closed around them, a crackling, smoking barrier. Link watched with wide eyes as the fire extended above them, the end transforming into a snake’s face. Its mouth opened and spoke, stilling Link.

“Little one, did you think we wouldn’t find out what you were?” Kotake’s voice asked, and the serpent trembled as Kotake cackled.

“I don’t think he did!” Koume boomed. “What a silly child, Kotake!”

“Indeed, Koume!” The sisters laughed from a single mouth, sending chills down Link’s spine. “He thought to fool us!”

“Us! Silly child, silly child!”

The snake shifted, blazing eyes focused on Link. The Silver Sword felt like little more than a stick in Link’s hand.

“We know what you are, Hero .”

Her Champion!” Laughter spiraled, shrill and wild.

“Now let us show you true power.”

The soldier cursed, realizing what Link had: a sword meant nothing against a creature of fire. Link spared him a glance, having a moment to notice the Hylian’s odd armor and sword. Beyond the Hylian and the fire circling them, more spots of fire flared to life. Link’s eyes widened.

Then the world exploded in fire and Ganondorf howled.

Chapter Text

More screams and shouts joined Ganondorf’s, but Link didn’t have time to look. He rolled and felt the heat of the snake’s strike blistering hot against his back. The screams rose and from the snake’s mouth, the twins laughed and laughed.

“I hope you have a plan, warrior!” the Hylian soldier shouted. He had abandoned his sword and now held his shield in front of him, like that could protect him from the flames. All he had otherwise was his bow and quiver, and that meant nothing against this snake.

Link gritted his teeth and looked up. The flames were now too high for Link to see his companions at all. The snake’s head towered above them, swaying. Its maw gaping, the twins still laughing that damned laughter.

“Hero!”

“Champion!”

“He’ll see, Kotake!”

“Oh, yes, Koume! He’ll burn with the rest of his line!”

Its mouth shivered, then the snake spat out a fireball. Before Link could dodge again, the soldier was there, blocking it with his shield. The fireball forced him back with a grunt, but he held his feet. The soldier looked over his shoulder at Link and winked.

“The others are talking about you!” he called, even as the snake roared. Impossibly, the soldier was smiling. “They said you took down a Lynel. If you can do that, you can kill this thing. I’ll protect: you attack!”

Now Link recognized the odd armor. This wasn’t a Hylian soldier: this was a Hylian Knight . According to Impa, their lineage traced back to the founding of the kingdom. There were several times they had almost been wiped out, but they always rose again, dedicated to the Royal Family.

Link nodded and forced himself to ignore the cries beyond the flames. The Song of Storms was tempting, but there was too much metal being used. That left --

The snake screeched and dived. Link whipped out his bow and arrow. With a breath of magic, the arrow blazed blue, and Link fired into that open mouth. The creature screamed, ice fighting flame.

Then the ice kept flowing. “My turn, Sister!” Kotake sang out.

Link’s eyes widened as the ice flashed past him, the fiery circle transforming into an icy cage. He could see the Gerudo fighting through the ice but the figures were too blurred for him to make out any details.

“That’s unexpected,” the Knight said drolly. He backed toward Link, looking tense but unafraid. He glanced at Link, smiling. Then that smile dropped. “Watch out!”

Immediately Link jerked around but not fast enough. He caught a glimpse of icy blue before something hard slammed into his side, sending him tumbling. The Knight tried to catch him and they both fell to the dirt.

“Too slow, too slow!”

Shrieking with laughter, the snake dived again, mouth a mess of frozen fangs. The Knight cursed. Link grabbed him by the waist and held him close. Even as the Knight sputtered, Link summoned Din’s Fire in time for the snake to get a face full. Now shrieking with pain, the snake jerked back.

Link frowned and watched the ice flare back into flame. Smaller than before but --

Motion out of the corner of his eye. He raised his shield in time with the Knight. The fireball slammed into their combined shields, pushing them back. Link grunted, his shield protecting him from being burned but not from the searing heat. It seemed to steal the breath from his lungs.

The second it let up, Link rolled out and aimed an ice arrow at the snake’s face. Flame roiled to his right and the Knight knelt beside him, holding his shield so it covered them both from the snake’s tail.

Which left Link open from the front when the snake spit another fireball.

The arrow missed the fireball and caught the snake in its mouth. It shrieked and shifted but Link barely noticed, throwing himself backward. The fireball slammed into the ground instead of him but flames still caught his boot. Pain seared his foot and ankle as he kicked off the boot.

This was going too slow and they didn’t have enough room to move! Link kicked off his other boot so he didn’t mess up his balance too much.

The ice serpent writhed before them, smaller but still strong, furious. Its body still towered around them, nothing but solid walls.

And still the twins laughed.

Link grabbed a bomb out of his bag and threw it hard, straight into the snake’s laughing mouth. The twins yelped and then the bomb exploded, its icy head shattering. The neck wobbled, waving back and forth, and before Link’s eyes, a new head slowly reformed.

If it wasn’t for the Gerudo and the Knight and the soldiers, Link would stick with the pattern, beat the twins with their own elements. There were too many combatants on the field. He didn’t have time!

Hero!

Link reached into his bag and grabbed a new set of tools.

Hero!

The snake whipped its tail at Link. The Knight moved to intercept, and the impact of the ice against the Hylian Shield echoed.

Link slipped on the Silver Gauntlets and smiled. This would be fitting.

They weren’t as strong as the Gold Gauntlets, and he regretted not finding them when he had the chance. Still, Link was stronger than then any other time in his life he wielded the Gauntlets. Before the snake’s head reformed, Link grabbed its body and heaved.

The twins began to scream. Link’s arms shook. The Gauntlets only gave him enough strength to lift the far end of the monster. The rest of its body writhed, the Knight grunting and cursing as he tried to keep it at bay. With the snake lifted up, Link could finally see the rest of the battlefield.

A Blue-Maned Lynel. The Gerudo were fighting a Blue-Maned Lynel.

There was no sign of Ganondorf.

The snake writhed in his hands, and his arms burned with the effort. Link whistled, and the Lynel paused and looked at Link. Good enough.

The Lynel fired three arrows and Link threw the serpent. The throw was pathetic, merely breaking the circle, but the arrows hit the ice snake instead of Link. The twins’ screams shattered the air, electricity arcing through its body.

So the Lynel had shock arrows. Good to know.

The twins shouted insults -- Link wasn’t sure if they were aimed at the Lynel or each other -- and the snake wobbled forward, stretching out its body. Link grinned fiercely and fired shot after shot at the Lynel. It roared and charged and Link sprinted toward the snake.

The icy body shattered at the force of the Lynel’s charge. The Lynel didn’t seem to care, focused on Link. Link pulled out his shield in time to catch the monster’s strike. The strength of the blow sent him flying. He slammed into the ground, battered back wailing a protest. He wheezed a breath in time for Nayru’s Love to block the Lynel’s next strike. It roared, denied, and wheeled away.

Too many pains were making themselves known, but there was no time. Too many bodies were on the ground. There was no sign of Ganondorf at all. He couldn’t see Nabooru or Kali. He needed to end this fight.

“Do you see Hylia’s Champion, Koume?”

“Oh yes, Kotake!”

Link looked back. The snake had reformed, smaller but lean, swift, fangs long and cold. It raised itself above Link’s head and snarled.

“It’s time for him to learn his place!”

The Lynel roared. Its hooves beat the ground like hammers as it charged. Link sucked in a breath and ran, too, as the snake dived for him.

Its icy breath missed him by inches as Link threw himself forward. The twins yelped when Link gripped the snake’s neck with the Silver Gauntlets, holding tight to throw himself onto the snake’s back. Wrapping his legs around the snake like it was a contrary horse, Link ignored the icy burn in his legs and faced the charging Lynel.

“Wait --”

“Don’t --”

Then the Lynel’s massive sword slammed into the snake, shattering it like so much glass. Link leaped, pulling out his sword in midair. He landed awkwardly, aim off, the jump and angle wrong, but his sword still slammed into the base of the Lynel’s neck. The sword didn't break skin but the Lynel still roared in pain, stumbling. Link rolled when he hit the ground, moving away from the beast.

Then more figures moved around him, the Gerudo and Knight charging forward with blades high. Link shifted so he knelt facing the Lynel. It roared, rearing, and Link slammed it in the eye with an ice arrow. It roared again, unhurt but off balance, and a Gerudo blade led the assault. With his own cry, Link pushed himself up and charged.

Kali appeared beside Link, but he had no time to do more than look at her before the Lynel was there. It swept its blade at Link, and Link backflipped out of the way before leaping forward, Silver Sword swinging. The Knight was there, attacking its legs, and Kina borrowed Link’s trick from before and leaped onto the Lynel’s back.

There was no sign of the two soldiers. There was no sign of Ganondorf or Nabooru , where was she? But the remaining warriors fought together, forcing the Lynel back. It raised its massive blade and Link threw deku nuts in its eyes. Kina refused to budge from its back, chopping at its neck when it was too focused on its other attackers to force her off. It roared, loud enough to hurt Link’s ears, but no one stopped.

It was Kina, with a fierce cry, who delivered the final blow. It crumbled and Delu caught Kina, swinging her out of the way.

Then the battlefield was empty, and Link leaned against his sword, panting. Of the dozen Gerudo who rode out from the Fortress, he saw only six around him.

Before he could make a move to find the others, the Knight strode before him and dropped to one knee. The Knight looked charred and bloody, eyes solemn.

“Well fought, Hero.”

Chapter Text

Thanks to the twins and the Lynel, stretches of torn and burnt land dominated the small section of Hyrule Field. Deep gouges shredded earth and grass from the Lynel’s sword. Link looked over the field and for a split second saw Hyrule Market, dominated by ReDeads. He scowled and limped forward.

The Knight -- Dalton, he said -- walked with them. Tall and dark-haired, armor dented and scorched, he looked as odd as Link did with the Gerudo. The Gerudo side-eyed him but a simple headshake from Kali kept them quiet. They had other matters to worry about.

Pain flashed hot in Link’s foot and rebounded up his battered spine to the base of his skull with each step, but he kept walking. In the distance, where the grass smoothed to a bright green again, the horses shuffled and tossed their heads, as if they weren’t sure if the battle was done. He saw Afrit among them, red coat shining when she reared.

On the battlefield, he saw six bodies: four clad in the bright red of the desert, two in silver. Only one moved.

There was no sign of either Ganondorf or Nabooru.

Kina cursed and then whistled, sharp and clear. One of the horses neighed and galloped away from the others. As if all they needed was a leader, the others followed. The Hylians’ three horses galloped with the rest, flashes of white and steel.

Kina didn’t wait for her horse to stop before she led the horse toward the fallen, orders shouted between curses. Triage. Move no one until a full assessment has been done. When in doubt, yell for Kina. Focus on breathing and bleeding.

Link looked out onto the battlefield and saw Zora’s Domain, frozen. He saw Sheik ( Zelda ) crumpled on the ground. He saw Kakariko in flames.

He saw the sun setting, slowly but surely, in the distance. Still bright but clearly moving down in the sky. Link licked his lips, heart beginning to pound. There were too many people, too many targets, too many people down.

He smelled Hyrule burning.

Sa’ven .” Kali touched his arm. “Go look for Nabooru and the king. We’ll handle this.”

Link exhaled and nodded a quick thanks before grabbing Afrit. Afrit tossed her head and snorted. Dalton was already jogging toward his men. The Gerudo followed Kina’s lead.

Search and recovery. He could do that.

Don’t look at the bodies. Leave them to the others. The twins wouldn’t kill Ganondorf, and Nabooru would be with him. Kina and the others would help the wounded. He just needed to find Ganondorf and Nabooru.

Link swung onto Afrit’s back. His back jarred when he landed in the saddle. Later. When his feet settled into the stirrups, he remembered his still bare feet.

Later.

Link tapped his heels and Afrit trotted forward.

None of the scattered forms were the ones he was looking for, so he ignored them. He ignored the sun sliding downward through the sky.

Where was Ganondorf? Where was Nabooru?

No longer fresh and sweet, the air reeked of burnt grass and smoke. Where he fought the serpent earlier was a circle of blackened earth. There were streaks where the grass was frozen, wet and dead. Afrit stepped carefully to avoid the jagged holes left by the Lynel, many looking like a bomb had exploded on the earth. Link rubbed his nose, the odd scent of rot lingering.

He last saw Ganondorf right outside the circle, charging toward him. Then the fire and Ganondorf started yelling. With a gentle nudge, Link directed Afrit toward the scorched grass.

Wait.

Link frowned and stood up in the stirrups, Afrit never losing pace under him. Right outside the circle… He saw frozen streaks where he had thrown the snake, as well as strikes on the ground where the Lynel had fired more of his shock arrows. Beside that, there was a section of torn earth, different from the rest. Link settled back in the saddle and rested his hand on his bow, just in case.

Several feet away from the oddity, Afrit whinnied and stopped. Frown deepening, Link swung from the saddle and pulled out his sword. Who knew if the twins left a nasty surprise for him?

The grass crackled under his feet, his right foot sensitive to every small stab. He gritted his teeth. Something made Afrit pause. What --

The ground felt wrong. Link frowned and looked down. He rocked between his feet. He listened and tapped the ground with his left foot. He looked around. Up ahead, the ground rose into brown spikes. Unease rising hot in him, he stepped closer.

It was a hole. Link’s eyes widened. He hurried forward, mindful to remain light on his feet.

“--one! What’s going on!”

“--ali? Link?”

Link exhaled sharply, all the air rushing out of him. The hole wasn’t big: enough for Ganondorf to fall and then Nabooru to fall after him. He looked under his feet again, then back where Afrit waited, restless and tossing her head. Maybe an underground cave? Did the twins make it or was it already there and they utilized it?

Regardless… Link leaned over the hole and whistled. The voices in the hole quieted.

“Link,” Ganondorf and Nabooru called together. They sounded unexpectedly wry considering they were stuck in a hole. For some reason, Nabooru started laughing.

“Link, we’re unharmed,” Ganondorf shouted. “We’re trapped down here, though. I have a rope but no way to get it to you.”

Link considered that for a moment, then shrugged. “Shoot it!” he called back.

Silence.

Nabooru this time. “Apologies, little one, but we’re not used to your voice. Can you say that again?”

Link rolled his eyes. Why speak when no one listened? “Shoot. It.”

More silence. Link stepped backward, just in case they decided to take his advice.

“Shoot the rope?” Nabooru called again. The echoes from the hole distorted her voice, but she sounded entertained. Link rolled his eyes and swayed on his feet, between his burnt foot and his unburnt one. He put his sword back to free his hands.

“Shoot it,” he repeated for the final time. If they didn’t get it this time… Well, he did have another trick he could use.

No sound for several minutes, and he rocked back and forth, growing bored. He looked around and focused on the burnt circle again.

The twins were escalating. They were calling upon more dangerous monsters and pulling Ganondorf out of the line of fire. Apparently Link wasn’t the only one running out of time.

“All right, Link!” Ganondorf shouted. “I’m shooting it straight up!”

Link rolled his shoulders and waited.

The hole swallowed the sound of the arrow leaving the bow, but it didn’t matter. A flash of motion and Link’s hand struck out, snatching the arrow out of the air. Attached was Ganondorf’s rope.

Nabooru’s laughter echoed upward. “Of course, Sa’ven. Of course.”

Shaking his head, Link carried the rope back to Afrit. He hopped back on the saddle, tied the rope to the horn, and then flopped it several times. If they responded, Link couldn’t hear.

It took a moment, but then the rope tightened. Afrit huffed but held her ground as the rope remained taut.

Nabooru emerged first. Dirt smeared her face and darkened her hair, now in a ragged ponytail. She huffed and managed a lopsided smile before she let go of the rope and rolled free. “Now you, my king!” she shouted back down the hole.

Besides being filthy, Nabooru showed no signs of her ordeal. Link watched her jog over to him and Afrit. No visible limping or awkwardness. She looked him over first, then over the rest of the battlefield, her face darkening as she absorbed the damage. When she saw the rest of the Gerudo, she began to curse.

Link didn’t turn around. He focused on Afrit under him, the rope tightening again. She snorted and tensed under him as Ganondorf began his climb.

Behind him was what should have been his battleground, not theirs. Rage coiled in his heart. Hero , they called him.

Kotake and Koume had no idea.

At last, Ganondorf pulled himself free from the hole, the rope growing slack. Without looking down, Link worked on untying the rope. He watched Ganondorf stiffen and grow still. Link waited and watched. Slowly, Ganondorf crawled away from the hole, keeping his weight spread. Only when he was close to Afrit did he trust the ground enough to stand up.

“Link,” he greeted, and then he looked behind Link. He froze. At last, Link turned around.

Three of the four fallen Gerudo were already standing again, albeit leaning against their friends. Kina hovered the last, doing something Link couldn’t make out. Beyond them, the soldiers leaned against the Knight, watching Kina work.

Ganondorf murmured something and then bolted toward his people. Nabooru followed at his heels. Fingers tight on Afrit’s reins, Link nudged her into a canter. Afrit passed Ganondorf and Nabooru with ease.

When Link drew close to Kina, he jumped off and jogged the rest of the way. He didn’t know the name of the Gerudo on the ground, but he recognized her face: she had been making bets with Kali the previous night. Now Kali knelt over her opposite Kina, face grim. She glanced up at Link’s approach, and to Link’s surprise, her face lit up.

Sa’ven ! That odd potion of yours...does it as well on physical injuries as it did on Elder Nida?”

Link nodded and knelt, already digging through his bag. He saw no visible injury on the Gerudo, but blood coated her mouth and she wheezed with every breath. The rage in his heart burned fiercer and brighter as he watched her tremble.

He pulled out one of the two blue potions and handed it to Kina. Kina frowned in confusion but, to his surprise, didn’t argue. She only asked, “Is she to swallow it?”

Link nodded. Ganondorf and Nabooru drew up behind him, but they said nothing and he didn’t look back at them. Everyone watched as Kali helped Kina draw the Gerudo up and then tip the potion against her lips. The Gerudo coughed and turned her head but Kina was insistent, whispering something until the Gerudo relaxed. Drop by drop, she emptied the blue bottle.

Seconds after she emptied the bottle, the Gerudo took a deep breath. Then another. She opened her eyes and blinked, unfocused. Link heard a sharp exhale behind him.

“Easy, Sala,” Kina murmured, touching the Gerudo’s chest and stomach. Still blinking dazedly, the Gerudo allowed it. Kina looked over her shoulder at Link, eyes sharp. “Will it be safe for her to ride?”

Link nodded, then hesitated. Technically it was… “Carefully,” he said. Too much movement and the potion’s gentle healing would shatter. He learned that one the hard way.

“Can too much activity undo the potion?” Kina asked briskly. At Link’s nod, she frowned and turned back to Sala, murmuring and wiping the blood away from her mouth. To Link’s relief, no more appeared.

“We need to get going,” Kali said. She scowled past Link, and Link watched the shadows grow long past her, watched them darken her eyes. “We are in no shape to fight the stalchildren.”

“There’s a ranch nearby.” All eyes turned to Dalton. The Knight stood just beyond the Gerudo, and he seemed unperturbed by the hostile stares. Even his own soldiers stared disbelieving at him. “The owner Talon is a good man. He will provide food and shelter, and it’s said LonLon milk is good for healing.”

Excellent plan. Link nodded in agreement. Then Ganondorf clapped a heavy hand on his shoulder, stilling him. “Why should we trust you?”

Dalton stared back at him, gaze even. “Because that monster called this one Hero , and after everything I saw, I believe it. The Knights of Hyrule have long told legends of the one called Hero. After we get to the ranch, I’ll tell you them.” When even Link’s gaze turned disbelieving, Dalton shrugged. “My men are injured and can use respite, too.”

Ganondorf’s hand tensed on his shoulder. Link covered it with his own and squeezed it. Ganondorf huffed a breath.

“Hopefully this ranch of yours has a spare pair of boots.” Ganondorf patted Link’s shoulder and then pulled away. “Let’s move!”

Chapter Text

By the time they reached the ranch, even Link swayed in the saddle. The energizing, numbing rush from the battle had long since vanished, and twice Ganondorf rode beside him and bumped him upright. They rode in the near dark, Dalton leading the way with a torch graciously lit by one of Link’s fire arrows. They kept to the path when the sun set, and it wound its way to LonLon Ranch with such familiarity that Link almost felt sick with it.

After that, things blurred a bit. Link sat on Afrit’s back, blinking and yawning, as Dalton handled Talon and Ganondorf and Nabooru handled the Gerudo. He remained sitting there, some part of him listening for Malon’s familiar singing, until Ganondorf walked over and plucked him from the saddle.

“Come. Eat, clean up, and then you can sleep.”

Link yawned again. When Ganondorf put him on his feet, pain jolted from his right foot to his skull, but he was too tired to care. He leaned against Ganondorf and trusted the Gerudo to lead him. He couldn’t hear the familiar singing but could smell the sweet scent of hay in the wind, hear the quiet clucking of the cuccos and the faint murmurs of the horses and cows as they settled for the night.

He missed Malon, but the feeling was distant, the ache dulled by exhaustion. He missed Epona , and it was so easy to see Malon singing in the middle of the field, Epona dancing around her like a pony again.

When Ganondorf eased him to the ground, Link startled awake. He rubbed his eyes and blinked at the odd sight of Gerudo and Hylians sprawled through the LonLon barn, lit by lanterns. It was a tight fit, meant for a handful of people at most. If anyone noticed, they didn’t seem to care. Kina checked on the wounded while Nabooru handed out food, kneeling and whispering with each Gerudo when she did so. Dalton knelt beside his soldiers, both sprawled in an empty stall. It looked like he was trying to feed them before they fell asleep.

“Are you awake, Link?” Ganondorf asked, sounding more amused than Link thought the situation warranted. Ganondorf’s mouth twisted in a mimicry of a grin, gaze dark. One heavy hand remained on Link’s shoulder. Link drifted, resting his head on it. “...I will take that as a no.”

Dirt smeared Ganondorf’s gauntlet, and through squinted eyes, Link watched it fleck onto his tunic. It rubbed roughly against his cheek and into his hair. He poked a clump just to watch it fall.

A cave of sorts beneath Hyrule Field…

There was something to that. Groaning, Link lifted his head and rubbed his face again. To his annoyance, he could feel himself spreading the dirt from Ganondorf’s gauntlet. By the low chuckle beside him, Ganondorf also noticed.

Cavern. Possibly made by the twins but possibly already there .

Link’s head hurt.

Ganondorf squeezed his shoulder. “Kali.”

“My king.” A hand rubbed his arm. Link blinked his eyes open again, not remembering closing them. Kali knelt beside him, nose wrinkled. “ Sa’ven , you’re filthier now than when I last saw you.”

Link wrinkled his nose back, and Kali laughed. Behind her, two Gerudo shared bread, milk, and apples in Epona’s old stall. The shade of Malon taunted him, swaying her hips and mouth moving with her song.

Something wet pressed against his hand. With a slow blink, the shade faded away. Link focused on the damp rag Kali pressed into his hand. “I fear giving you anything else too complicated,” Kali continued wryly, “but that should be enough for you to clean your face.”

Link grunted. Not the first time he traveled covered in dirt and grime.

Closing his eyes, he wiped his face with the rag. The scent of soap was mild, barely detectable over the strong scent of hay and animal. Nothing distinctive to LonLon Ranch. Link breathed out and tasted copper where his teeth scraped his tongue earlier. Nothing unusual. He kept his eyes closed and swiped his forehead with the rag, swiped his cheeks and nose and chin.

Up, down. Right, left. Link kept wiping with the rag until Kali laughed and took it from his hand. “That will do, Sa’ven.

Someone pressed a piece of bread into Link’s hands, and he ate it mechanically, leaning into Ganondorf’s side. Ganondorf wrapped an arm around him and conversed softly with someone over Link’s head.

“--bruised.”

“He is good at getting himself scraped up.”

“Too good. Were you able to find boots?”

“Yes, my king, but Kina wants to look at his feet before --”

Link yawned. Someone brushed their fingers against the scar on his foot, and he kicked the hand away without opening his eyes. Ganondorf rubbed his bicep, as if to soothe him, and all Link could think was how strange Ganondorf’s scent mixed with the sweet scents of hay and milk.

“We need more time!” and time was granted, over and over, three days unrelenting with familiar faces against alien backgrounds.

Someone handed him a bottle of LonLon milk. He drank it and thought of sitting on the fence with Malon, watching the horses play. He thought of sitting in the hay, just like he was now, listening to Malon sing as she took care of her animals.

“We need more time!”

Link yawned again and felt someone take the bottle away. Around him, they were still talking. He groaned and rubbed his eyes. It would make more sense to finish up and go to sleep. Tomorrow they would reach the castle, and it seemed inevitable that the twins would attack again. Everyone needed rest .

“--doesn’t look much like this.”

“Especially with the bare feet.”

Link opened his eyes enough to glare at Kali and Nabooru, who grinned back. Water dripped from Nabooru’s hair and clothes, and Link blinked when he saw her face clean of make-up. Her face looked younger, a reminder of her youth when Link didn’t need it, but she also seemed more rakish. She was also much cleaner than Ganondorf.

Dalton sat off to the side, carefully not touching any of the Gerudo. He cupped a bottle of LonLon milk in his hands. “Avalon found you a pair of boots to wear,” he said. He nodded beside Link’s feet. “They belonged to her brother. They should fit.”

Link followed his gaze and remembered that he needed to tend his foot before he slept. Perhaps even take time to better clean himself off and check for further injuries.

After, of course, Dalton finished whatever he came over for. Link cocked his head and stared at the Knight. Dalton nodded back with a level of respect which never failed to bother Link.

“You said you would explain after we rested,” Ganondorf said, as if reading Link’s thoughts.

“Of course.” Dalton settled back in the hay, and silence settled over the barn. Even the Hylian soldiers stirred themselves to pay attention. “There is a legend which has been passed down through the generations. It is said that the Royal Family knew it, that the Sheikah knew it, and that Knights of Hyrule knew it. According to legend, we are descendants of the original Hero, and it is our duty to protect the Royal Family.”

Dalton paused to reach into one of his bags. He pulled out a small metal crest with the Triforce and a bird on it, similar to Link’s old shield. “We carry this, and we protect Hylia’s line and Hyrule. We also complete tasks for the Royal Family.” He reached out and handed the crest to Link. Link studied it as Dalton continued speaking, turning the crest over in his hands and running his fingers over the metal. “The Queen bade us prior to her death to be on the lookout for the Hero, for she knew Hyrule would need him.” Dalton caught Link’s eye and smirked. “It would seem the Queen was correct.”

“But what is the Hero?” Kali asked. She extended a hand to Link, and Link passed the crest over to her. She frowned at it like it had somehow offended her.

Dalton shrugged. “Exact details are unknown, my lady. Legends say that Hylia herself blessed him and chose him as Her champion. It’s said that whenever Hyrule is in need, his spirit would return and would battle the darkness. Until such time, the Knights do their best to act in his stead.”

Link listened to his explanations with half an ear. It seemed no different from what Impa and Zelda had told him, if from a different perspective. It was part of Zelda’s argument for Link to quit traveling and join up with the Knights. Of course, if he was right, that path led to his death in the forest.

Beside him, Ganondorf leaned toward Dalton, eyes narrowed and mouth flat. His hand remained tight on Link’s bicep. In his other hand, he held a chunk of bread. Link eyed it. He was still hungry.

“You believe that Link is related to your Knights then?” Kali inquired. Like Ganondorf, she leaned toward Dalton, her hands clasped in her lap.

“Indeed. He even bears a strong resemblance to several of my friends.”

“And you think Link could be related specifically to them?” Ganondorf stared at Dalton like he could see through him. Link snatched out his hand and snagged the bread. Waiting for his answer, Ganondorf didn’t seem to notice.

Dalton shrugged. “It is possible. Unfortunately, I cannot ask them. An unnatural fire occurred in Kakariko several months ago, and several fell or vanished trying to help. Two others vanished following the Queen’s order to be ready for the Hero.”

All eyes shifted to look at Link. Link nibbled on his bread. It was still warm, possibly fresh from the oven. Ganondorf looked at the bread, then down at his now empty hand. Link smiled at him and continued eating.

Expressionless, Kali studied Link. “They have been hunting you, Sa’ven ,” she murmured.

The piece of bread stuck in Link’s mouth. It took him several tries to swallow it. He looked beyond the group to the entrance of the barn, where he could swear he heard Malon singing.

His mother carried him to the forest, the Great Deku Tree said. She died soon after. No one ever caught her name. They did not mark her grave.

That was the first time Link heard he had a mother. He would hear nothing else about her, or any Hylian parent, for years. He felt a stronger relation to the trapped warrior, shackled and caged.

Strangers, but strangers like the rest of the Knights, victims to the twins and Demise. That anger was easier, cleaner. Something he could fight, people he could avenge. Easy.

He bit down on his bread, too aware of Ganondorf’s hand on him, Kali’s eyes fixed on his face. Fortunately, Nabooru chose then to speak up. “So you think our Link is a descendant of some great warrior? Not just a descendant but carrying this warrior’s spirit?”

Link couldn’t read her tone, but Dalton apparently could. He smiled at her. “I do, you do, and Link here,” he nodded at Link, “knows this is true.”

Popping the last of the bread in his mouth, Link wondered what Nabooru would think if she knew the rest of it. He considered for half a second sharing exactly what he knew to be true, including Nabooru being a Sage, but shrugged it off. No need for anyone to know that.

The group was still talking about the Hero, like they didn’t need rest to prepare for the morrow. Link closed his eyes and rested his head against Ganondorf’s arm. He ignored the dirt. He needed to clean off in the morning, anyway.

Around him, the voices faded, blurring and melding together, until they slowly became one. “Link,” the voice called. Link’s breath caught. He knew that voice. “Link.”

Link opened his eyes again. Malon’s barn was gone. He startled and looked around. Zelda’s courtyard. He was in Zelda’s courtyard.

Like countless years ago, Zelda stood before her window, young and small, delicate hands clasped together. She leaned forward and stared at him with wide eyes. “Hurry, Link. Hurry to the castle. We’re running out of time.”

Link reached for her, but she, and the courtyard, faded away. Then there was only wind and water, stretching out to the horizon.

Chapter Text

It turned out that Link had heard Epona’s Song, but it hadn’t been Malon. Newly bathed and eating a small breakfast of eggs and buttered bread, Link watched Malon’s mother sing and milk the cows. At his feet, Kina paused from checking on his right foot to examine the woman. The sun was a bare hint on the horizon, the barn still reliant on lantern light, but the dark tinge of her skin and the bright red of her hair was clear. Avalon’s dark skin could be mistaken for a deep tan if not for the comparison of the surrounding Gerudo.

“Second generation, perhaps third,” Kina murmured. She poked Link’s foot, earning a glare. “No wonder they accepted us so easily last night.”

Link scowled at her and tried to pull his foot back. Barely looking at him, she tugged it back to herself and poked it. Again. “Don’t whine at me. You should have taken care of this last night.”

Kina sounded more thoughtful than annoyed. She held her bottom lip between her teeth as she wrapped a gauze around his foot and ankle. Without any discernible rhythm, she tapped his ankle and the top of his foot, brow furrowed.

Of course, all of the Gerudo acted oddly this morning, quiet and thoughtful as they cleaned themselves and gathered their things. Dalton and his soldiers left first thing after promising that no one would hinder them. To Link’s confusion, Ganondorf didn’t seem pleased by that. He, Kali, and Nabooru left Link to Kina’s jabbing fingers to have a low, intense conversation outside the barn.

As curious as Link was, his attention remained torn between Avalon and the house. Avalon greeted them with breakfast before tending to the animals and apologized for Talon’s absence. “He’s with the baby this morning.”

The baby. Malon. Link’s heart hurt.

Kina patted his leg and stood up. She leaned back, hands on her hips, and loudly cracked her back. “Ugh, Sa’ven , it’s been too long since I have traveled like this.” She paused and pursed her mouth. “Even then, there weren’t giant snakes and such.”

Link shrugged and rolled his shoulders. It could be worse.

As he put on his boots -- battered and old but clean -- he tried to ignore Kina staring at him. All morning, the Gerudo had been like that. No one had addressed him as Link: only Sa’ven .

Shaking his head, Link looked back at Avalon. She moved with Malon’s casual grace, still singing Epona’s Song as she finished milking one of the cows. She rubbed the cow’s head as she stood. She looked happy. How had she died?

Without letting himself think about it, Link pulled out his ocarina and began to play Epona’s Song. The cow to his left mooed, recognizing the song. Avalon faltered and looked over at Link. For a heartbeat, Link met her eyes before looking away, concentrating on the song. Then Avalon raised her voice and Epona’s Song filled the barn. The remaining Gerudo paused and stared. One by one, they began to smile.

Link didn’t bother pretending that the sweet voice was Malon’s. It wasn’t and would possibly never be again for him. But it was someone who knew Epona’s Song, loved it, and that was enough for him. He swayed with the rhythm. He thought of his dear companion, lost to time. He played and felt something quiet inside him.

When he finally stopped, Avalon laughed and clapped her hands. Nostalgia tricked him before: her voice wasn’t quite like Malon’s. Soft and throaty, it carried a hint of the desert in it. “You are very good! Were you able to do that just from listening to me sing?”

Link smiled and didn’t answer. As usual, he didn’t have to.

Clasping her hands in front of her chest, Avalon beamed at Link. “I call it Malon’s Lullaby. Thank you for playing along with me. I love my husband, but he can’t carry a tune!” She rummaged through her pockets and then walked over to Link, handing something over. “It’s not much, but consider it thanks for joining me.”

Link grinned and nodded his thanks, accepting the fresh bottle of LonLon milk. “You can keep the bottle and use it however you want. If you come back and play for Malon, I’ll have something else for you!”

With that, Avalon returned to the cows, while Kina stared in astonishment at Link. “You never said --”

Link hummed and finished getting ready. The extra bottle would be useful soon.

As soon as the time the sun made its first appearance over the horizon, Ganondorf led his group toward the castle. They rode in the same formation as yesterday, a little more bruised and scarred but clean and upright.

Ganondorf remained silent at first, and Link found himself looking his way every several minutes. Mouth curled in a small frown, Ganondorf stared forward like he saw something other than the rolling green before them. Link knew his own role. He knew he should keep his eyes forward, watching for threats. The twins had until the evening before they reached the castle. Link doubted they would attack so openly there, so it left them only hours to make a move.

Yet Link’s eyes trailed back to Ganondorf’s face, regardless, taking in the furrow of his brow and the hard slant of his eyes. There was no sign of the dirt from yesterday.

The dirt.

“Ganondorf,” he said, and the Gerudo stiffened in his saddle, hands tightening on the reins before he relaxed.

Sa’ven ,” Ganondorf returned, and to Link’s relief, the harsh lines softened, a teasing lilt lightening Ganondorf’s voice. Link had no idea why.

Link licked his lips and missed Navi. “The hole… Was it a tunnel or a cave?”

The question sounded wrong to his ears, but Ganondorf seemed to understand. He frowned. “Both, truly. It looked like it had been a tunnel once, but rocks formed a barrier on each side.”

Old cave ins or caused by the twins? Link scowled at the green horizon. There were small, hidden spots all through Hyrule: fairy fountains, small dungeons, spots where people hid treasure. What was this tunnel? How had the twins known about it? How far did it go? He turned his scowl to the field itself. Whatever it was, he had never found it before when exploring. Perhaps it was nothing.

“Should we be concerned?” Ganondorf inquired, voice mild.

Link shook his head, then shrugged. He didn’t know. Something about it scratched at him. Wherever that tunnel led, the twins knew about it. That was enough to mark it as potentially dangerous.

“How are your feet?”

Link scowled at Ganondorf, but the Gerudo looked unimpressed.

“When the Hylian talked about you being the Hero,” Ganondorf continued, and Link distrusted his casual tone, “you were unsurprised. You knew.”

Link nodded. Of course.

“Such an old legend,” Ganondorf mused. Link stared at him, too aware of the Gerudo listening behind them. “Protected by the Royal Family. So many things make sense now, including how you knew of the royal lineage. Yet...you were not raised Hylian. You were not raised by the Knights. You were raised in the forest, away from where the Knights were being killed.”

Protected by the Great Deku Tree. Link tried not to think about it. Instead, he looked forward again, back to the field. Here the land was untouched by Kotake’s and Koume’s violence. There were single trees but otherwise open green. Yellow flowers sprouted, only to be trampled underfoot by the horses.

“We called you a servant of the Goddesses, but it goes beyond that.” Link felt Ganondorf’s gaze burning into the side of his face. “You are not just Their servant. You are Their weapon .”

Link bit back a sigh. Of course.

Ganondorf fell quiet. They rode with only the thumps of hooves against grass and the occasional birdsong breaking the silence.

“You are Their weapon,” Ganondorf repeated, an odd potency to his words. “But you knew that, too.”

Link glanced at Ganondorf’s face, only to look away. He nodded.

For a while after that, there was only silence.

They paused to rest the horses and for Kina to check on the wounded. Link took the time to stretch his legs and breathe away from the odd quiet. That was why he never told anyone. They thought him a fool or treated him oddly after. He hated it.

Frowning, Link pulled out his sword and swung it through the air, loosening his muscles as he thought. His dream last night… Zelda. The ocean. Link disliked traveling to the ocean. Whenever he looked upon the vast waters, uneasiness always crept up his spine like stalchild fingers. Perhaps because of Mikau, how no matter how quickly he traveled to the Great Bay he never arrived in time to save his life. Link didn’t know, only knew that he preferred inland.

It felt like a premonition, but Link wasn’t Zelda. He didn’t know. He cut through the air, heard the blade whistle. He did know he was running out of time. Things had changed. He had provoked the twins into doing something they hadn’t in any other time, or perhaps by trying to save Ganondorf he opened up a new, dangerous path. He didn’t know. It sounded like the clock from Termina clicked in his mind, felt like the moon loomed over head, grinning all the while.

Link hated all of this.

Kali walked up to him and watched as he sliced through the air, hands on her hips. Link also disliked the smirk on her face. “So, Sa’ven ...it seems like the Knights of Hyrule have legendary breeding material. If we survive all this… Want to journey back here with me?”

Link faltered on his next swing.

Kali was still laughing when they rejoined the others. Nabooru took one look at Link’s face before she burst into laughter, too. With great dignity, Link ignored them both to check on Afrit. His horse, as always, seemed the most appropriate of his companions.

They rode again until lunchtime. Link took lead, directing them to the stream which led to the castle. Link led them around slumbering Peahats, pushing aside the part of him which really wanted to charge at them. He could do that later.

Beside him, Ganondorf remained quiet. Whenever Link looked at him, Ganondorf either stared at him or at the distance, face tight and thoughtful.

The closer they rode to Hyrule Castle, the more Link could feel it, pulsing under his ribcage: the Master Sword. It slept restlessly. Evil’s Bane, Zelda called it. More than any other weapon, the Master Sword felt like home in his hand.

But no. He wouldn’t make that mistake twice.

They paused again for lunch, and Link entertained Kali by snatching fish out of the stream with his bottle. Nabooru sat with Ganondorf on the shore. Whenever Link looked at them, he saw Nabooru leaning toward Ganondorf, hissing furiously. He never saw Ganondorf reply.

The only sign of life Link saw in the field were soldiers watching them in the distance. He had no clue if Dalton had passed on his message.

Everything felt too quiet, too still, like Link was walking toward the final monster in a dungeon. All the while, the Master Sword sang its promise.

By late afternoon, the walls of Hyrule Castle and the town rose grey in the distance. Still too far to see any details, Link tried not to wonder if the drawbridge was open or closed, if the lanterns outside burned.

“Would the King know the legends?” Ganondorf asked. Those were the first words he had said to Link in hours. Link rolled his shoulders and considered the question.

Would they tell him or keep it to Hylia’s line? Zelda knew, but Impa could have told her. He didn’t recall Zelda talking about it. Of course, her focus was on the legends themselves, not on who knew. At last, he shrugged. It didn’t matter.

Ganondorf shook his head and laughed quietly. “How you see the world… Link, I see this land and I see the sweet winds of the Goddesses gracing it, so different from what touches my home. I see the King and I see a threat, someone to be vanquished, to be punished . You… I wonder what you see.”

Link saw a field. He saw a stream and fish and knew that if he followed the stream in the opposite direction, it led to Zora’s Domain. This way, it led to the Castle, to the Temple of Time and the Master Sword. As for the King…

“He is only a man,” Link said simply. They all were. Except for Ganondorf, when he rose as the Demon King. The rest were small, frail, mortal, as easily victimized as everyone else.

Ganondorf hummed. “For us, a king is special. I am sure you have noticed I am the only male among our people. Has anyone explained to you the significance of that?”

In several lifetimes. Link nodded.

Yet by the way Ganondorf looked at him, he wondered if they left something out. Ganondorf smiled fondly at him and shook his head. “The most important thing hasn’t changed. I want you to consider the Fortress home. The Goddesses can be cruel and their ways unknown, but after a long journey which left you battered and worn, they led you to me. I will always welcome you home.”

Link smiled at him and wondered what legends of the Gerudo King he missed.

Link directed them to follow the stream instead of turning toward the castle. Ganondorf quirked an eyebrow and Nabooru whispered something to Kali which made Kali laugh, but no one protested.

Just prior to dinner time, when they paused to clean up one final time before heading to the castle, Link pulled Kali aside and showed her the hidden fairy fountain he found as a child. As Kali whispered in awe and let the fairies fly in circles around her, Link quietly held up his bottle and waited. One fearless fairy flew forward and made herself comfortable in the bottle. He bowed his thanks before closing it. Her light dimmed only a little as she curled up and slept. Some part of him always felt uncomfortable doing that, but Navi laughed at him.

“You’re thinking like a mortal, Link.”

Link thought of Ganondorf’s promise and wondered if that was truly so bad.

Link pulled out Ganondorf’s amulet and held it in his hands as they left the fountain. He was studying it, Farore green against his scarred gloves and fingers, when Kali cursed beside him.

Looking up, Link dropped the amulet with a thump against his chest.

Hylians surrounded the Gerudo camp.

Chapter Text

When Link and Kali arrived at the camp, Ganondorf and Nabooru stood glaring at a Knight, who glared back at them. Link couldn’t see Dalton, but another Knight stood at this one’s shoulder, with two more Knights and a dozen soldiers watching. The lead Knight was tall but still not Ganondorf’s height, with cold blue eyes and sharply pointed ears sticking out of windswept golden hair. He looked older than the other Knights by at least twenty years and unimpressed with the number of angry Gerudo glaring at him.

He looked even more unimpressed when he turned and saw Link. He raised an eyebrow and swept his gaze over Link, the eyebrow clicking ever higher with every bit of Link he saw. “So,” the Knight drawled, “this is the one Dalton calls Hero .”

Oh. More of this nonsense. Link glanced over the soldiers and saw them all posing but not threatening. Beyond them, the drawbridge of the castle was in sight, down but based on the dying sunlight, not for much longer. That was their objective, not standing in an open field and inviting an attack.

“We are on a diplomatic mission per your king’s request,” Ganondorf said, voice as smooth as a knife between the ribs. “We are scheduled to arrive tonight, yet you seek to disrupt our party, hinder your king, and insult one to whom you have never spoken nor met. Indeed, I see the glory of Hyrule’s army.”

Link settled his hands on his hips and bit back a sigh. Now everyone looked ready to fight. He did not have the patience for any of this.

Even as the Knight narrowed his eyes at Ganondorf and opened his mouth to respond, Link pulled out his ocarina and played the Song of Storms. Whatever the Knight was going to say was lost in a gasp as the sky cracked and split open, rain pouring like a waterfall. Hylians and Gerudo alike yelped and startled. Kali only pinched her nose.

“Unnecessary, Sa’ven ,” she murmured as Link put his ocarina back.

Link shrugged, rain making his hair cling to his face. Possibly, but effective. Besides, Ganondorf staring at the Knight with such deadly eyes chilled him. Neither the Knight nor the other Hylians knew it, but with the right tools and incentive, Ganondorf was more than capable of wiping them all out.

The rain didn’t last long. Link didn’t put enough magic into it for that. The Gerudo caught on quickly, and before the rain stopped, Nabooru grinned at him and Ganondorf just stared, water dripping from his thick eyebrows. The soldiers cursed and looked around in confusion at the quickly clearing sky, but the Knights already caught on and followed the Gerudos’ gazes to Link.

Good. Link caught the eyes of the lead Knight. “We are late,” Link said, and the awkward fit of the words in his mouth and the disparity of his accent versus every else’s only worsened his mood. “I fight you, I defeat you, and then we can go.”

The Knight’s eyes widened even as several Gerudos cheered. Another Knight, younger and with a shock of brown hair, stepped forward, but the lead Knight raised a hand and stopped him. He studied Link’s annoyed face even as Kali sighed.

“As enjoyable as that would be to watch, Sa’ven ,” she drawled, grabbing Link’s wrist and holding up his hand, “this would be more effective.”

Link scowled at her, and at first nothing happened. Every Gerudo there had either seen it or heard of it and waited with clear anticipation, Nabooru smirking and Ganondorf thoughtful. Link wanted to tell all of them that it didn’t work that way. The Triforce wasn’t a lantern to light their way. When it shone on Link’s hand, it meant something, and that something was rarely good for Link.

Except the Hylians watched. The Knights watched, the Knights Ganondorf slaughtered in one lifetime and Link apparently joined in another. Link didn’t care for their skepticism, didn’t care to be a trick in front of them, but Kali was right that this was better than dropping one of them to the ground. In its own way, this was no different from showing Zelda’s letter to the guard at Kakariko so long ago.

It didn’t mean Link had to like it. Link held the eyes of the lead Knight and let the Triforce of Courage burn within him. Inside his mind, the Song of Time began to play even as his hand glowed. One by one, the soldiers and Knights began to murmur, gazes fastened on the back of his hand. All but the lead Knight.

Perhaps it would have been quicker to just drop the Hylian. “A parlor trick,” the Knight began, even as Link pulled out his ocarina again.

The Song of Time quieted, distant but there, as Link played Zelda’s Lullaby.

At last the Knight reacted, stepping forward with wide eyes. “That song… It’s the song of the Royal Family! How do you know it?”

Your infant princess taught me was not the appropriate answer.

Link rolled his eyes and returned his ocarina to its proper place, the glow dying on his hand. This was tiresome. He scowled at the Knight and jerked his head to the drawbridge. Could they go now ?

The Knight hesitated, his face twisted and making every wrinkle clear. Link ignored him. He was done.

Link walked away from the group, holding up a hand to Kali when she made to follow him. Voices rose but Link ignored them. When he had some distance, he summoned Din’s Fire. One fwoosh of flame later and his clothes were a little dryer, even if his hair still clung to his face.

When Link walked back, Kali shook her head but smiled at him. The strange approval in her eyes confused him. Perhaps that he had walked away to do it instead of doing it to the Knight?

That same Knight stepped toward Link, but Ganondorf blocked him. “You have stalled us enough,” he said, and steel laced his voice. “Unless you purposefully plan on stalling us until nightfall?”

Link felt the Knight watching him. He didn’t care. Pausing only to stroke Afrit’s neck, Link hauled himself onto Afrit’s back and waited. He stared pointedly at Ganondorf, who was still locked in a staring match with the Knight. Nabooru touched his arm and murmured something in his ear. Beyond them, the soldiers talked softly between themselves while the Gerudo watched on, smirking. The Knights watched their leader and watched Link.

No hands touching weapons. No aggressive poses. Good.

Link tapped his heels against Afrit’s side and nudged her forward. Several seconds later, a smirking Kali sat on her horse beside him.

The Knight said something to Ganondorf, but Link couldn’t hear it. Whatever it was, Ganondorf stopped glaring at the Knight to look at Link. At last his face relaxed into a small smile. “It is time to continue then.” He walked back toward his horse, and Link kept an eye on the Knight to make sure he wasn’t going to pull a weapon. Instead, the Knight just stared at Link, perhaps expecting his forehead to glow next. “If you have any further questions, please wait until after we finish the meeting your king requested.”

Several soldiers tensed, but not a single Knight. The Knight studied Link, blue eyes opaque. “Agreed then.” He raised a hand, and as if he pulled a lever, the Hylians behind him began to disperse.

Finally. At least he didn’t need to pull on a mask and dance for them to get them to cooperate.

The Gerudo followed Ganondorf’s lead and saddled up, none looking twice at the Hylians. Link expected glares or some hint of aggression, but the Gerudo ignored them. Link didn’t bother trying to understand it.

The twins were closer. Link knew it, felt it like a cold hand gripping his spine.

Around him, the field looked beautiful, even as the shadows of twilight gathered. It looked peaceful like it had when Link returned with the last Spiritual Stone.

Within his chest, the Master Sword thrummed like a second heartbeat. Link turned toward the Temple of Time, knowing exactly where it laid beyond the stone walls, and frowned. They expected him to open it. The twins knew what he was from the start. If they couldn’t kill him, they would do what they did before: use him to open the Sacred Realm for them.

For him . Demise.

What would he do when Link didn’t go for the Master Sword? Worse, what would happen if it turned out Link needed it, after all?

Ganondorf rode up beside Link. “Shall we?” he asked, so sardonic Link had to smile. He nodded.

Just as they began toward the castle, the older Knight stepped forward. “You never confirmed,” he called. “Did Dalton speak truly? Do you claim to be the Hero?”

Link swallowed a sigh. “It doesn’t matter,” he said. Not looking back, he nudged Afrit forward.

Beside him, Ganondorf barked a laugh. “Forward!” he shouted, and they rode forward, past the staring Hylians, toward their destination.

Even as the sun set in the horizon, Link and the Gerudo traveled into Hyrule Castle Town.

Chapter Text

“The gates of Hyrule Castle are open to you.”

Relaxing with his back against a tree and his legs sprawled out before him, Link looked up to see Queen Zelda walking toward him. Her steps were silent, leaving the crunch of Link’s teeth into his apple the only noises in the courtyard. The noises of the castle and Castle Town failed to breach the courtyard’s peace. Zelda smiled at him, perhaps also enjoying the quiet. It was the first smile Link could recall seeing from her since she was crowned.

When Link patted the ground beside him, Zelda held her skirts out of the way and gracefully settled in the grass. To an untrained eye, her movements could pass for dainty, graceful like the other ladies of the court. Link knew better. He passed her an apple and his fingers brushed the gloves hiding her calluses.

They sat in silence as they ate, lost in their respective thoughts. Link threw his apple core to the far end of the courtyard. He liked leaving food for the squirrels. Something about them always reminded him of the monkeys in the Woods of Mystery in Termina.

“Have you ever had any difficulty with the guards?” Zelda asked, the pensive note in her voice turning Link’s attention back to her. She stared at the entrance of the courtyard. Her grave countenance lended age to her fair features.

Link shook his head and watched as she threw her apple core to where his rested. The squirrels would snack well later. Another reason to feed the squirrels: when they were hungry, they were cranky, and cranky squirrels were far better at guarding the courtyard than the Hylian soldiers ever were.

Zelda hummed to herself. “I wonder… Perhaps in the future…” She shook her head and turned to him with a smile. “I have some free time before my next meeting. Would you mind playing your ocarina for me? It’s been a while since I heard you play.”

Link frowned at her, but when she didn’t elaborate, he shrugged and pulled out his ocarina. An incredibly friendly passing minstrel had taught him some songs, and he hadn’t had the chance to play them for Zelda. Epona seemed to like them well enough.

He played the song Epona liked best, a light playful thing, and judging by Zelda’s smile, she liked it, too.

Zelda never finished her thought before she left for her meetings and Link left for Kakariko. Link soon forgot all about it.

When they entered Castle Town, the silence rang as loudly as a clashing of swords. Link frowned and looked around as Ganondorf led the way to the castle. Even with the war, Link expected Castle Town to somehow be untouched, for the shops to be in place and for the merchants to chatter and gossip as they closed for the evening. There were no signs of citizens at all. Part of Link expected the shrieks of ReDeads to break the silence.

Instead of merchants, several soldiers awaited them in the town square with Dalton in the lead. Dalton caught Link’s eye and nodded once but otherwise gave no signs of recognition. The soldiers themselves seemed wary, heightening the tension in the air as they looked at Link in confusion and at Ganondorf like he was a dragon in their midst.

Had they looked the same when the King of Evil came? Or by then did they think Ganondorf tame?

Link scanned them as Dalton called to Ganondorf. Seeing nothing of interest, he kept one ear on their conversation and kept the rest of his attention on their surroundings.

There was no sign of decay or destruction. The town was immaculate in its emptiness. There were fewer buildings, and Link could see the clear signs of use in the dirt and stone. He guessed that the soldiers drilled here, safe behind the tall walls, rather than the fields like he was used to. Not a market but a training ground, and all Link could see were the ruins of another life. How many of these same soldiers had been transformed into ReDead?

Link caught enough of the conversation to understand that Dalton would lead them to the castle. Dalton spoke with a stiff formality, never indicating that he met them before. Perhaps a show for his soldiers. More likely a show for the archers in the buildings around them. Link rolled his shoulders and counted them. Only three. It was a little insulting.

Besides knowing how easy it would be to kill them, Link knew this had played out before. Not exactly like this, he knew, frowning as he and Afrit fell in line with the other horses. Now Ganondorf had allies in the castle. In every other lifetime, though, Ganondorf and the Gerudo rode up to the castle and met with the king and made their peace, temporary though it was.

In every lifetime, that peace played into Ganondorf’s rage and thus the twins’ plans. Link scowled and looked around, ignoring the wary looks of several soldiers. The twins were the major change. Did this peace still play into their plans or no?

He wished he could just kill them and get this over with.

“Relax, Sa’ven ,” Kali breathed behind him. “You’re making the guards nervous.”

Link rolled his eyes and didn’t bother responding.

The clock in his mind seemed to ring louder and louder with every passing day. All of this felt too much like Termina. In another time, this meeting set the stage for Ganondorf’s fall. Link knew in his heart these days led toward the end one way or another. In Termina, the end meant the Moon falling. What was at the end of this countdown? What could the twins do if Ganondorf refused to play their game?

Relax, Kali said. Later .

As they rode up the path to the castle, Link half-listened as Dalton told Ganondorf that he would lead them to their rooms. Tomorrow they would meet the king. Link counted two more archers, less hidden than the ones in the market. They rode past the path to the Temple of Time without pausing, but Link couldn’t help but look in its direction. The Master Sword called to him, pulsing like a heartbeat. The Triforce on his hand shimmered as he stared in the Master Sword’s direction, and it was then that he met a familiar set of eyes, almost hidden in the shadows beside the path.

Impa stared hard at him. The shadows hid her too much for Link to get a good look at her, but Link caught her looking at his hand, then in the direction of the Temple. She frowned at him before fading into the dark.

That made some things easier. Link met the eyes of one of the archers and turned away as the Hylian flinched. Had Impa known he was coming? Had Dalton spoken with her or did she just know? The Sheikah were sensitive to the flow of Fate, after all.

If anyone would know if the twins were around, it would be her.

Satisfied, Link relaxed in the saddle. He even nodded at an archer hidden in the grass to the right of the path.

It was odd to enter the castle through the front. Everything that followed was odder still. Servants took their horses, making Link think about how someone would have lost their head if they tried leading Epona away like that. Dalton personally led them to the guest quarters, a place Link had only investigated out of boredom. He had stolen almost a dozen trinkets before Impa caught on and made him return them. He had also smashed several pots, earning himself a thorough scolding about breaking things. What last he heard, the guards still thought there was a ghost in the guest quarters and rarely entered.

After that, time passed too quickly in a mess of tedious necessities. There were four large bedrooms allocated to the group, and servants brought up enough tubs and steaming water for everyone to clean themselves. Kina took that time to reassess injuries and bandage as necessary. Then servants led them to a private dining area, where lavish foods were provided, every single dish so Hylian in nature that even Link noticed.

From there the night refused to get better. The Gerudo ate the food uncomplaining, but Link recognized the storm in their eyes, especially Ganondorf’s. Even as he smiled and spoke with Kali, talking about the weather of all things and discussing rain (why rain? There had been no sign of rain beyond what Link conjured), Link recognized the fury in his gaze and the slight tremble of his fingers on his fork.

Link wanted to be done with this nonsense. He ate with short, sharp bites, not tasting any of it. Ganondorf didn’t look at him, not once during dinner, and Link didn’t want him to. With such hate burning in his heart, it would be too easy for Ganondorf to look at Link and only see a sword to wield.

He was upset but, Link realized, looking at the Hylian food and fuming Gerudo, but more than that: he was disappointed . So much at stake and this was what everyone did?

As soon as Link finished, he shoved away from the table. His chair screeched over the stone floor, silencing all conversation. All eyes turned to him, and he returned their stares with scowls. Ganondorf frowned and made to stand. “Link --”

Link walked away and didn’t look back. The Hylian King was an idiot, but Ganondorf should know better.

The four rooms had been divided with minimal conversation: Link had his own, Ganondorf had his own, Kali and Nabooru had their own, and the others shared the last room. Link didn’t have the energy to question the odd division then or now. Exhausted and frustrated, Link almost made it back to his room, wishing an opponent would leap out and surprise him just so he would have something to kill.

In the end, it wasn’t an opponent.

She stood between him and his door, tall and regal and staring unblinking at him. Link froze. His breath caught like ice in his throat. He mouthed her name.

Zelda smiled at him, every inch a queen, and she waved at him before walking down the hall.

Link knew Ganondorf would be angry and Kali would be murderous. Still, there was no time to find either of them. His princess -- his queen -- beckoned, and from the first time he had seen her, Link knew he would always follow her.

Zelda’s hand was ungloved, and when she gestured for him, he could see through it. There was a grimness to the set of her jaw and the flash of her eyes which kept Link to the shadows, his hand on his sword. She looked like she had in the battle with Ganon, body Sheikah fit and ready to fight for her kingdom. What fight was here, in the heart of Hyrule?

He could feel the Master Sword, sleeping but there , like a second heartbeat. Link swallowed and followed Zelda’s shade past the guards, deep into the castle, and it felt like the power of the Master Sword followed them both.

Slipping past the guards was literal child’s play, a flashback to a literal other time. They were wary, all of them, distrusting the truce between King and Gerudo. They were nothing compared to the monsters in the Temples and dungeons of Link’s past.

Deeper and deeper, Triforce and Master Sword both thrumming, until they reached what Zelda had claimed as her study. It had been her mother’s, Link recalled, watching Zelda slip through the door like it was water instead of wood. Link hesitated the barest second before reaching for the knob and twisting. His princess had led him astray before, but it never stopped him from following her.

The door opened without a sound. Link thought he smelled Zelda’s perfume as he crept inside. It took him a breath to realize Zelda’s shade was gone and he wasn’t alone.

“Warrior,” Impa greeted. She nodded at him, red eyes hard. “Close the door.”

Chapter Text

Like every other familiar face Link had encounter (or preferred not to encounter), Impa’s face lacked its lines and wrinkles and edges. She looked young , younger than Link’s mind had allowed him to imagine, smooth in a way only youth provided.

That was the only difference between this Impa and Link’s Impa. Her red gaze remained cool and assessing, muscled arms crossed across her chest. She looked unimpressed and like he was a scout slow to report his findings. It was one of the most reassuring things Link had encountered throughout this mess. It was almost enough to make him smile. Instead he straightened and nodded solemnly.

“You are he, then. The Hero.” Still unimpressed. A gathering of facts. Link nodded.

Impa frowned. “The Queen is dead, and the Princess is an infant. I know the legends well. The Hero and the Princess of Destiny awaken and fight the darkness together. What has happened that you fight alone?”

Link rolled his shoulders and pulled out his ocarina. Impa remained silent but watchful as Link began to play the Song of Time. Her frown deepened with each note, and it felt like the song had weight , an invisible fog pressing down on them. Even when Link stopped and lowered the ocarina, it continued to play in his head, a reminder and a taunt.

Time is running out .

Impa’s hands tightened into fists, and she cocked her head. It felt like she stared through him. “There are legends passed down by the Sheikah. In those legends, if the need was great, the Goddesses allowed the Hero to move through Time itself.”

It sounded like there was a precedent. That made sense, given the Temple of Time, the Song of Time, and how many times Link had been required to use the song. Link shrugged. Didn’t matter now.

Impa grunted and turned to stare at the far wall. Link had no idea what she was looking at. The wall itself was bare of ornamentation and --

Ah. She looked in the direction of Zelda’s rooms.

“You came back,” Impa mused aloud. “When the Princess was born, I sensed an unusual power about her. Before the Queen died, she had me swear to forever protect her. I believed her then to be the Princess of Destiny.”

Link nodded. Very true. If her shade was anything to go by, she had the strength to reach him even in this time to provide aid.

Impa shifted her gaze back then, hard and unblinking. “There has been a creeping darkness over the land. It sought to hide itself within the turmoil of the war, but the Queen and I recognized it. The Queen tried to tell her husband but he took no heed of her words. It must be great indeed to call you from your time.”

Link nodded. What he didn’t know was the extent of the darkness. At first he believed it was only the desert, with the twins not having the ability to strike the other lands until later, but after hearing Dalton, and now Impa, he wondered.

“There are many legends passed down by the Sheikah and the Royal Family,” Impa continued. “Do you know of the Goddesses and the Triforce?” At Link’s nod, she said, “What information do you need? A powerful spirit bade me awaken and to help you. I recognized her magic as that of Hylia’s line.”

Zelda. How Link missed her. “Hylia and Demise.” He considered and added, “Reports of the current darkness.” What else had the twins been up to?

Impa raised an eyebrow -- at which part Link wasn’t sure -- but nodded. He also missed working with Impa. No one else got to the point quite like her.

“The tales of Demise and the Goddess Hylia are the greatest secrets and responsibilities of the Sheikah clan. For thousands of years, we have sworn to protect Hylia’s line, passed down from mother to daughter, from queen to princess. All the while we have watched for the rising darkness which would signal Demise’s return.

“When the Goddesses departed these lands and left the Triforce behind, the Triforce acted as a beacon for those hungry for its power. Among those was Demise, the Demon King.”

Link startled. Ganondorf was known by two titles when he rose to power: the Demon King and the King of Evil. He had never thought long on his titles. He just accepted them when Zelda told him.

Impa studied his face but didn’t stop in her tale. “It is said that he is the source of all foul monsters which plague our land. With his magic, he created an army to rise against Hylia and steal the Triforce. Hylia knew she needed a Champion, and she created the Master Sword and chose the first Hero. They were able to push back Demise, but the cost was great: the Hero fell and the Goddess sacrificed her immortality so they could be reborn together.

“When the darkness rose again, it was their incarnations who defeated it. In doing so, they helped create the kingdom of Hyrule as we know it now, and the lines of the Royal Family and the Hero began. We Sheikah have watched over the Royal Line ever since, knowing that Demise would return.

“Not only the Triforce but the power inherent in the Royal Line and Hyrule has attracted many a foul beast to our land. Sorcerers and monsters have attacked, each time driven back when the Princess and Hero awakened. One Hero, in an attempt to keep the greatest powers locked in the Sacred Realm, beyond the touch of Evil, used the Master Sword as a key to the Sacred Realm. Only the Hero could remove the sword from its pedestal. That helped but did not stop the darkness from sweeping the land, tempting innocent souls and sullying their hearts with promises of power. The Queen feared this war was prompted by Demise from his cage, seeking to weaken and divide.

“Proud lines which dated back thousands of years became vulnerable in the war. The Zora Queen sickened and recently passed away despite not being close to the war. Mountain passes have become overwhelmed by monsters, barring us from other lands and many from their kin. Many Knights of Hyrule have fallen, and even the Queen passed, leaving none to temper her husband’s growing arrogance.”

Impa rested her hand on her hip and stared at Link. “Now the Goddesses pull the Hero from his time, and he asks about Hylia and Demise. It is he, then, awakening after so long.”

Scowling, Link shook his head. Informative but not as helpful as he hoped. “What would be necessary to bring him back?”

“Hmm.” Impa’s gaze shifted back toward the direction of Zelda’s rooms. “The power of the Royal Family. If one of his followers obtained its power, the power of the Triforce, the power of the Light Force hidden within Hylia’s line or within the land itself… Hyrule is a wellspring of power for those who know where to look. Willing followers or slaves. The Hero’s Spirit appears within the bloodline of his descendants, as does the Princess of Destiny within Hylia’s bloodline. Demise does not have that. He only have tools, and he needs to be able to wield one to be able to walk this earth once more.”

“Willing?” Link asked, thinking of Ganon rising from the destruction of the castle.

Impa shook her head, and something sank cold and heavy in Link’s gut. “No. Demise is very old and very angry and will take any opening available to him. His followers have planted many seeds throughout Hyrule. They only await fruition.”

So as long as the twins lived, Ganondorf was in danger. Link bet that Ganondorf willingly surrendered to Demise’s power before. Link didn’t think he would now. What tactic would the twins use?

Something nagged at him, something he was forgetting. Link’s scowl deepened. “The Shadow Temple is awake,” he said, but that didn’t quite feel right, either. What was it?

Impa frowned. “That is a foul sign. I thought I sensed something…” She shook her head. “The dead are restless. Too much innocent blood has been spilled. Hyrule’s dark history threatens to become present. Do you know the history of the Shadow Temple?”

When Link shook his head, Impa continued, “The Zora created the Water Temple, and its powers extends through all the waters of Hyrule. The Gorons created the Fire Temple, and its power extends through the volcano and the mountains. The forest spirits created the Forest Temple, now guarded by the Great Deku Tree. It stands as a protective barrier. The Gerudo created the Spirit Temple. The Sheikah created the Shadow Temple, and its shadow covers all of Hyrule. Have you seen it?” At his nod, she asked, “And the Bottom of the Well?”

Link’s grimace proved answer enough.

“Every kingdom has a darkness, one that has nothing to do with Demise’s madness. The Shadow Temple is the symbol of Hyrule’s. The blood spilled in the name of the Royal Family stains its walls. If you listen closely, you can hear the screams of the people tortured in Hyrule’s name. All of the Temples contain secrets, but none as dark as the Shadow Temple. It has roots throughout Hyrule, places hidden like the Well.”

Something clicked in Link’s head. “Tunnels.”

Impa nodded. “Tunnels and hidden graves. Beware: all of the Temples are old and are based on even older things. They are based on powers and secrets as old as Hyrule. No matter how fair, do not underestimate any of them.”

The tunnel Ganondorf and Nabooru fell into. The underground opening in the desert.

Link met Impa’s eyes and nodded solemnly. He had a greater idea of what the twins were up to now.

“Now,” Impa said, raising an eyebrow, “tell me your story.”

Link groaned.

Chapter Text

“Now,” Impa said, raising an eyebrow, “tell me your story.”

Link groaned.

Impa smirked, and there was a gleam of mischief Link could not recall seeing in her older self’s eyes, even as she walked past him. She moved soundlessly, a ghost straight from the Shadow Temple, and Link felt a stab of envy.

“I have no story to tell,” he said. “We won, but it was always a terrible victory.”

Impa glanced curiously at him but couldn’t ask. Link turned to watch her. He smiled, small and fond, when Impa opened the door and Kali almost stumbled in. “Greetings, Kali of the Gerudo.”

Kali barely seemed to notice her. She stared at Link with wide eyes and blanched skin. Link lifted one shoulder in a shrug. There were reasons he didn’t share his story.

“You…” Kali whispered.

Impa rolled her eyes, grabbed Kali’s arm, and yanked her into the room. When Kali staggered, Impa dragged her in far enough to close the door. “If you are seen -- if any of us are seen -- it would pose a great danger.”

Kali never looked at her. “You… So much makes sense now.” She shook her head, drawing her composure up inch by inch. “This… This changes things, Sa’ven .”

No, it really didn’t. Link shook his head. Not in any ways he deemed important.

“Gerudo Elders Kotake and Koume are servants of Demise,” Link said. Putting a hand on his hip, Link cocked an eyebrow at both of them. “They used Ganondorf to revive Demise.”

The other details, though, Link still wasn’t sure. Frowning, he tapped his fingers on his hip. If he tried, he could still smell the smoke and blood which seared into the very stones of the Demon King’s castle. Not completely taken over, Link thought. A puppet, just like in Termina.

How naive that Ganondorf seemed now.

Impa grunted and released Kali’s arm. Kali still didn’t seem to notice, staring with pinched features beyond Link’s shoulder. A thousand thoughts flickered behind her eyes. “So Demise still rose, but you were able to defeat him,” Impa mused. “But that was not enough.”

Link shook his head. Not nearly enough.

Beside them, Kali began shaking her head, as if to knock something loose or knock something back into place. “All the different things you knew…” she murmured. “You --” She stiffened and her head snapped up, gaze piercing Link. “The King. You were wary of him for weeks. That was why.”

Link nodded. If this went well, he would not fear fighting him again.

Kali’s eyes went distance, mouth tightening into a pale line beneath the bright paint. “My king,” she said and fell quiet.

“The Goddesses gamble much with this,” Impa mused. She turned away from both of them and walked to the far desk. Link’s heart wrenched, a vision of Zelda sitting at that same desk and writing letters so perfectly clear before him that he had to physically blink it away. “Hylia’s power and guidance will not help you here in this time. Your resources are limited.”

Before she finished her final word, Link was shaking his head. Not limited. Different. If his travels had taught him nothing else, they had taught him that.

Impa glanced at him, then back at Kali, before nodding. “I see.” She picked up something hidden behind a pile of paper and cupped it in both her hands. “Your allies in this court are few, but it sounds like the Knights recognize you as Hero. Whatever happens, you have their support and that of the Sheikah.”

Impa reached out with her hands, and Link swallowed thickly. The Ocarina of Time.

“You recognize this,” Impa murmured. Link’s hands shook as he picked it up. He nodded, eyes only on the ocarina.

He remembered the last time he held the Ocarina of Time in his hands. Epona, faithful Epona, stood with him in his small cave, watching the rain pour outside. That high in the mountains, the air was chill, cooled even more by the rain. A fire crackled by them, close enough to the entrance of the cave that the smoke swept outside rather than into the cave itself.

He held the Ocarina of Time in his hands and, despairing and resigned, realized his best chance at home was to accept Queen Zelda’s offer and to become a Knight of Hyrule. Renounce the open road and its opportunities and settle in Hyrule. Exchange his old, battered Kokiri hat for their stiff, metal headgear.

The decision brought no peace or warmth to his heart. It only brought a wild, grieving rage. Epona startled when Link lashed out with his foot and kicked a rock by the fire. Heavy and sharp, it sliced through the top of his boot to cut his foot. He barely noticed, and the rock bounced deep into the cave. That brought no peace, either.

Saria’s Song didn’t help, only reminding him of another home lost. Epona’s Song soothed neither of them. Zelda’s Lullaby only reminded him of the decision before him. The Song of Time taunted him.

Its notes still played in the air as Link, with a cry, threw the ocarina against the cave walls. It shattered and Epona screamed.

Then there were bright lights and whispers to follow the wolf. “You’ve met a terrible fate,” they whispered, and then the wolf was there, glowing gold and watching him. It trotted into the dark and Link followed, leaving Epona behind. All of it was unthinking, as instinctive as grabbing the Master Sword’s hilt.

When Link awoke again, he was in the desert, in the past, and the wolves were howling.

Link held the Ocarina of Time against his chest and solemnly met Impa’s eyes. She nodded at him, then glanced over his shoulder at Kali. “I will leave you two to talk but not for long. Tomorrow will be long.”

She faded into the shadows as Link had only ever seen her and Zelda and ghosts do. Link looked away, the ocarina warm in his hands. The Song of Time echoed in his mind, its notes an eternal reminder.

Kali stared at him like he was a ghost, and in some ways, Link supposed he was. When she spoke at last, she asked, “Was my king dead?”

Link considered for a moment before nodding. For all intents and purposes, this Ganondorf was dead, nothing but a dark shadow in his place. Did that shadow ever think about Hyrule’s sweet winds? Link supposed he would never know.

“Not just a legendary Hero, but one from the future,” Kali said, voice distant like she had smoked desert grass. “No wonder mortal kings mean so little to you.”

Link shrugged. They had meant little before he traveled back in times. One could only save so many kingdoms, especially from their own kings’ poor judgment, before one stopped caring. That wasn’t even considering comparing them to the threat of the Demon King and Majora.

Kali shook her head and rubbed her face with both hands. “I cannot tell the king this. He already worries about… No. I cannot tell him this. If I cannot tell him , I cannot tell the others. You have put me in a dire predicament, Sa’ven.

Really? He did? Link raised an eyebrow. She was the one who followed him and eavesdropped. Kali was stealthy, but she had nothing on a Sheikah-raised queen or shadow beasts. She made her choice. Link was more than happy to let her reap the consequences.

Besides, it was much easier to have Impa explain.

Again, Kali shook her head, but by her expression, it didn’t help. “Where do we go from here, Sa’ven ? This…”

For once, she asked an easy question. Link walked to her and gently, gently, headbutt her. Kali startled, and Link smiled at her. Forward, of course. No matter what the Goddesses threw at them, the only response was to keep walking forward.

Kali stared at him with wide eyes. After a heartbeat, she threw her head back and laughed. “Oh, Sa’ven . If you were anyone else, I would ask you so many questions right now!”

xoxoxo

They returned to their rooms without catching the attention of any of the guards, which didn’t surprise Link at all. When he opened his door and saw Ganondorf sitting on his bed, that didn’t surprise him, either.

“I admit I am curious when you first vanish in this castle, and then Kali vanishes shortly after,” Ganondorf greeted. The Hylian bed, with its lush blankets and large wooden headboard, somehow looked tiny under him. The bright red of the blankets fit him, though. Fit everything, the love of Din’s Power permeating all. “One day I will have you tell me your tales, but I know today is not that day.”

His temper from earlier seemed gone. Ganondorf half reclined on the bed, hands wide and fingers extended behind him. The flickering light from the fireplace seemed to make him glow.

That Link hadn’t expected.

Ganondorf extended a hand toward him, now leaning back on only one. Everything seemed to shift with the movement. “Come here,” Ganondorf said.

Link looked at his extended hand and stepped forward.

Chapter Text

No clock decorated the hall where the Gerudo broke their fast, but Link heard the ominous ticking with each sharp bite of the Gerudo’s teeth against the blatantly Hylian meal, with every flash of their dark eyes. There was a battle coming and Link couldn’t fight it. The only one who could sat at the head of the table, gaze distant and seemingly oblivious to the tension at the table and Link’s stare.

Even as Link watched Ganondorf, he felt Kali watch him. She hadn’t spoken with him this morning, face unreadable in a way it hadn’t been in months. Beside Kali, Nabooru watched all three of them, brow furrowed and mouth an unhappy slash.

Tension pressed down like a falling, hungry moon. Every Gerudo except Ganondorf resembled a wolf in the bush, waiting for the signal to pounce. That outcome would almost be a relief. Instead, the danger rested in the lack of attack, in the hatred trapped and simmering and opening a door for Demise. That danger Link couldn’t fight, and nothing in Ganondorf’s face helped Link know how to prepare.

The Hylian soldiers waited outside the dining hall, providing a semblance of privacy. With pale faces and darting eyes, they announced they would escort Ganondorf and two Gerudo companions to meet with the king after breakfast.

“And Link,” Ganondorf said, voice almost gentle.

They hadn’t argued.

The silence of the usually lively group scraped at Link, the ticking of the clock loud amidst the sounds of the Gerudo biting into their meals. Link finished his food without tasting it. He pushed his plate away. Seconds later, Ganondorf did the same. Immediately, Kali dropped her fork, with Nabooru slow to follow. Frowning, Nabooru placed her fork on her plate and then deliberately pushed it all away.

“Are we ready then, my king?” she inquired, voice edged and eyes glittering. Ready for completely the wrong war.

Not for the first time, Link wished for an ounce of Zelda’s wisdom as he watched Ganondorf nod. “Let us go forth to our meeting.” His mouth quirked, jaw hard. “A proper meeting of kings.”

Link’s empty hands clenched.

Link didn’t know how this part of the tale went. Ganondorf followed the guards and Link and the Gerudo followed him and Link couldn’t look away from the set of Ganondorf’s jaw, the little he could see of Ganondorf’s eye. He knew the end result: a pretense of peace while Ganondorf’s rage simmered and Demise coming to power. In Termina, he traveled back and knew who did what when. Here? Now? Nothing. He didn’t know what exactly Ganondorf did then or how his actions would change now. He didn’t know what the Hylian king would say or do. He didn’t know what Impa or the Knights would do.

In all the roles he played through the years, he hated none as much as the role of spectator.

The soldiers clanked as they led the way, shoulders drawn up impossibly tight in their armor. They possessed enough grace not to look back but not enough to look as if they weren’t waiting for a knife through the spine. The clanking echoed in the stone halls, the only noise besides Link’s heartbeat pounding in his ears.

Probably not a fight. Probably not the dungeons. Just identifying the enemy. Heart open or closed to Demise, all due to one foolish mortal king.

Two, truly, but that didn’t help soothe Link at all.

The Triforce in danger, an ancient evil about to be awakened, and Link followed at Ganondorf’s heels and wondered if he would show what he learned or if his hatred would be too great. Nothing in Ganondorf’s manner now or last night hinted at his thoughts.

The Sages slept or were unreachable. The soldiers’ armor clanked, Link’s heart pounded, and the Song of Time played on. He knew better this time than to reach for the Master Sword. If Ganondorf yielded to Demise to triumph over this mortal king, Link could not let him rise to power.

( He tasted like spiced cream when he kissed Link the night before. )

No one spoke as they walked, even as for the first time in Link’s life he wished someone would. No sign of anyone, not even servants. Nothing to see. Just stone walls Link remembered twisted into something cursed and dark and flags Link knew burned too easily.

They reached the throne room in silence. As soon as Link entered, his eyes fixed on the far window. He rarely saw it from this angle, but he would always recognize the courtyard window, where he first met Princess Zelda and first saw Ganondorf. Ganondorf knelt to this blind king then, plotting the Hylian’s death.

The memory reflected on the rest of the room, lending an ominous cast. The king sat, plump and proud, on the throne. Oblivious. He smiled at them with the same patronizing indulgence many adults gave Link over the years. Behind him, Impa stood, stern with arms crossed, even half-hidden by shadow. When she noticed his gaze, she inclined her head. He nodded slightly back. Several Knights remained close to the throne, including Dalton and the older Knight from before. Like Impa, Dalton inclined his head to Link. The older Knight just watched Link with sharp, strangely familiar eyes.

When they reached the throne, Ganondorf bowed with curt grace. Nabooru and Kali followed, with Link only doing the same when Kali nudged the back of his leg. The Hylian King continued to smile, comfortable in his conceit, nothing but a dancing puppet ready to be dropped. His voice echoed with cheerful greeting, salt on Link’s raw nerves.

For the first time, Link wondered what he would do afterwards if he had to kill Ganondorf.

He looked away to stare at the strong lines of Ganondorf’s back. He didn’t want to know. He wanted to grab Ganondorf and teleport away from here and set out on his own. Stop with this nonsense and hunt those witches. He didn’t want to fight Ganondorf. He didn’t want that story to play out. His heart pounded so hard it hurt, leaving him dizzy. He knew from the start he didn’t want to fight Ganondorf but now…

Now…

He wanted to save Ganondorf but knew the truth: he could only hand Ganondorf the tools and trust him to save himself.

Surprisingly, Ganondorf seemed the calmest in the room. Besides the Hylian King, all of the Hylians seemed tense. Some stared at Ganondorf, others at Link. Two scowled openly at Link, but as they didn’t seem prepared to attack, Link ignored them. Dalton seemed more stressed than Link expected, rolling his shoulders and looking around. Confusion wrinkled his nose and darkened his brow.

Right. Despite his concerns, there was more than mortal kings at play. The timeline changing meant more than new choices for Ganondorf. Magic bit the air, the sense of it growing stronger as Link focused and paid attention to it, like a familiar song in another room becoming clear.

Link caught Impa’s gaze and raised an eyebrow. Did she sense it? Impa nodded once. Link took that as a yes.

It was foul. Rotten. It reeked like darkness under the well was right under Link’s feet.

Ganondorf remained calm beside him, his voice steady as he conversed with the king. Did he sense it? If he did, it didn’t show.

Link looked forward again and saw the king staring at him. “Your companion seems uninterested in our talks,” he said mildly. “One wonders why a traitor was brought to such an important meeting.”

At last, Ganondorf tensed. Dalton’s eyes widened, and the soldiers exchanged troubled looks. Impa took a half-step forward before she stopped herself. Link bit back a sigh. Well, he certainly sensed nothing.

There was no hostility on the king’s bearded face. He couldn’t have been much older than Link, but grey already laced his hair, Link studied him. Arrogance set his jaw and hardened his eyes, but there was no wisdom there. Link saw nothing of Zelda in his face. He had no clue. He had no clue of anything

But it didn’t matter, Link realized, his eyes narrowing. Looking at the idiot, a puzzle piece he had barely noticed slot into place.

Just like that foolish salesman had introduced Majora to Termina, this fool had opened the way for Demise. Greed called to greed, hatred to hatred. Kotake and Koume served Demise, but it was this idiot who helped him awaken, who helped awaken the darkness hidden in the soil of Hyrule.

"Shadow Temple...here is gathered Hyrule's bloody history of greed and hatred..."

The twins killed the Knights under this very man’s watch. When the Zora and Gorons were targeted, he instead used that to make their peace treaties. It was Ganondorf’s hatred and frustration born of this man which led to him giving into Demise in the original timeline.

And this idiot couldn’t even sense the magic in the room.

Zelda knew . That was why she always had that look when she talked about this man. She knew .

Even as Link shook off the revelation, Ganondorf stepped forward, blocking Link’s view. “He is not of your lands,” he said coldly. “He came from the forest and now resides at my Fortress. He is a traitor to no one.”

Link couldn’t see the king’s face. When he tried to move, Kali grabbed his arm and stilled him. When Link looked around, she, Nabooru, and the Hylians all looked ready to fight. Fear darkened Dalton’s eyes and he looked back and forth between Link and his king, pale and young looking.

Not just Dalton, Link realized. All of the Knights and many of the soldiers looked torn. Between their king and the Hero.

Not once did Link consider that change in the timeline.

“I have never seen those ears on anyone other than a Hylian,” the king said. “Come, let the boy speak. Let him explain how he is not a traitor.”

Ganondorf’s hand shifted to his side, reaching for a blade left in his room. Not once had Link seen him do that, not during their breakfast, not during their march, not when the king smiled that damned smile and spoke to them like they were children. Something in Link unclenched.

Ganondorf had made his choice. Now it was Link’s turn.

Before Ganondorf could protest, Link gently nudged him aside. He knew his part. For a moment, Ganondorf remained tense, standing before Link like a wall. Link nudged him again and this time Ganondorf yielded, but his arm remained tight under Link’s hand, muscles rock hard.

He would fight for Link. He remained calm throughout the king’s condescension, but he would fight for Link.

Link couldn’t help a smile even as he pulled the Ocarina of Time out of his bag. Unnecessary but...nice.

The king jerked in his throne at the sight of the Ocarina. Impa’s mouth quirked. “That Ocarina! Where did you get that? Not even I --” He shut his mouth, but it was too late. Several of the Knights shifted nervously. Dalton stared hard at Link.

Explain , the Hylian said, so Link put the Ocarina to his lips and began to play. Zelda’s Lullaby filled the throne room. Light burned beneath his feet as the Triforce embedded into the stone floor began to glow. Whispers rose but the song drowned out all of them.

A slender hand touched his bicep. Out of the corner of Link’s eye, he saw Zelda smile at him, blue eyes sparkling. Then she faded and left only a whiff of her perfume behind.

When Link stopped playing and lowered the Ocarina again, the king slumped back in his throne. He looked old and grey, like each note had added years.

“My King --” the older Knight began. The king raised his hand, silencing him.

The king stared at Link like he was one of the spirits of legend. Link stared back, Ganondorf a warm presence at his elbow. “You…” The king shook his head, all arrogance stripped from his voice. “You have the same look in your eyes as my Queen.”

Ganondorf squeezed Link’s elbow and stepped forward again. The calm look had returned to his face but he had no time to speak.

Impa’s eyes widened and she reached for something at her hip just as the doors slammed open behind Link and the Gerudo. Link swung around, reaching for his sword, before he remembered he left it behind per orders.

Dammit.

Bloodied and battered, the remains of his shattered helmet teetering on his head, a slender soldier stumbled into the throne room. “My King,” he gasped. “The Temple of Time...monsters…” He stumbled and fell face first to the floor. He didn’t get back up.

“Vin!” A young soldier broke out of formation and sprinted toward the fallen man. He turned him onto his back, only to groan and bow his head. Dead then.

Link whipped his head around just in time to catch Impa’s eye. She nodded once at him before fading into shadow. Off to protect the infant Princess Zelda.

“Demise must be attacking here,” Kali said aloud. Ganondorf nodded once before sharply ordering Nabooru to alert the others and reclaim their weaponry.

Behind them, the king at last shook off his fugue and stood. “My soldiers can handle whatever monsters are attacking. We --”

“Your soldiers will die,” Ganondorf interrupted. He glared at the king, but there was no darkness on his face, no malice or hatred. There was only frustration and the same fire Link recalled from previous battles. Link smiled, an odd lightness in his heart. “While you sat upon your throne, an ancient evil has awakened in your lands. It seeks death and power, and your people are but toys before it.”

The king was but a toy before it. Link suddenly, desperately wanted to kiss Ganondorf right then. There were no shadows of the King of Evil. Not anymore. Fear Link didn’t even knew he still carried faded in his heart.

“And what do you seek to accomplish?” the king snapped, but there was a new fear in his eyes. Everything had changed.

Nabooru returned at a run, the rest of the Gerudo behind her. She tossed the Silver Sword and Link caught it one-handed. It shone bright in the throne room.

“I am going to save your wretched hide.” Ganondorf smiled, knife-sharp. “And then we shall discuss terms for our treaty.”

Chapter Text

Over the years, Link had experienced many unusual things: time travel, transforming into other species, meeting his dead self, battling a monster on a demonic moon… Yet somehow marching to the Temple of Time, surrounded by Hylian Knights and Gerudo, Ganondorf grinning and armed at his side… This ranked up there.

They left the King, old and grey, behind them. The older Knight stayed behind, but Dalton jogged beside Link. His grin looked eerily similar to Nabooru’s on Ganondorf’s other side. There was an odd feeling of triumph in the air, a battle already won.  It only added to the surreal feeling, triumphant as they followed a blood trail of a dead soldier, charging past wild-eyed guards.

Only when they stepped outside did they hear the screams.

Instantly, Dalton began shouting orders, even as Link broke into a run. Out here, the feel of tainted magic settled in the air like a burgeoning thunderstorm. Ganondorf called out his own orders, running right behind Link.

All the while, the Master Sword sang its song, matching the pounding of Link’s heart.

Dead and dying soldiers bloodied the marketplace, leading a gory trail to the Temple of Time. Even as Link ran, his mind flashed back to the dying, then dead, soldier in the alley following Ganondorf’s initial attack, how the market looked when he first stepped into it as an adult: ReDeads still, waiting, and then screaming .

Of Mikau, Darmani.

More screams from the direction of the Temple. Then one blood-curdling screech and silence.

Link ran faster.

He heard Ganondorf cursing behind him but didn’t dare stop. He exchanged his sword for his ocarina and wished he had time to grab his bow, especially when a roar and a deafening thud cracked the air.

“Attack after I play the song!” Link shouted, and then they were at the Temple courtyard.

Soldiers stumbled down the steps, crying out in terror as ReDeads stumbled after them. Link pressed the ocarina to his lips hard enough to bruise and played. The Sun Song sang bright and clear, halting the ReDeads. When the last note rang out, the Gerudo fell on them like a pack of wolves.

Link charged up the steps, barely slowing to chop off the head of a recovering ReDead. Three White Wolfos perked up and howled when they saw him. Link snarled.

“Take care of them!” he snapped to Ganondorf or Dalton or whoever was listening. He had other prey.

The doors to the Temple of Time glowed white with a strangely familiar magic, closed and unyielding. Again and again a sword large than Link swung down against them, magic sparking with each strike.

A Silver Lynel. Only ever seen once, fought once. Among the deadliest of all monsters.

Every other foe fell away from Link’s mind. Ganondorf and the others vanished. The Song of Time quieted.

Locked away, two barriers between them, the Master Sword roared.

Link charged and leaped, the Silver Sword a pale blaze above his head. With all his strength, he slammed the Silver Sword down on the Lynel’s spine. It roared and stumbled the barest step as Link leaped away. At last it turned from the door to glare at him, hatred and malice burning in its eyes, only to roar again when Din’s Fire erupted in its face. It stumbled long enough for Link to steel himself and charge his sword with magic. With a roar of his own, he unleashed it, a circle of magic exploding outward to knock the Lynel back.

All Link could hear now was the Master Sword’s furious song and the Lynel’s harsh breaths. More angry than hurt, the Lynel roared and reared and slammed its sword on the ground. Fire exploded from where steel met earth. Link barely had time to call upon Nayru’s Love before the blaze engulfed him.

There, in the midst of the fire, a familiar figure smiled at him. The fire failed to mar pale skin. His green hat and red scarf rippled but didn’t burn.

The Hero from the dungeon.

He smiled at Link and saluted with a familiar sword in his hand. Link’s eyes widened. The Silver Sword. But --

Then the flames and the figure was gone, and there was only the Lynel, charging at Link.

Link rolled out of its path without thought, taking the bare second it took for the Lynel to whip around to look at the sword in his hand. The Master Sword. Glowing a brilliant gold like the wolf, like his dead other self, pulsing in time with the Triforce shining on the back of Link’s hand. Something Link hadn’t realized was missing slotted in place inside of him.

When the Lynel turned around, roaring, Link roared back and slammed it with the Master Sword’s power.

Link and the Lynel moved together, charging and slashing, fire and magic burning the air. The glow of the wolf shadowed each step Link made, each lunge and leap. When the Lynel made contact, Link couldn’t feel it. The Master Sword sang its battle song and Link danced.

Everything faded away. The overuse of magic seared Link’s veins and lungs but didn’t slow his movements. On and on the Master Sword sang in his hands and Link threw himself forward.

The Silver Lynel was one of the greatest foes he had ever faced but not the greatest. Muscle memory from lives lived and lives not told him that, of battles fought and won and battles lost.

Against this foe, Link always won.

Link didn’t remember the killing blow. One moment he was moving and the next he wasn’t, just watching as the Lynel faded away in flares of dark magic. Where the Lynel died was an odd cloth, which Link grabbed and shoved into one of his bags.

The sound of his own panting came slowly, distant over the Master Sword’s song. The dead Hero watched him from his place right before the Temple of Time, ancient and ageless. There was something solemn to his small smile as he pointed behind Link. Slowly, Link turned.

No sign of the Wolfos or the ReDead. Only bloodied Gerudo and Hylians, with Ganondorf standing mere feet away. Something wasn’t right in their faces, in their wide eyes. Only Ganondorf looked calm, one hand extended to Link. “Link,” he called. “Come here.”

One hand extended, and Link walked forward and took it, allowing Ganondorf to pull him onto the bed. Ganondorf leaned forward and brushed their lips together, his breath warm against Link’s mouth.

“You are my destiny,” he murmured, “but I want you to be my choice, as well.”

Link didn’t understand it then or now, but as he stepped forward, the Master Sword quieted. More sounds emerged: birdsong, the whisper of soldiers, someone crying out of sight. Link blinked and saw fear on Kali’s face, as clear as the bruise on her cheek. Why?

“Link,” Ganondorf repeated, and Link took another step. He felt the bruises now, aches from a dive, from protesting rib.

The hand was still extended. Link didn’t understand why Ganondorf didn’t come closer, but he still put his hand in Ganondorf’s. He didn’t understand Ganondorf’s strangely relieved exhale.

Sa’ven ,” Ganondorf breathed and pulled Link into a kiss.

He still tasted like spiced cream.

The Master Sword silenced.

Chapter Text

For Link, the next several hours passed in a slow, frustrating blur. The Knights almost knelt to Link following the Lynel’s defeat, but Dalton thankfully put a stop to that. They recognized his blade, even if the Gerudo didn’t. The Gerudo, who Link expected to laugh at the near-kneeling, held their silence. If anything, they inclined their heads when he walked past them.

“It was as if someone else fought that beast, Sa’ven ,” Kali explained quietly, in between equally baffling explanations as to why Link needed to attend the rest of the meetings with the king. “It was…”

Kali never finished. Nabooru only shook her head when Link looked at her in askance.

Ganondorf smiled at him, but there was a new fear in his eyes Link didn’t recognize. He watched Link as Kina patched up wounds Link barely remembered receiving. There was a shift in the air Link disliked and distrusted.

Yet the Temple still stood, unscathed, and Link watched, if through heavy-lidded eyes, as Ganondorf and the Hylian king spoke on more equal terms. The Hylian king showed no sign of recognizing the Master Sword. From the shadows behind the throne, Impa eyed the sword hilt and raised an eyebrow at Link. Link nodded.

The Master Sword was his once more.

Link had no idea what that meant for the Sacred Realm. Was it there, waiting for anyone who could access the three stones? Would the Great Deku Tree, the Zora, and the Gorons be in even more danger now? Link had no clue. He could only go forward.

For the rest of the talks, they moved to a large room Link didn’t recognize, with bright banners adoring the walls and a heavy wooden table in the middle. Link sat between Ganondorf and Kali and worked to not doze on her shoulder. Nabooru stood at Ganondorf’s shoulder as he spoke with the Hylian king.

At one point, they passed out bread and oils and spiced chicken: neither Gerudo or Hylian. Link ate it without tasting and wondered why it took so many words to accomplish so little.

All previous awe gone, Kali casually pinched his thigh whenever he leaned too heavily against her. Nabooru smirked at each jerk, battered ribs protesting each time. He remembered that particular strike, but it was as if he dreamed it.

Link almost dozed again when the room fell silent. He rubbed his eyes before looking around. Were they at last done then?

No. Ganondorf scowled at the Hylian king, who only stared back, shoulders set but face relaxed, if still grey. Nabooru and Kali were both tense, but no one moved to grab weapons. Link sighed and rolled his shoulders.

“The Gerudo need no soldiers to battle this darkness,” Ganondorf said, voice low and even. “My people would not warmly welcome yours.”

“This evil challenges all of us,” the Hylian returned. “We should --”

More people? Truly? Link knew where the next battle would be, and more people would only add more targets. No.

Link stood and pulled out the Master Sword. As the room hushed, Link raised the sword, then slammed it with all his strength against the ground. Steel met stone and a shriek rent the air. With a white flare, the Master Sword broke through and buried itself into the ground.

“Whichever Hylian can pick that up can join us. The rest protects the Temple.”

With that, Link turned and left. His other self was specific: go to the library. It was time to find the library.

Kali’s curse was loud in the silence.

xoxoxox

After all of her questions were met by scowls, Kali relented and focused on the bookshelves alongside Link. The castle library was large and heavy with memory. Shelves heavy with books lined the wall and dotted the floor, broken up by large chairs and two flickering fireplaces and two soldiers who managed to simultaneously look wary and bored. Whenever Link dared enter this room, Zelda’s hand led him, the princess-then-queen determined that her champion would have a better grasp of written and spoken Hylian. She bribed him with apple treats from the kitchens and looked away when Link shared those same snacks with Epona later.

Link missed Zelda. He missed Epona.

Link scrubbed his face with his hands and scowled at a book larger than his head. Treatises. Why did they need such a large book on them?

“Are we looking for anything specific, Sa’ven ?” Kali asked. She held a much thinner book in her hands and flipped through it. Link frowned and watched the pages flutter past.

Hylia and Demise. Was anything else mentioned? He couldn’t remember.

One by one, Kali grabbed books and flipped through them as Link studied the titles. Something specific, yes, but what? What else did he need to know?

He idly noted that Kali seemed to grab the most colorful books. Glossy picture after glossy picture flashed at Link. He knew she could read Hylian. When they first met in the other time, she read Hylian better than him.

Link shook his head and ran his hand over the books. Perhaps one was marked by magic. Was that --

Out of the corner of his eye, Link saw a familiar crimson creature. He spun and snatched the book out of Kali’s hands. Kali startled and held her hands up. The two soldiers who followed them into the room tensed. Link ignored all of them.

Elegant writing and colorful pictures decorated each page. Creatures of myth , the book described, as Link flipped past a Red-Maned Lynel and a large, sleek dragon. Volvagia. He saw wolves, too, but larger than any he had seen. Sacred beasts , the book read, going on to describe other related beasts. Link kept going.

Different types of giant spiders. Multiple types of Keese. The section on birds was large, from familiar guays to birds capable of carrying people. Something about that section tugged at Link, but he kept going.

“Hey, Link.” Nabooru’s voice. Link didn’t bother looking up. “King Ganondorf politely asks for you to remove your sword from the floor. It’s making the Hylians cry and their king refuses to touch it.”

“Shh!” Kali hissed.

Silence again. Good.

Stalfos. Lizalfos. Creatures called legends when Link knew how very real they were.

In the last section of the book, Link found what he was looking for. Link glossed over the pages, jaw tightening. This was it. This was what he was supposed to find.

Nodding to himself, Link closed the book and dropped it into one of his pouches. One of the guards made a strangled noise but didn’t protest. Kali and Nabooru only looked at each other and made strange gestures with their hands and made stranger expressions at each other. As neither of them stopped him from taking the book, Link didn’t care.

Satisfied, Link strode from the library, Kali sighing on his heels. Perhaps Ganondorf was done and they could leave now.

After he retrieved his sword, of course.

xoxoxox

They were not done.

Link retrieved his sword with a shrill screech of steel against stone and left them to it. He returned to his room, Kali shadowing his steps while Nabooru stayed with Ganondorf. She sat on the bed and watched him read those same pages over and over.

Large, terrifying monsters, some with familiar faces and others not. Link studied them until the faces blurred, all becoming unrecognizable, and Kali sighed and took the book away. “Sleep, Sa’ven. I doubt we’re leaving before morning, anyway.”

Link scowled but didn’t protest. He didn’t protest, either, when Kali nudged him so his head rested on the pillow.

“Sleep,” she repeated, and Link closed his eyes.

He opened them again to the feel of wind on his face. He looked down, expecting Epona, but only saw a large red bird with a massive beak. Beneath the bird, there was nothing but clouds.

All right then. Link settled against the bird’s long neck and let the bird fly.

Islands seemed to float in the sky around them, but the bird flew past them all without stopping. Link closed his eyes and inhaled. The dream bird smelled like Epona after she played in the river. Rather than causing the now familiar ache, Link smiled and enjoyed the wind rustling his hair.

A squawk to his right, as familiar as the bird under him, and Link shifted to look. Another bird, bright blue, and from its back, Zelda smiled at him. Link relaxed. He had expected her.

Her mouth moved but the wind stole her words. She shook her head and pointed down. Beneath them, the clouds parted to reveal endless desert, red sands as far as Link could see. Link looked back at Zelda, only for her to shake her head and point at the sands again.

As Link watched, the sands churned, like water instead of earth. Link’s eyes widened. One spot frothed, gigantic bones breaking through and then losing themselves in the crimson waves again. A dragon’s skull broke free and began to spin, the sand transforming into a whirlpool. Without a word, his and Zelda’s birds began to circle it. Link gasped as the center of the whirlpool widened, becoming a dark void.

When Zelda spoke this time, Link heard her clearly.

“You’re running out of time.”

Chapter Text

Ganondorf stroked Link’s hair as he spoke quietly with Kali. From what Link gathered from the conversation, it was almost dinnertime, the talks with the Hylian king had been successful, they would leave in the morning, and it perturbed Ganondorf that the Hylians -- particularly the Knights -- were unnerved by him. Due to his kiss with Link, he thought, but they didn’t seem angry or anything similar.

“They kept saying there were three,” Ganondorf said. His nails scratched Link’s scalp. All the more reason for Link to just remain still and let them talk.

“Things touched by the Goddesses seem to come in threes,” Kali said. Her voice came from a distance. The bottom of the bed? Somewhere else in the room?

“Then who is the third?”

Zelda , Link thought, not opening his eyes. Somehow, impossibly, helping him even now. Always helping, even if it was only in spirit or memory. He thought she would approve of this new timeline. Maybe she wouldn’t have that same look in her eye whenever she mentioned her father.

Ganondorf tweaked the end of one of Link’s sharp ears. Link wrinkled his nose. “Would you like to join the conversation, Link? Share your thoughts on the third?”

After a moment’s consideration, Link shook his head. Ganondorf’s hand paused on his head. “Does that mean you do not know or do not wish to share?”

Preferred to not think about it at all. Link didn’t answer, and Ganondorf huffed a laugh. “I do not know what else I expected.”

Silence again, and Link reflected on his dream. Tomorrow they headed back to the desert, Link to whatever hid beneath the sands. The others would insist on accompanying him, Link knew, which would be odd. Never had he traveled into a dungeon with a group. Would they make things easier? Surely they had to be more help than Princess Ruto.

After it became clear that Link would not open his eyes or join in, their conversation resumed, Ganondorf’s hand back in his hair. Kali changed the subject off the third -- did she suspect? Link wasn’t sure -- onto travel preparations. They planned on the same pace back and considered several of the Knights following them despite Link’s display. If anything, that brought an energy to their group Kali hadn’t seen before.

Link couldn’t focus on the conversation. Running out of time . Ganondorf would fight Demise. Link knew it. The twins lost their base and had to be running out of fuel by now. They lost all the pearl shards and now relied on other magical sources to fuel them. They were flushed into the open now, while Demise was still caged. So what --

Ganondorf’s large hand cupped Link’s cheek. “I will see you later, Link,” he said, voice dry. He pressed his lips against Link’s forehead, but Link barely felt it.

Link knew. Fear clutched his spine in an icy grip. He knew, the last pieces of the puzzle cracking together like lightning bolts.

To his relief, he heard Kali’s voice following Ganondorf’s down the hall. Quickly and quietly, he gathered his things together and slipped out of the room. He didn’t have much time. They would come back to get him for dinner soon.

Running out of time. The Goddesses played for higher stakes than he had thought.

Even without Zelda’s spirit guiding him, Link slipped past any guards he saw with ease. They wouldn’t raise the alarm, but their attention would only hinder him.

Nausea roiled in his guts as he hurried down the halls. He remembered Zelda bidding him to go to the Temple of Time and himself entering the first time, both of them so confident. They were going to save Hyrule. They knew exactly what they were doing.

Even in a different time, in a different shape, Link could find her. His princess, tiny in her cradle, Impa standing over her like she expected Demise’s forces to attack at any moment. To Link’s displeasure, she wasn’t alone. The older Knight from before stood with her, the pair talking in hushed voices over Princess Zelda. They quieted at his approach.

“Link,” Impa greeted. She glanced over Link’s shoulder, but no Kali this time. In return, Link scowled at the Knight. “Link, meet Knight Tasl. He is one of the leaders of the Knights and a trusted ally.”

One Link didn’t remember meeting in the future. Had the twins killed him, too?

It didn’t matter. Link raised an eyebrow at Impa. She nodded. That trusted, then. Link still scowled at him when he approached the cradle. Tasl scowled back. Apparently all of the Hero nonsense didn’t affect him at all. At another time, perhaps, Link would appreciate that.

Link hesitated at the cradle and looked one more time at Impa. She looked confused but nodded again. Link exhaled and stared at his little princess.

She didn’t look like his princess. Link wrinkled his nose. She looked chubby with a blond tuft on her head. Nothing to indicate her bloodline or how special she was. Not now , at least.

Kali and the others would look for him soon. No more stalling. As Impa and the Knight looked on, Link reached down and took her tiny hand in his.

Instantly, their hands glowed. Link closed his eyes and ignored the soft curses coloring the air.

Of course. If he had the Triforce when he first went back in time, it made sense that he would still have it going further back. If he had it, of course the other two did, too. No wonder the Goddesses relinquished the Master Sword. There was nothing left there to guard.

When he looked up again, Impa’s face was white and grim. “King Ganondorf has the third,” she said.

Link nodded as Tasl cursed again.

If Demise obtained his avatar, he obtained the Triforce of Power.

“You seek to battle without him then,” Impa said. Another nod, and Impa grunted and crossed her arms. “Without any of them.”

Yes. No doubt they would be angry, but this needed done and swiftly. Link needed to finish this.

Impa eyed him. “They will not thank you for this choice.”

Link shrugged. It seemed like the only choice he could make.

Impa scowled and tapped her bicep. “The attack at the Temple… Do you believe the enemy knows?” At Link’s nod, she glanced at Tasl. “All the more reason to keep the princess safe. I will talk to he Gerudo and make sure they know to keep their King safe, as well.”

Kali’s duty was to Ganondorf long before it was to Link. Hopefully, she would understand that.

To Link’s surprise, Tasl grunted and jerked his head toward the door. “If you are determined to go alone, let me arm you better. Your bow and shield look like they have seen better days.”

After a final glance at Impa, Link followed Tasl. His surprise increased when, instead of leaving through the door, Tasl thumped his fist against the wall and another door opened. “Secrets of the Royal Family,” Tasl explained, grabbing a candle off the table. “If you survive, I’ll show you more of them.”

Link knew secret passages in the castle existed but had never traveled by them. He eyed the earthy tunnel as they walked and thought of the tunnels beneath Hyrule Field. How many could the twins use?

There were multiple forks in the tunnel which Tasl navigated with ease. Link studied the Hylian’s back as they walked. The twins killed so many Knights. Had Tasl been one of them? Had he survived the war only to be murdered later? How many had they killed through the years?

Finally, Tasl tapped a section of wall, which opened into a small armory. The air smelled cool and crisp. Somewhere underground, Link suspected, or close to it. Probably close to the cold storage rooms. Tasl placed the candle in a holder on the wall and walked to a set of chests on the far side of the room. “These were my son’s and daughter-in-law’s,” he said, not looking at Link. “They don’t need them anymore. I think they would be happy knowing they are helping the Hero somehow.”

Link shifted on his feet. He had no idea what to say to that. Tasl barked a gruff laugh and opened one of the chests. “Besides, it’s only fitting that the Hero should go into battle with weapons from the Knights of Hyrule. Legend says you are supposed to be descended from us, after all.”

Would that give him comfort? Link took a step forward, only to stop and shift again. “I am,” he said. He didn’t know his parents’ names, but Impa had been confident about that much of his lineage.

Tasl paused, hands clutching a shield. “That’s...that’s good to know.” He cleared his throat and placed the shield beside the chest. “If you don’t get your fool self killed, come back here. I have some stories to tell.” He shook his head and laughed, and Link winced at the sound. “Was gathering them, anyway, to tell my grandson when he was old enough. Someone should still hear the tales.”

Tasl quieted and went back to the chest. Link licked his lips and pulled out his ocarina. It couldn’t hurt .

Tasl’s breath hitched as the Song of Healing filled the room. Link closed his eyes as he played, thinking of the Knights who fell, victims of an ancient battle. Among them Link’s parents, names lost in time.

It occurred to Link for the first time that Tasl probably knew them. If so, then… Maybe Link wouldn’t mind hearing about them. Maybe. Having an actual ancestry, a lineage… It was so foreign that even years after finding out that he was Hylian, it didn’t make sense to him.

He heard Tasl sniff and resume digging through the chest. Link played a little longer, just loud enough to be heard. When he finished, Tasl had a large silver shield and a golden bow resting beside the chest.

“A Hylian Shield,” Tasl said gruffly, “and a bow passed down through my family for generations. Use it to avenge my family.”

Link nodded. He could do that.

Tasl exhaled and held out one final item. “And take these. When the princess is old enough, they’ll be transferred into her custody, but with her a baby and the queen dead, we protected them. You should have them.”

Link’s eyes widened, and he took them with care and reverence. The Light Arrows. Zelda’s Light Arrows. Perfect.

“Be brave, Hero. Show them what a descendant of the Knights of Hyrule is capable of.”

Armed and ready, Link nodded once, fiercely. Then with one more song, he was gone.

Chapter Text

Link arrived in the desert as the sun set in the far horizon. He lowered the Ocarina of Time and watched it streak the sky violet and crimson, the desert fading into night. Then he tucked the ocarina away and looked toward the giant hole in the ground.

No sign of monsters. Not even the guays. Just the hole, gaping wide and black. A silent invitation. It seemed like the only thing in the world.

Link took a deep breath and pulled out the Master Sword. In the shadows of twilight, it shone.

Time to go.

Even as he walked on the sand toward the hole, it remained silent. Did the twins know he was coming? Did Demise?

It felt like Navi flew beside him, whispering warnings. It feels evil, Link . Link glanced at his shoulder, but there was nothing there. Only him. He rolled his shoulders and kept walking.

Be brave, Hero.

When he reached the hole, Link realized it somehow formed a perfect circle. A result of the spell or its natural shape? Considering the ledges, he assumed the latter.

No monsters still, even if he felt like he was being watched. Safe enough to switch the sword for the prize from his last battle. The cloth felt cool, natural in his hands, and with a flick of his wrists, it unveiled into something he had only seen once, loaned to him by a shy prince deep in the mountains.

A sailcloth. Perfect for gliding.

If not yet, then soon Ganondorf and the others would realize he was gone. As soon as they did, they would know where he went. Looking into the darkness, Link felt a pang of regret. He would have liked…

But no matter. Even if they walked this far with him, it would be too dangerous for them to walk further. Steeling his heart and calling on Farore for strength of courage, Link leapt out, snapping the sail above him.

Like before, it caught him, its crack shuddering through his arms, wrists, and hands. Link tightened his grip and glided downward. As he went, the torches on the ledges blazed into light, the scent of sulfur sharp in the air. Yes. They knew he was there. The feeling of eyes watching him intensified with each foot he descended. The sweet scent of the desert air faded until there was only sulfur and a cold, blood-curdling stench he would recognize anywhere:

The scent of the Shadow Temple. Of blood and the restless dead.

Link landed where the golden wolf had stood so long before and looked forward. All the tunnels but one were pitch black. It flickered red and orange with firelight, shadows dancing at its door. For a moment the fire flared, forming almost a figure, and then it was nothing but fire again.

A trap. An invitation. The twins knew who they fought now.

Link tucked the sailcloth away and held the Master Sword in his left hand. It gleamed white, seeming to glow. No, Link realized. It did glow, its magic reacting to whatever was through that doorway. Lit purely by its own strength and will.

Only one way to go. Link strode forward.

Let the darkness come.

“You’ve met with a terrible fate, haven’t you?”

“Goddess of Time, help us please! We need more time!”

“You’re running out of time.”

The Song of Time played in his mind, hauntingly slow, as he entered the tunnel, as if Time itself slowed in this dark place. Torches lined the walls, flickering with a fierce light and giving off no heat. With every step, the Master Sword glowed brighter in his hand.

Motion ahead. A heartbeat and bow and arrows replaced sword, arrows flying. Keese fell and died before they could reach the torches. Link stared down the long hallway but saw nothing else. He continued forward.

“Come here,” Ganondorf said, hand extended. Link stepped forward.

Link inhaled and the air reeked of old death, of corpses turned into skeletons and into dust. Power laid heavy in the walls, making the already small tunnel constrictive. Not just a dungeon. A Temple. A tomb. Demise’s own, etched into the earth.

Scratching noises ahead. Clacking. Bone against bone. Master Sword back in hand, Link walked.

"...Everyone who goes into the forest will become a Stalfos…”

Here, the torches were dim, blocked by a horde of skeletons. Link gritted his teeth and threw himself forward.

“Everyone... Stalfos."

Steel against old bone and more dust powdered the walls. They fell with only the sound of clattering bones, glowing eyes fading away. The small tunnel hampered movement, but Link spent most of his life fighting in dungeons. He knew how to twist, how to flick his wrist, how to dodge.

A dead finger scraped his cheekbone, just hard enough to draw blood. A shift and twist and more dust, only dust.

“Learn to duck.”

Nothing but dust in the end. Link paused to breathe and wipe his face, and then he continued on.

By now Ganondorf surely knew he was gone. Link felt a pang for that but it didn’t matter. It was too late now.

Out of the corner of his eye, Link saw a blond figure walk beside him, a flash of red at his throat. Link didn’t turn to look at him.

No sound this time but something made Link pause, his eyes narrowing. Something in the darkness ahead, incongruously small. At a distance, in the dim light, it resembled a stick shoved in the ground. No, a handful of sticks, in parallel lines. Link paused.

A Dead Hand.

Link rolled his shoulders and stepped forward.

After that, more Keese. Stalfos, dressed in worn rags terrifying similar to Gerudo clothes and Hylian armor. ReDeads. Nothing strong but great in number, with limited room to fight them. After the second Dead Hand, Link paused to drink and eat, to wipe his bruised, bloodied face. His cheekbone stung. If he survived this, he would need potions and possibly a healer to fight infections or disease.

He sat close to one dancing torch and stared at the far wall. Strange, faded letters were etched there. Had there been more along the way and he hadn’t noticed?

"My hate... never perishes.”

Link wiped his face again, feeling cold and sick. The walls seemed to whisper around him.

“An incarnation of my hatred shall ever follow your kind, dooming them to wander a blood-soaked sea of darkness for all time!"

The etchings blurred, as if, if Link truly desired, if he squinted and looked , they would make letters he could understand. He swallowed and looked away, into the tunnel which seemed to stretch on forever.

Except the shadows seemed to move, to laugh silently at him, a taunt and tease born of pure malice.

“Come, Hero.”

Link stood again.

“Come here,” Ganondorf said.

Link walked away from that memory, further into the dark.

The screams of the ReDeads echoed through the tunnel. Whispers and groans from monsters Link had never seen before: rotting Bokoblins and Moblins; a Wolfos with a blood-stained coat and a skeletal mouth, its howl sounding like a broken laugh; a Stalfos which looked at Link with its glowing eyes and whispered right before Link killed it.

Beneath his feet, the dirt gave way to a grinding white powder. Link refused to look down.

More etchings on the walls appeared. Link couldn’t read them but strangely familiar voices whispered in his mind when he looked over the lines. Link tried not to look at any of them.

“...and in his hate he --”

So focused on the monsters and away from the walls, Link noticed slowly that the firelight no longer shone red. It darkened as he walked, more violet than crimson, moving into a cold blue. The fire no longer crackled, just whished and whispered. The red of the flames seemed to bleed into the walls, the odd letters going from dirt brown to the color of dried blood.

“ -- a curse upon --”

Still, Link walked, dust and blood staining his clothes.

“Be careful, Link,” Navi whispered.

“Time is running out,” Zelda warned.

“Come here,” Ganondorf said.

Then the tunnel opened and everything was white.

Chapter Text

The tunnel opened into a grey field, thick with fog. Link frowned and stepped forward. What was this?

His foot brushed something. He paused, fingers clenching on the Master Sword, but nothing attacked. Link looked down.

A skull.

He raised his head, looked around.

Cloaked in heavy fog, camouflaged in the thick grey, skeletons littered the field. Link gasped, but no sound emerged. Link stifferened. He breathed out, just loud enough to make a noise.

Nothing.

Link gritted his teeth and walked forward. Only way to go. He saw no sign of enemies, but in this dead field, that provided no comfort. He tried to walk around the skeletons but there were too many. He heard nothing but each crunch shuddered up his legs.

Skulls similar in shape to Hylians and Gerudo. Zora skulls. Goron skulls. Skulls and bones he didn’t recognize, faded and cracked. Link licked his lips and kept walking.

At least the Master Sword still glowed. The fog did nothing to dull its light.

Movement out of the corner of his eye. Link snapped around, sword up, but nothing was there. The field remained still, only the faintest blurring of the fog. He looked up but the dull sky seemed to extend forever, cool and empty.

Shivering, Link looked behind him. The tunnel was gone.

Keep moving. No more looking back. Walk forward.

He didn’t know how long he walked (five minutes? An hour?) before he saw something: a rock, jutting up from the field. A slender figure slumped over it.

Link felt his heart thud, felt it in his chest and ears, but heard nothing. He released a shuddering breath and still only silence. Hand tight on the Master Sword, Link approached the stone and still figure.

The fog blurred the figure’s lines. No colors, only endless grey. Was the figure an actual person or just a part of a trap? Or perhaps… Link swallowed, fingers convulsing over the Master Sword’s hilt. Or perhaps this was a ghost, a figure lost in this madness, another person he was too late to save.

Each step dragged on, the approach too slow. Link gritted his teeth and pushed forward. It felt like walking through a dream or a different world. Was it the magic of this room or had he stepped into somewhere new leaving the tunnel?

No matter. Forward.

As Link finally approached the stone, the figure stirred. Link tightened his grip on the Master Sword, fingers aching, mind screaming about a trap. The figure shifted, and Link saw a single splash of color on his torso. Blood, garishly red in the grey gloom. The being braced its hands under itself and pushed itself into a sitting position. Its body moved in short jerks, its head lolling as if the neck was broken. Everything about it wrong but familiar.

Its head lolled toward Link, and another splash of blood made its lips a rosy red. Corpse-white eyes stared at Link.

The Hero. The first Hero.

Link jerked back and raised the Master Sword as the dead Hero pushed himself to his feet, swaying like a drunkard. The Master Sword blazed a furious white. The Hero stood, rocking back and forth, his eyes dead and head tilted toward the sword. On purpose or accident, Link didn’t know.

Then the Hero held out his left hand, surprisingly steady, and a grey sword shimmered to life, a dead mockery of the Master Sword. His head bobbed left and right, corpse eyes seeming to stare at Link’s face. Without a sound, he charged forward.

Live steel met dead, the impact shuddering through Link’s arms. Still soundless. The Hero leaped back and stared at Link and his face was white, lips grey, slack and expressionless. Still expressionless even as he charged forward, still soundless when steel met steel again.

They danced together in the grey fog, Link feeling skulls grinding to dust under his feet. Link dodged and parried and saw too much of himself in that dead face, knew that death stole the blue which would match his own eyes.

For all his clumsiness, the Hero was fast, and even if his sword looked like another piece of the fog, its edge remained sharp. Link twisted to the side but still felt a line of heat along his cheekbone, saw a flutter of golden hair fall. Link snarled and swung the Master Sword and the Hero spun out of reach.

Link felt his mouth move in a curse but heard nothing. He threw himself forward again and tried not to notice how the cut of the Hero’s clothes, faded and colorless, looked like his.

Dodging a strike at his shoulder, Link swung his sword up, steel at last meeting flesh. A graze across the Hero’s stomach, cutting through fabric and skin, the red blotch a sickly bullseye. The Hero didn’t flinch, features still and dead eyes staring, and just before he pushed forward to meet Link again, Link saw black blood dribble from the wound.

A flash of heat along his shoulder. Link called upon Din’s Fire and the Hero leaped back like a cat, narrowly avoiding the blaze. Never changing expression, the Hero grabbed his sword’s hilt with both hands and threw himself toward Link again.

In time to meet one of Link’s light arrows.

I’m sorry , Link said, and he caught a glimpse of blue before the room exploded with light.

Then he stood alone in a dark blue room, pale torches flickering on the walls. He looked down but it was only grey dirt beneath his feet. Link swallowed, switched his bow for his sword, and walked forward.

Only an illusion, like his shadow at the Water Temple. That was all it was.

Link rolled his shoulders and hurried his steps, but he couldn’t shake off the chill in his bones.

Another tunnel. Writings on the walls, dripping crimson. Angled enough that Link knew he moved downward but had no idea otherwise where he was. He thought beneath the Spirit Temple but wasn’t sure.

Didn’t matter. Walk forward, don’t look back.

Don’t think about white eyes clearing, about blue like his own, and an arrow aimed for a dead man’s heart.

Walk forward.

Don’t think about a bloody torso or a bloody tree in the middle of the woods or how he knew that there were no burials, no send-offs, only death.

If he died in one of these dungeons, would he share their fate?

Walk forward. Don’t look back.

He missed Ganondorf, and no matter how hard he pushed away the ridiculous thought, it clung to him. Despite the danger, despite how he had done this a thousand times before, right then he wanted Ganondorf’s reassuring girth and heat at his shoulder.

“Come here,” Ganondorf said.

Had his time with the Gerudo -- with Ganondorf -- made him weak? He walked through a dungeon, one of hundred, and he wanted Kali hissing about his stupidity and Ganondorf at his side. Even if he fought alone, he missed them there, just beyond the battle, ready to charge in if necessary. He wanted to sit and rest his head against Ganondorf’s shoulder and breathe and not think about dead white eyes.

He needed to focus on the too empty tunnel, on the twins inevitably ahead, and instead he wondered if Ganondorf charged straight from the castle or waited until morning. How angry was he when he found out?

Because he would be furious, and Link hated how relieved he felt over that. Someone angry about being left behind rather than wave him off with a “Good luck, Hero.”

But there, interposed over Ganondorf’s warm smile, was the Demon King, with a rage willing to fight the Goddesses themselves and willing to burn himself and the world both to sate his madness.

So Link walked forward and pretended it was the lack of enemies alone which disturbed him.

Deeper and deeper and the ongoing emptiness did nothing to reassure Link. Everything seemed too cold, stale, timeless . Or perhaps outside of time, beyond the boundaries of the Goddesses.

Link raised his sword and braced himself before his mind registered the movement. He paused and looked around the tunnel. Something caught his attention, but all he saw now was torchlight. He spun his sword as he looked ahead and behind. Only torchlight and the creepy red letters on the walls. What was --

Another shift. Link stared, wide-eyed, at the ground.

Not an enemy but the ground moving.

He tried to back up, but it was too late: with a yelp, Link felt the floor give away under him.

Sword in left hand and hookshot in right and Link’s body jerked when the hookshot caught one of the torches. Another jerk, his body cracking in the air, and then the hookshot hauled him through falling stone and dirt. He clambered to his feet just to feel the ground tremble beneath him. Cursing, Link sprinted. Behind him, the tunnel groaned and crumbled.

Link didn’t dare look back. He pushed himself forward, darting past torches before they fell into the abyss. All he knew were the red words streaming in his peripheral vision, torch after torch vanishing behind him, and the groan of the tunnel dying behind him.

Don’t stop. Don’t stop. Don’t stop .

A light up ahead. Link gritted his teeth and pushed --

“Hee hee hee. Look what we have here!”

“Ho ho! A Hero .”

Chapter Text

Floating on their broomsticks, Kotake and Koume grinned at Link. Something slammed behind him, and he didn’t need to turn to know the path was closed behind him. Not that there had been a path left .

Only the twins and Link and a room too similar to his nightmares. Golden stone shimmered on the ground like Link looked at it through a mist. The stone rose into the walls, where amber stones shone like glass. The twins hovered over the middle of the room where dark red broke the gold pattern, a distorted octagon which shot out in six lines, from the middle of the room to the far walls. Link stood on one, and it glittered dully under his feet when he walked.

There was no exit. No sign of out beyond the ruined path behind him.

“He didn’t bring him, Kotake!” Koume called. As if that was a signal, the twins began to fly into a circle, still remaining over the red octagon.

“Indeed he didn’t, Koume!” They cackled, and the sound grated Link’s ears. He gritted his teeth and tightened his grip on the Master Sword, which glowed like a white brand in his hands.

“Silly boy, thinking he’s so clever.”

“So clever, so clever, ho ho ho! But not clever enough!”

Link narrowed his eyes and looked around. He saw nothing but that didn’t matter: not with their magic. He scowled at them, but they only laughed harder. Another look around and then back at them. They only flew in the same circle, around and around, over the octagon. Link moved closer.

“How They must be weeping!”

“Such weeping, Koume, such weeping!”

“Their legendary Hero…”

They stopped circling to spin and face him, faces split with their grins. Link held the Master Sword before him. Its light shone garishly on their manic faces.

“Nothing but bait. Oh ho ho!”

Link froze. They howled with laughter. Link’s ears hurt and his head throbbed and the room shook with the force of it, mad power in their laughs. The amber walls shivered and the floor quaked.

The octagon cracked.

Link’s eyes widened but he had no time to move. The crimson split and the floor shattered like glass struck by lightning, cracks shooting down the red paths. There was no time to move, no time to breathe --

With a cry, Link fell, their laughter following him down.

xoxoxox

“Link? Link, open your eyes.”

Ugh. A dull ache throbbed through Link’s body, from toes to the tips of his ears. Every heartbeat pulsed in his skull, spiking nausea through his gut. He breathed carefully. He had no idea where he was, but he knew throwing up was bad.

“You can do it, Link. Open your eyes.”

With a groan, Link obeyed, forcing heavy eyelids to part. At the first glimmer of light, pain spiked through his skull, but he didn’t close his eyes. After all these years, he still obeyed that voice.

Kneeling on the ground in front of him, Zelda smiled. Her pale, immaculate dress looked out of place amongst the shattered rock and -- Link grimaced -- skulls and bones, but it didn’t really matter. He could see through her, where the filthy rock didn’t touch her silky shoes and skirt.

“Always charging in, Link,” Zelda said fondly. “Never asking for help.”

Link rolled his eyes and shoved himself into a sitting position. They both knew she was no better.

She touched his hand, and for a moment, she felt real and warm and there . Link swallowed and looked at those fingers, gloved and slender, touching the back of his hand. He wished she would tell him that he wasn’t alone, but that was a lie. Navi taught him that.

By the small, sad smile on Zelda’s face, she knew it, too. She knew it since she warned her father and had been turned away. “Good luck, Link,” she said, and then she was gone.

Link swallowed back the rock lodged in his throat and looked around. A narrow red tunnel, closed by rock on one end, with an opening on the other. The crimson paths in the room above, then: those were the real trap. The octagon probably was an open room down here.

A trap and he walked right into it. Unsurprising. His skill laid in setting off and defeating traps, not avoiding them. That part didn’t bother him. Bait did.

Link leaned against the wall behind him and shivered. Something warm trickled down his face. Staring at the opposite wall, Link wiped his face and looked at his fingers. Blood. Of course. He absently wiped again and sighed. How long had he been out? How long had he even been in this dungeon?

It took three days to get to the castle. How long would it take for Ganondorf to get --

Link swallowed again, tasting iron at the back of his throat, and looked up. All he saw were red walls and a shadowy ceiling in the distance. Bait meant the twins would try to get Ganondorf to come here, but what was stopping them from helping him along?

He needed to go. He needed to finish this before the twins succeeded. Grimacing, Link pushed himself to his feet. Everything ached , but no sharp pains indicating broken bones. That was good. How everything spun wasn’t. Licking dry lips, Link eased himself back down. He was running out of time, but he had time enough to try and heal.

He still had one blue potion left, but he was saving that for an emergency. In the meantime, Link pulled his water out of his bag. He had a feeling he was not going to like whatever waited for him down the tunnel.

The Master Sword flickered under a pile of rocks. He pulled it into his lap and pet it apologetically. She was too loyal a blade to be handled so poorly.

Link looked down at the tunnel. It was eerily quiet. The Master Sword would taste blood soon enough.

His hand shook when he rested it on the blade. Scowling, Link pulled a bottle of his bag. Inside the bottle, the fairy still slept, curled in a tiny ball. He could hold on using her magic. Perhaps even should .

Except he remembered almost being killed by the White Wolfos because he was too careless, remembered Ganondorf’s anger. Against his will, Link smiled and rested his head back on the wall. An odd thing to smile about.

He shook his head and grimaced as everything spun again. Getting distracted by Ganondorf, and the Gerudo wasn’t even there. Another reason it was for the best that he went alone.

Still, Link awoke the fairy and allowed it to heal him before vanishing wherever fairies went. The shakiness in his hands stilled, and whatever wound he had on his forehead stopped bleeding. The aches abated, although still there, dully throbbing. His weariness remained, but there was little he could do about that.

Running out of time. Link thought of Ganondorf, about Ganon , and pushed himself to his feet.

The walls seemed too red as he walked through the tunnel. The color of red on the Hero’s torso, of the red on the tree where his future self died. Both alone, he knew, like he knew water was wet and the sun warm. That was how heroes died: alone.

Endless red around him, and Link wondered if that was his fate, if his time with Ganondorf was a gift from the Goddesses. If he died defeating this evil, the timeline could continue without further interference of a Hero out of time.

Link exhaled and still tasted iron.

If that was the case, then at least he could rest at the end.

Something rumbled beyond the tunnel. Link narrowed his eyes. Adrenaline flooded his system, the last of his aches fading. He recognized that sound.

He pressed against the wall of the tunnel and crept forward. More sounds ahead: grunts and heavy steps. Silence, then a bloodcurdling roar. Link swallowed and peeked into the octagon room.

Stalfos, pacing around the room with swords bared, broken and rotten armor barely clinging to their bones. On the far side of the room was another path, metal bars blocking the way. A beast that looked like a long-dead White Wolfos curled up in front of it. Ignoring the other creature, in the middle of the room, was a Lynel like Link had never seen before. His senses screamed like Navi hovered over him with her sharp warnings and frantic wings.

Massive, shoulders as broad as Link was tall, with its broad body golden and striped like no other Lynel Link had ever seen. Link licked his lips and watched it pace, rippling muscles visible even with the distance.

He had heard in his travels of a Golden Lynel, of what happened when Silver Lynels were struck by lightning, supposedly cast by monsters or dark gods. Yet he had never actually seen one before. Adventurers whispered of them in the same breath as sea monsters and ancient gods.

A familiar sound caught his attention, and Link pressed back against the wall. Keese. Whipping in the air above the Stalfos and the Golden Lynel. Link frowned and studied the Lynel. Yes. While the Stalfos ignored the other monsters, the Golden Lynel glanced up at them from time to time. Using them as another set of eyes, he guessed. An alert system defending its territory.

Link exhaled and leaned back. Nothing but the wall behind him.

Nowhere else to go.

Chapter Text

Looking at his enemies, Link evaluated his options. There weren’t many. Even if he reached the far door, it meant nothing unless he killed his foes. The door wouldn’t open until all the monsters locking it were gone. He could climb back to the top, but he doubted the twins would still be there, and there was no visible door up there. It seemed like this was just another part of the path.

So that left defeating the monsters. He eyed the Golden Lynel, still pacing through the room. If he tried attacking the other monsters first, the Lynel would tear him apart. If he targeted the Lynel, the other monsters would distract him the entire battle. From the look of the Golden Lynel, Link would need all of his focus.

He couldn’t wait long. Bait , they called him. Without a doubt, Ganondorf grew closer to the twins and Demise with every second. Link had no idea how long he had been down there or if the twins had the ability to transport Ganondorf here. He needed this done before they could enact their plan.

What did that leave? Link pulled away from the opening and rummaged through his bags. He had multiple weapons he could use from a distance, try to reduce their numbers before attacking the Golden Lynel. Bow and arrow, bombs, even his old boomerang...Definite options, although with a clear weakness: what would happen if the Golden Lynel charged the tunnel? Link had nowhere to go. There was nothing to even allow him to use his hookshot try and obtain the high ground. Perhaps with Farore’s Wind...

The bag hid other options, other weapons, and Link fingered them with a frown. Last resort only. They were too dangerous, and he still had the twins and Demise to fight.

So what did that leave him? Link frowned at the blood-red wall. Surely --

Link paused and considered. He did have that, but how could he use it without getting caught, too?

Link shifted enough to peer into the room again. The White Wolfos, still sleeping in a ball in front of the bars. The bars stood within the tunnel itself by at least a foot. Six Stalfos, four Keese that he could see. No torches or other objects, only scattered debris. Not much, as if the red octagon had been thinner than the red path. It probably was. The original trap was probably the octagon itself: one step onto it and then a collapse into the octagon. At the top of the room, he could see odd, sloping ledges: probably the other paths, designed to drop him into the room. Lastly, Link eyed the Golden Lynel, at the muscles shifting with every step.

Hmm. His best option then.

It took only a few minutes to prep his things. He tried to ignore the clock ticking in his head as he verified his enemies’ whereabouts. He thought of Ganondorf lost to Demise, lost to the creature Ganon, and rolled his shoulders.

Then Link moved.

Still in the tunnel, he fired ice arrows as quickly as he could, striking the skeletons. No lethal blows, not for the dead, but even as calling the magic slowed down Link’s shots, the ice stopped the Stalfos in their tracks, at least for a few moments. As the Lynel turned to Link, a snarl building in its chest, Link charged forward and aimed an ordinary arrow right between its eyes.

Even as the Golden Lynel roared and fumbled, kneeling on the ground, the White Wolfos awoke and the Keese screeched, flying downward. On Link’s back, the Master Sword sang its bloodthirsty song. The Song of Time rang in his mind.

The Golden Lynel swayed and pushed itself back to its feet, quicker than Link expected. Not good. Not good. He vaulted forward, grabbing the Lynel’s mane and swinging himself onto its back. A Keese slammed into his face, scratching his cheek and almost knocking him off the Lynel. Link cursed and switched bow for Master Sword, striking the Keese from the sky on the upstroke and slicing at the Golden Lynel’s neck on the downstroke.

Not even a scratch. The Golden Lynel roared and bucked, and it took everything Link had to keep himself on its back. More Keese swooped ahead, and the other monsters circled, ready to pounce as soon as the Golden Lynel bucked him off. Not an immediate death sentence but too close to one for Link’s liking. With each second, the bucking grew wilder, the Lynel raging at the stubborn creature on its back.

Not quite angry enough. The Master Sword, its job completed, was switched out, and Link summoned Din’s Fire. The resulting wave of fire caught the surrounding monsters, which screeched and leaped back, but did no more damage to the Lynel than lightning or ice. Still, the Lynel screamed its fury and bucked hard.

Perfect. Link moved with the buck, leaping upward and snapping his sail in the air. At the same time, he called upon Din’s Thunder.

The ground exploded like Din Herself punched it. Rocks slammed into Link’s legs and dust in his eyes and all he could hear was the Lynel roaring, the sound echoing off red walls, the White Wolfos’s howl a pathetic thing next to it. Half-blind, Link glided over them as the earth crumbled, taking the monsters with it. He aimed where he remembered the door was. Already, the howls quieted, only the echoes left.

There! He saw the bars, still blocking the way. He would come in low but could still --

Link gasped as a Keese slammed into his jaw, almost knocking him off course. It flew away, leaving a nasty gash on his cheek. He felt blood, always impossibly hot, stream down his face. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw another swooping down.

Dammit! The bars were mere feet away. Without giving himself time to think about it, Link swung the sail down and threw himself forward, one hand holding the sail and the other stretched out.

He grabbed the bottom of a bar with his left hand just as a Keese slammed into his right shoulder. Link’s heart stopped as his fingers loosened on the bar, but his grip held. He dropped the sail, though, and he scowled even as he whipped out his sword with his now free hand. He sliced through the Keese at his shoulder and hauled himself onto the narrow ledge with his left hand. Sweat dripped down his face, stinging his scratches, but he didn’t let himself stop or look around.

Two Keese left, and they obligingly flew into his sword. With a familiar, almost musical sound, the bars opened, and Link stumbled backward, landing on his back. Panting, he stared at the tunnel ceiling,

He needed to keep going. Ganondorf -- all of Hyrule -- was running out of time.

Groaning, Link hauled himself to his feet and stumbled down the path. Time , he was running out of time .

The latest tunnel shimmer a faded blue, white torches flickering along the walls. The tunnel itself was silent, the weight of the earth above pressing down. It settled heavily on Link, and he found himself aware of each breath he took. It was cool, different from the overheated tunnels of Death Mountain, lacking the scent of sulfur. It reminded him of a graveyard, the tunnel walls smelling more like gravedirt than the desert.

No monsters. No sounds, no breathing besides his own, loud in the quiet. It chilled him. He held the Master Sword in his left hand and kept an eye on its steady glow.

The twins had to be up ahead somewhere. He killed them before, when he was far more inexperienced. He could kill them again. Demise had to be somewhat awake and active to be loaning them his power, but as long as he lacked his avatar, Link was confident that he could drive him back. No, none of that was his concern. It was doing it in time.

Time . The Song of Time repeated itself in his head, fast and dizzying, and it felt like he would step out of the tunnel and into the darkness under Termina’s clock. Some part of him feared that was his fate: dying in this dungeon and awakening in the desert, wolves howling around him and Ganondorf and his Gerudo riding in from the fields.

Too quiet. Link’s panting slowed, his heart a dull throb in his chest. Blood dried on his face, sticky and cold. Still no other sounds, no other signs of life.

Underneath the Spirit Temple, perhaps. Older than the Temple itself. He rolled his shoulders and pushed that thought away.

Instead, the thought of Ganondorf taunted him: Ganondorf, sitting on his bed, hand extended; Ganondorf, casual beside his head, hand in Link’s hair. How long would it take for Demise to destroy him?

Running out of time, his shadow whispered.

Then Link heard a howl of rage ahead, and dread devoured him.

Ganondorf.

He was out of time.

Chapter Text

Link’s muscles ached as he forced himself to walk toward the noises. The Master Sword’s glow seemed to pulse with his frantic heartbeat.

The Song of Time was quiet. Besides the shouts -- indistinguishable but furious -- everything was quiet. His breathing seemed too loud.

The tunnel opened into a room like the last one with the twins, but in shades of grey and blue. The ground resembled a dirty crystal, glinting dully. Link breathed out and looked up. More smoky blue. Link licked his lips, his grip on the Master Sword numbing his fingers. A smoky blue crystal trapping Ganondorf high above the ground, similar to how Princess Zelda had been trapped so long ago. The twins looped around him on their broomsticks. Link heard their voices but couldn’t make out their words.

No sign of any monsters. No sign of any other Gerudo. No sign of how to get Ganondorf down. Link grit his teeth and glared at the twins. If it was their enchantment holding Ganondorf there, perhaps killing them would free him. He didn’t have the Mirror Shield, but he was armed enough that it shouldn’t matter.

Above him, the twins began to laugh, wild cackles which echoed through the room. Ganondorf shouted, and Link heard several Gerudo curses, even if he couldn’t make out the rest. Whatever he said, the twins didn’t seem to care. With a flare of magic, they vanished.

Well. No killing them then.

Ganondorf’s curses echoed through the room. He didn’t sound injured: only angry. Link scowled and studied the floating crystal. Of course, he could be both. Did he come willingly, lured by Link as bait? Did he fight? If so, did Nabooru and Kali fight, too?

Ganondorf was too far to make out anything . No clues there.

The curses faded into silence. Link saw Ganondorf pushing at the crystal. Perhaps…

Link looked over the room again. Empty. Too empty for his tastes. After all this, Link couldn’t imagine the twins leaving Ganondorf unguarded.

If this was a trap, there was only one thing Link could do. Inhaling, he stepped forward. Ganondorf promises him a home, a future. They both had to walk forward now.

A shout above him. Ganondorf slammed against the crystal with his fists, calling something , but Link only made out his name. Not happy to see him, though, and that was enough for Link to hold the Master Sword out before him, watching the empty room. His eyes narrowed on the opening on the far side of the room, locked by a row of bars. There had to be some puzzle or trap or monster acting as a seal to keep that shut.

Above him, Ganondorf still shouted, hands now braced against the crystal. Link grimaced. The more upset the Gerudo grew, the stronger his accent became. Not helpful.

The ground shivered. Link froze. Above him, a single word finally became clear.

Dragon!

Fuck.

Link bolted back the way he came, just in time for the middle of the room to explode. Something sliced his ear as stone shards flew past him. To his complete lack of surprise, bars now filled the formerly empty space leading into the tunnel. Scowling, Link spun around to face the beast.

From the moment Link saw the book in Hyrule, he expected a dragon. Fierce beasts, only able to be controlled with the most sinister of magic. He never forgot what the Demon King had done to Volvagia, how he revived the long dead spirit to serve his own malice and the innocents he sacrificed to it.

He expected the dragon to look like Volvagia, possibly to be Volvagia, but instead it was bigger, thicker, all but trapped in the ground. Link’s eyes widened. It also looked like a rotting corpse, already half-bloated with death. Black, with broken wings and a massive maw, it somehow seemed familiar to him.

It turned to him, nothing but teeth, and roared.

One hit kill. With the size of that mouth and those teeth, that was guaranteed. Link put away the Master Sword, ignoring its furious thrum, and pulled out his bow. The sword wanted to fight, raged with it, and it was due to that Link cocked a light arrow on the string.

The dragon lunged, faster than Link expected, and Link shot for where an eye should be. The dragon roared with pain but didn’t slow its charge even as the arrow blasted away rotting scales. Link bolted and felt the air shift behind him, smelled the monster’s rot and decay.

Above him, Ganondorf screamed and screamed but Link couldn’t make out the words. He ran, never looking up or away from the monster. He kept moving, circling the beast and tearing at its fetid skin with his light arrows, each exploding like a bomb on contact. The monster roared, falling apart with each shot, but it never stopped coming.

Its speed remained the same, but Link’s didn’t. Too little food, too little water, too little rest. He cursed and switched bow for blade, swinging the Master Sword as the beast bit at him again. He sliced through its cheek, cutting it to the bone, and the monster shrieked and threw its head. Its jaw caught Link, sending him flying.

It hurt but Link rolled with the hit, panting and slow but back on his feet in a crouch. The dragon pulled back to its hole, roaring with rage, but Link saw where the Master Sword bit through. He could --

His hand burned. Link gasped and looked down.

On the back of his hand, the Triforce glowed.

Above him, Ganondorf grew quiet.

A rumbling sound emerged from the beast. Link looked up and saw its rotting body shaking. With laughter , he realized dully. Scales, broken and decayed, flew off as the beast shook with that damned, thunderous laughter. It echoed off the walls as the beast drew back. Link snarled and ran forward, but it was too late: the beast sank into the earth, leaving nothing but echoes and rot behind it. Link peered downward: only darkness.

Light flashed, and Link looked up to watch the crystal with Ganondorf in it float to the ground. It shone an angry red. Inside it, Ganondorf’s hand glowed.

When it landed in front of Link, the crystal shivered and then shattered. Link flinched and raised a hand before his face, but nothing touched him. There was only Ganondorf, wide-eyed, his hand still shining.

On the far side of the room, the bars vanished. The tunnel opened.

“Link,” Ganondorf rasped. He stumbled forward, and despite the horror rising in his chest, Link hurried to him. Link had enough time to think that Ganondorf looked well, if shell-shocked and dirty, before Ganondorf grabbed his arm and cupped his face. “You little lunatic… What were you thinking? ” Ganondorf grimaced and rubbed his thumb along Link’s cheekbone. “Your ear… You’re covered in blood.”

The other tunnel looked tempting, but Link guided them back the way he came instead. Ganondorf never let him go, one hand still on his arm while the other remained on his face. Both of their Triforces quieted.

Ganondorf was whole and smelled of home and his hand felt warm and soothing on Link’s face, and Link could not recall ever feeling more terrified. Not with his first battles in the Great Deku Tree, not facing the Demon King himself, not watching the moon fall in Termina.

They sat where Link had watched Ganondorf and the twins. Ganondorf cursed him all the while, running shaking hands over him and looking for injuries. Link stared at him, distress coiling so tightly in his stomach that he felt sick.

“They told me you were dying,” Ganondorf growled, eyes too bright. “They said you charged in alone and fell right into their trap.”

Despite himself, Link raised an eyebrow at him. Ganondorf scowled. “Do not -- Why ? What madness filled you that you had to go alone?”

Link opened his mouth, but there was only silence. No words in Gerudo or Kokiri or Hylian were enough. Despairing, he rested his forehead against Ganondorf’s shoulder, and at last the Gerudo quieted. After a heartbeat, Ganondorf’s arms wrapped around him.

“Idiot.” Ganondorf’s breath ruffled Link’s hair. “I tried to fight them, but they gloated over that and they were able to take me as easily as a child. I know nothing of what happened to the others.”

Link closed his eyes. A hundred secrets, a thousand words, tangled uselessly on his tongue.

“Then they taunted me while I was trapped. They said they knew you would come for me, that their dragon was waiting for you.” Ganondorf pressed a rough kiss into Link’s hair. “When this is all over, no more secrets. No more of this .” Fury and desperation tightened Ganondorf’s voice. His arms squeezed Link, pulling him into his chest. “For now we need to leave. We’ll come back with an army --”

Link shook his head and wrapped his arms around Ganondorf. The twins had Ganondorf now. They knew of the Triforce of Power. That monster hadn’t backed away due to fear of defeat: they were right where the twins and Demise wanted them.

The way was shut.

Chapter Text

The twins took all of Ganondorf’s weapons. The Triforce of Power remained unaddressed. Link didn’t know how much Ganondorf understood of the situation, and he couldn’t find the words to ask. Instead, he busied himself digging through his bags, while Ganondorf watched with wide eyes.

Link had no idea where the Silver Sword went, so that didn’t help. He had some swords from when he was younger, all of which he set aside. Sharp and deadly but little more than knives in Ganondorf’s hands. Unfortunately, he had no extra bows, and his other weapons would be too awkward to use.

“The knives are fine,” Ganondorf said, as Link studied an old boomerang. Ganondorf grabbed the Gilded Sword. After a moment of more wide-eyed staring, he grabbed the Great Fairy’s Sword. His large hands dwarfed the hilts. For some reason, Link found his gaze drawn to them, how Ganondorf’s long fingers and wide palms absolutely covered the elegant hilts.

Shaking his head, Link turned away and returned everything to his bags. At least Ganondorf was armed now.

Ganondorf stood beside him as he finished, a wall of comforting desert heat in the cool tunnel. “We will destroy them,” he said quietly. “We will rid the lands of their evil and then we will go home, triumphant. Did I not promise you a home? This will be our final battle for it, and we will be free.”

When Link stood up, he gave himself a moment -- just a moment -- to lean into Ganondorf. Head against Ganondorf’s strong bicep, drinking in the comfort where once he found only dread. A warrior, able and willing to fight beside him. Willing to fight against the twins and put aside his own rage.

They could do this.

Link rolled his shoulders and twirled the Master Sword. It shone brightly in his hand, eager for battle. He nodded once and turned to Ganondorf. Time to go.

The room seemed emptier upon their return: the ground shattered, the air stale and still. A tomb. Link rolled his shoulders as if he could shake off the feeling. This entire dungeon was a tomb, Demise’s tomb. The thought did nothing to make him feel better.

They skirted around the hole. Link glanced down once, but there was only the endless dark. He looked away. Ganondorf didn’t look at all.

Link kept his sword ready as they entered the tunnel, but the emptiness extended onward, the only signs of life the torches flaring to life. At his shoulder, Ganondorf stiffened. Link didn’t look back. The Master Sword continued to glow.

The walls gleamed a sickly purple grey in the dull firelight. They whispered to Link and Ganondorf as they passed, secrets and warnings Link ignored. Ganondorf tensed, a wound spring behind him.

“Ignore it,” Link murmured. Ignore all of it. Just walk forward.

“Link,” Ganondorf breathed. Link waited but Ganondorf said nothing else.

The tunnel stretched on, the whispers rising and falling like waves. Against his will, Link found himself catching words, snatches of phrases teasing him. “Hero,” they cooed. Link locked his neck, locked his shoulders, gaze only on the path ahead.

“Is this normal for you?” Ganondorf hissed. Tense lines bracketed his mouth and eyes, shoulders so tense they hurt Link looking at them. Link shrugged. At least the moon wasn’t falling.

Ganondorf grumbled under his breath but, for some reason, relaxed. Link shook his head and focused again, Ganondorf a soothing heat at his shoulder. Sweet and warm while the tunnels seemed cold and dead.

With each step, the whispers softened until Link couldn’t hear them at all. The tunnel itself didn’t seem to change: dull walls and flickering flames and the stench of old blood. The only sounds were the flames and their breathing.

Then, in the distance, the tunnel opened.

Ganondorf stopped. Link paused, too, and looked over his shoulder at him. Jaw clenched, Ganondorf stared past him. His eyes glittered with some emotion Link couldn’t recognize.

“None of this is unusual for you,” Ganondorf said quietly. “All of this madness...the danger and death… This is nothing for you.”

Link looked away, staring at the distant opening again. Not unusual, but nothing? With every journey, there were reminders of the lives weighing on his shoulders. They didn’t affect him nor his path -- forward, always walking forward -- but he never forgot those he saved and left behind. He didn’t have the words to describe Anju and Kafei and Malon and Darunia. Zelda would have the words, but all Link had was, “This time I’m not alone.” Reminding himself of that. Not alone .

Something eased in the set of Ganondorf’s shoulders. “No. You aren’t.” Ganondorf leaned down slowly, like Link was a deer he didn’t want to startle, and brushed his mouth against Link’s. His lips were chapped and warm. “Never again.”

Armed and ready and together , they left the tunnel.

After the shadows of the tunnel, the light blinded Link. He blinked and almost stumbled, unease gripping the base of his spine when his foot splashed in...something. Ganondorf cursed and stumbled beside him. “Is this a swamp?” Ganondorf demanded.

Link blinked. Something clenched in his gut. “No,” he murmured, looking around. Not a swamp. Closer to the strange illusion in the Water Temple, but darker. The room was as wide as an open field, something similar to natural light shining from the invisible ceiling. No tree, this time. Only murky water covering the ground, deep enough to soak Link’s boots, and something shining darkly in the middle. A trap? A trigger? It didn’t matter. Link started forward.

“Link,” Ganondorf said, voice strained. Link glanced back at him, then followed his grim gaze to the water.

Dead faces stared back at him.

Link swallowed and tasted bile. The angle and the darkness of the water hid anything beyond several feet before him, but Link saw enough: bodies and bodies, face bloated and eyes wide, horror and grief and pleading visible even in death. Hylians and Zora and Gorons, all dead beneath their feet. An army’s worth.

“Don’t stop.” Link’s and Ganondorf’s heads jerked up. To their right, Link saw himself: a bandage covered one eye, a ponytail clasped his hair, and a strange smile twisted his lips. His remaining eye glowed gold. The other Link nodded at the dark circle in the middle of the room. “You’re almost done.”

“You --” Ganondorf said and stepped forward.

The other Link smiled wistfully at him. “I wish I could have saved you,” he said. Before Ganondorf reached him, the other Link faded into golden light. For a heartbeat, he was a golden wolf, staring solemnly at them, and then he was gone.

Ganondorf stared at the empty space, the water not even rippling where the dead Hero stood. He turned wild eyes to Link, some horror dawning on his face, but the other Link was right: they were almost done. Link shook his head at Ganondorf and started forward. When this was done, he would find some way to answer Ganondorf’s questions, perhaps have Impa and Kali help. Now wasn’t the time.

Link made it two steps before Ganondorf grabbed his wrist and whipped him around. Expecting a shout or a demand, Link started when Ganondorf kissed him hard. Ganondorf’s other hand pressed against the small of his back, still holding the blade so its hilt dug into Link’s spine, but Link didn’t care. He kissed Ganondorf back, clumsily, desperately, and tasted his own blood on their lips. When Ganondorf pulled back, his mouth was bruised.

“We will triumph today,” he said quietly, “and then you have quite a tale to tell me.”

Only then did Ganondorf start walking. The Master Sword shining in Link’s hands and his lips throbbing, Link stepped beside them.

They were still fifty feet away from the center of the room when the water there bubbled, black and noxious. Link and Ganondorf stopped and raised their weapons. Skulls and bones bobbed in the frothing waters before vanishing. In the midst of it, a skeletal hand rose, fingers extended, and then fell back into the waters.

Then the twins burst from the waters on their broomsticks, shrieking with laughter.

“Centuries, Koume!”

“Centuries, Kotake!”

“And we have won!”

Their laughter was like steel scratching stone. Gritting his teeth, Link watched them fly in tight circles above the bubbling dark waters. They didn’t even seem to notice Link and Ganondorf.

Ganondorf’s mouth was tight, eyes hard. He gripped the small swords so tightly his hands shook and the tendons in his forearms bulged. “I’ll take Koume,” he said shortly. “You take Kotake. Your fire magic should work against her.” Ganondorf flicked a sharp, humorless glance at him. “But I believe you know that already.”

Link had no time to respond. As one, the twins stopped and spun around to face them. Manic joy lit their faces. “Oh ho ho! Look at them, sister!”

“Look at their faces!”

“Oh ho ho!”

Beneath them, the water frothed, an eerie light shining from its depths. Link was torn between the water and the twins.

“They --” Kotake sang out, glee blazing in her eyes.

Fire shot up from the water, brilliant red and orange flames, flickering fast and fierce, and it wrapped around the twins’ necks like living ropes. Kotake choked on her words, spindly fingers grappling with the flames.

Ganondorf whispered something and extended a hand. Link didn’t dare look at him. He didn’t listen. Hands tight around the Master Sword, he watched the twins scream and writhe as the fire dragged them into the frothing water, into the gathering darkness.

“We were loyal!”

“We were --”

“We --”

Screams. Then silence. Ganondorf’s hand dropped away.

Each breath louder than the last, Link glanced at Ganondorf. Expressionless, Ganondorf stared at the place where his mothers vanished and where the waters still raged.

There was no time to fumble with words. The water began to spin, and then drain into that dark hole. It tugged like grasping hands at Link’s feet.

“What is this madness?” Ganondorf snarled, raising his blades.

Beneath their feet, the dead silently screamed, swept away with the waters. Link gritted his teeth.

“Demise.”

In the middle of the room and of the dead, a single hand, massive and wreathed in black flames, arose.

Chapter Text

Laughter crackled through the air like shattering ice. Another hand joined the black hand, corpse white and glowing like a falling moon. Link grit his teeth and shifted his weight, the Master Sword glowing in his hands. Inch by inch, a head emerged. Ganondorf’s breath caught.

Twinrova but not. A chill raced up Link’s spine as the creature pulled itself from the hole. Twinrova but there was no fire, no ice. No light shone in the creature’s manic eyes. It grinned but with only half its face, the other side stiff and frozen. It was a corpse which flew up in the air, already rotting, eyes rolling in its skull. Bigger than Link’s memories but frail: a skeletal monster held together by magic and fraying flesh.

Demise had drained the twins and sent the unused parts out to battle. 

Ganondorf cursed beside him, harsh and pained. “Link.” He exhaled sharply, gaze still on the remains of the twins. “Demise is stalling us. He isn’t ready yet. I will handle them . Go after Demise.” His features were strained but his mouth was hard. “Let’s end this.”

Unable to do anything else, Link nodded. Not giving himself any time to think, he charged forward.

Twinrova swooped down and oh. Link had been wrong about the ice. Even above Link as they were, Link felt the cold of the grave scorching the air above him, cold enough to burn. There was no mocking. There were no speeches. Only silent death swooping down, and it was the silence which chilled Link more than anything else.

Then a roar shook the air and Ganondorf knocked them away. Link didn’t look back.

Taking a deep breath, Link leaped into the hole.

xoxoxox

In another life, Link ran up a spiraling staircase. An organ played, slow and deep. Princess Zelda floated above him, trapped in her glowing cage. Back to Link, Ganondorf slid his fingers over the keys. Link never talked to anyone about that.

In that life, Link was neither a child nor an adult. That journey relied completely on instinct and Zelda’s guidance as Sheik. 

He landed and expected another grave, similar to what Demise and the twins left above him. Instead, his landing was soft, cushioned by grass. Bewildered, he spun around, Master Sword raised. Another illusion?

“Of a sort.”

Only after that familiar voice spoke did Link realize the Master Sword wasn’t glowing anymore. Exhaling, he lowered it and stared at Queen Zelda before him. She didn’t look back. Her sorrowful gaze was focused on a familiar, blood-stained tree. The Lost Woods shimmered around them, shadowed with the setting sun in a way Link couldn’t recall seeing before.

“I never realized, Link…” When she looked back at him, tears shone in her eyes. Link jerked forward, a hand releasing the Master Sword to reach for her. Miles seemed to separate them. Zelda smiled at him, her grief an arrow through his heart. “If you had returned, this would have been your fate. Even if this change means I lose you, I’m happy that your story carries you away from here.”

As much as he missed her, Link couldn’t deny it: he was happy, too. Provided Demise didn’t win this day. This path haunted him: not simply the death but the uselessness of it, the sorrow. The dead Link’s pain seemed to permeate the very trees, seeped into their roots and into the ground, so alone and lost that he couldn’t rest.

She shook her head. The movement jarred a tear loose, and it slid slowly down her cheek. Had he ever seen her cry before? “His story isn’t quite done yet. The timeline wasn’t changed: it was split . In my timeline, you have simply vanished. In his timeline, Ganondorf and Demise remain trapped, their destinies unclear even to me. In this timeline…” Zelda smiled at him, even as her tears still glittered in her blue eyes. “Even across time and space, the bond between us remains. I can still help you, even if it isn’t as much as before.”

Swallowing thickly, Link stepped forward. On the tree, the blood remained, an echo and memory and reminder. A path taken and a path forsaken.

“Here.” Zelda extended her hand. A… letter? Confused, Link put his hand on hers to take it. Before he could pull it back, she rested her other hand on his. In whatever strange realm they were in, he could still feel the solidity of her hands, their warmth. It called back to another time, another Zelda quietly requesting the Ocarina of Time. “Give this letter to Impa. In our actions, we have split the timelines into four separate lines, and I have hope that this will be the best of the four. It is not my time, but you will forever be my Link, so whatever I can do...” She squeezed his hand. “I believe this is the only one timeline where you can be truly happy.”

On the back of her hand, the Triforce of Wisdom glowed. Link gasped, feeling its power seep into him. “Weaken Demise. You know how. Then, when he reveals himself at last, use this to power the Light Arrows. Together, you and Ganondorf can defeat him. He cannot be killed, but he can be stopped. The horror of our time can be changed.”

The heat slipped under his skin, traveled through Link’s veins. He shuddered but couldn’t bring himself to look away from Zelda’s face. Somehow, he knew this would be the last time he saw his Zelda. Her smile never wavered, even if the grief in her eyes was blinding. She knew, too. 

This is your timeline, Link. Be happy here.” With one last squeeze, Zelda pulled away, leaving only the letter in his hand. “Give that letter to Impa, and do not fear for your counterpart. Impa will take care of him.”

Link nodded, his vision blurring. His hand shook a little when he put the letter in one of his bags.

“Be happy, Link,” she repeated, and the forest began to fade.

Link swallowed. His voice was rough, accent soft. “Be happy. Zelda.”

Then the forest was gone, and there were only shadows and Demise.

The cavern was large and dark, the only light from the hole shining above. In the middle of the room, the dragon remained curled in a ball, rotting scales and endless teeth, more than before, shining white. It looked larger than before, more whole. Link grit his teeth.

Demise was almost restored.

You know how , Zelda said, and Link did. A weapon he held back all this time, some part of him knowing from the start he would need it. Even as the Master Sword screamed at him, Link returned the sword to its sheath and pulled another item from his bag.

The dragon rumbled, unfurling itself. It was large and thick and Link was right: it was almost nothing but teeth, long and sharp. It reeked of Malice, filling the room, threatening to steal the breath from Link’s lungs. The rumble rose, shaking the ground under Link’s feet.

In response, Link held up the lone object in his hand. It stared at Demise, unblinking.

Demise roared. Silently, Link slipped the mask on.

And screamed.

Link’s memory was good, but nothing prepared him for the absolute rush which was the Fierce Deity’s power. It tore through him, a firestorm, a hurricane, the power of a god forced into a small, mortal form. Link screamed and the Fierce Deity roared, its righteous wrath unleashed again.

For weeks, Link compared Demise to Majora. Let Demise face the beast which helped defeat that monster.

When the mask settled, Link’s body was transformed into something wild and strange, the Fierce Deity’s strange sword pulsing in his hands. Demise snarled at him and Link felt the Fierce Deity snarl soundlessly back, as cold and deadly and wild as a blizzard.

In this form, Link had no shield, nor did he need one. The Fierce Deity’s speed was dizzying, and Link dashed forward like lightning. The dragon reared back but the helix sword was there, sweeping down, and Demise howled, scales scattering. Those large fangs flashed and Link/Fierce Deity was gone, feet light and bones electrified.

In this form, Link felt like a god, but he remembered the cost. If there was another fight after this one, he needed to finish this fight quickly… something difficult to remember when it felt like thunder replaced his heartbeat and lightning flowed through his veins.

Demise roared, slamming its massive body back to the ground. Those massive fangs lashed out, and Link swung the Fierce Deity’s blade and smacked them away. Two cracked under the force, white shards falling to the dirt before rotting away to nothing.

It didn’t seem to slow Demise down. He lunged forward again, massive maw wide open. Then Link understood what Demise wanted to do. 

Demise didn’t want to kill Link. Demise was trying to eat him.

Link/Fierce Deity flipped out of the way, but even as he landed, Demise was twisting. He was slower than Link but with his massive form and the small space, Link’s speed only helped so much. Link grunted as Demise body-slammed him. Without the mask, he would have been thrown back, body bruised if not broken by the strike. The Fierce Deity only dug its heels into the ground and skid back several feet. Link felt the impact but distantly. Pain meant nothing to a god. Then he threw himself forward again.

Those great teeth came again and Link slashed at them, forcing Demise to turn its head. Then again and again, he hammered at its rotting scales, the glowing helix blade coming down like a hammer.

No flesh, no blood, only teeth and rot, and Link was running out of time. He couldn’t feel it and he used the Fierce Deity Mask so rarely he had no idea how much time he actually had.

Demise slammed into him again, driving Link back, sending up more dust and dirt. Only then did Link realize how dry everything was, like Demise had sucked the life from everything around him, not just the twins. Everything was dry, weak, cracked . When Demise’s massive body hit the ground again, it wasn’t only the ground shaking: stones fell from the desiccated ceiling. A lone skull fell and shattered by Link’s feet.

With a roar, Demise lunged again, massive maw wide. Link swung the helix sword again, power spiraling from it, striking the darkness behind Demise’s teeth. Howling, Demise fell backward and the world shook. Not stones but rocks fell, and Link twisted out of the way, some as long and thin as his leg, others bigger than his head.

Demise charged and Link caught him with the helix sword, teeth grinding against immortal metal Demise gnashed its teeth and Link flipped and they met again and again, lightning striking earth. Dirt and rocks and rotting scales scattered around them.

Another hit and Link rolled with it. Pain teased him, more a hint than a sensation, but it was warning enough. When Demise turned toward Link again, Link called upon the Fierce Deity’s power, the helix sword lighting up in his hands. Demise charged and Link swung the sword, power blazing. It struck Demise under the chin, sending the dragon flying backward. Demise slammed on its back in the dirt, sending up a whirlwind of dust.

Link raised his sword, preparing for a final strike. Beneath his feet, the ground trembled. Something cracked above him. Link looked up.

Another tremble and then the ceiling fell down.

Chapter Text

The world shook and there was screaming and shouting, and it was only the Fierce Deity’s power which allowed Link to keep his focus on Demise. There were flashes of pain, little sunbursts, all distant. Link’s gaze never wavered from Demise, even as rocks shattered on them both.

With one final crack , his perseverance was rewarded. The dragon shuddered, scales trembling and flaking off. The dirt and rocks fell from its body. Its tremble shook the ground and then, soundlessly, it condensed, rotting scales hardening and rippling as the dragon shrunk. The teeth were pulled into the body. Unblinking, Link watched as the dragon transformed into a man-shaped beast. As the rocks settled, Demise’s heavy breathing filled the room.

Demise’s final form. Taking a deep breath, Link pulled off the Fierce Deity Mask. It hurt , like he was ripping himself apart, and Link shuddered and gasped as the Fierce Deity dragged away from him, his body warping and transforming. The Fierce Deity turned from a god into a silent mask in Link’s hands. For a long moment, too long, Link could only hold it and shake.

Then Ganondorf was there, wrapping his arms around Link and steadying him. “I see that the story you owe me just grew,” he said. His voice was almost even. “Are you all right?”

There was the drain Link expected. It seeped the strength from his bones, leaving him cold and hollow, but it wasn’t as bad as he feared. Perhaps he ended the battle in a timely manner, or the extra years helped him. Fine tremors raced under his skin but he was strong enough to push himself away from Ganondorf’s tempting warmth and stand on his own feet. He turned to Ganondorf and nodded. Well enough to finish this.

Ganondorf looked more worn and battered than Link liked, and there was an odd, wild look in his eyes when he looked at Link, bu he seemed steady enough. There was no sign of Twinrova.

Across the room, Demise’s breathing deepened, rumbling through the room like an avalanche. Link turned to face him, pulling out the Master Sword. Its glow had steadied until the blade shone like a beam of light. Ganondorf stood beside him, blades ready in his hands. The sight chased some of the lingering cold away from Link’s bones.

Demise unfurled before them, rising to his feet. The scales on his head rose and flickered like sparks on a campfire before finally catching alight. Link’s eyes widened when flames flared from Demise’s head. Uncaring, Demise flexed his hands, claws sharp. The dragon’s black scales rippled on his body, marred only by a large white scar on his forehead and another white scar in the middle of his chest. Demise stood tall and stretched his massive frame, careless of his enemies.

In response, Link felt something inside him harden. He shifted into a fighting stance, grip steady on the Master Sword’s hilt. Ganondorf stood tall beside him. Zelda’s power burned in his heart.

He wasn’t alone. 

He was ready.

Hellfire burned in Demise’s eyes when he turned at last to face them. The familiarity of his expression sent a chill up Link’s spine, the echoes of organ music playing in his ears, but his attention never wavered and his grip on the Master Sword never changed. He knew this monster.

“You.” Demise’s voice rumbled through the air. Demise cocked his head, expressionless. “You look like him . His descendant then. His bloodline stands with courage when the rest of your kind huddle like sheep.” He nodded. His malice crackled like electricity in the air, building like a storm, but his expression never changed, carved from coal. “I have waited millenia to unleash my hatred upon the world of the goddesses. I hope you fight with your ancestor’s courage, as well: it will increase my pleasure when I kill you.”

Familiar with enemies’ speeches, Link didn’t blink. Ganondorf growled. Those hellfire eyes turned to him. “And my incarnation. After I kill this one, you will be the key to freeing me from this grave.” He looked them over and smiled. “And with the two pieces of the Triforce you carry, I will carve a path through this pathetic realm until I can challenge the gods themselves. This mortal realm will be torn asunder.”

Enough. Link summoned the power of the Master Sword and slashed the air. Energy spiraled white-hot toward Demise.

At last, Demise’s expression changed. A smirk cracked his face. He held out his hand, fingers moving as if wrapping around a sword hilt.

Nothing happened.

Those hellfire eyes widened and then the spiral blasted him, striking the white scar. Demise flew backward, slamming into a pile of dirt and rocks. Bones and ash exploded upward from the impact.

Power flared beside Link. Link glanced away from where Demise was already rising to his feet, and his eyes widened. The Triforce of Power blazed like fire on the back of Ganondorf’s hand, burning up and out, encircling Link’s old swords. The fire leaped and so did the blades, stretching into two deadly scimitars.

“You have speeches,” Ganondorf growled. “I have swords.”

Demise’s snarl dragged Link back to the battlefield. “I need no treacherous blade to complete my destiny.”

Throwing his head back, Demise roared , the ground and remains of the ceiling shaking as if Demise triggered an earthquake. Link braced himself but still felt it shudder through him, rattling his teeth. 

Still shaking, a score of rocks rose into the air. They burned like coal, red sparking through the cracks but reflecting no light. As one, they shattered like glass, leaving odd white stones behind.

Dragon’s teeth.

With a guttural snarl, Demise slammed his hands toward Link and Gandondorf. Exploding in black flame, the dragon’s teeth flew toward the pair. They reminded Link of the flying skulls from the Forest Temple as he smacked one away with the flat of his blade. Behind him, he heard Ganondorf grunt and the smack of his own blades hitting the teeth.

“If I described your adventures to anyone else, Link,” Ganondorf called, grunting as he smacked another fang away, “they would call me a grand storyteller or a madman.”

After this was over, Link would tell him of Majora and the falling moon. For now, Link cut down a glowing dragon fang and launched himself toward Demise.

Only to be intercepted by a wall of flame. Link threw himself back but still felt the heat singe his clothes and hair. His face felt sunburnt. On the other side of the flames, Demise watched him, arms crossed over his chest. His scaly skin seemed to absorb all light, not even reflecting the fire.

In response, Link summoned the Master Sword’s power again and lashed out. The Master Sword responded eagerly, power welling up and out, cutting through air and fire. With a sound that resembled a rockslide laughing, Demise dodged to the right.

Good. In a heartbeat, Link had Tasl’s bow in his hands, a Light Arrow cocked, and Zelda’s power bright at his fingertips. Demise looked up, fangs bared in a mockery of a smile, in time for a blue-white arrow to strike his scarred chest.

With a choked gasp, Demise stumbled and fell back on one knee. The dragon’s fangs flickered out and dropped like so many stones. The firewall swished out.

Even as Link switched the bow for the Master Sword, Ganondorf charged past him with startling speed. Link lunged after him, the Master Sword brilliant and hungry in his hands. Glowing steel bit into Demise’s scales, driving for blood, pushing Demise back. The white scar on Demise’s chest seemed to call to the Master Sword again and again, and Demise howled, the sound echoing, as grey liquid cracked through.

Then Demise threw up his arms and a wave of power flung Link and Ganondorf back. Even as Link rolled, trying to lessen the impact, the fangs exploded in flame again and descended on them.

The battle raged on in the twilight of the broken cavern. Ghostly fangs bit at them. Unholy fire blazed. Again and again, Link called upon Zelda’s power, Hylia’s power, and Demise fell and each time rose again, even as Link felt his energy bleeding out of him with each swipe of his sword and drip of his blood.

In this strange twilight, there was no pain, no fear: only the fury of battle, the need to push up and back, to strike at their foe. Link’s bow grew heavy, hs boots grew heavy, but the Master Sword remained faithfully light. Link swore he could feel her determination flow through him, pushing him upright again when Demise backhanded him to the ground. 

The flow of battle shifted. The air grew charged, reaching its peak, lighting ready to strike. A Light Arrow flew with Zelda’s blessing guiding it to the heart of that white scar. When they fell upon him again, furious wolves, Demise screamed in rage and pain before throwing them back. 

The dragon’s teeth remained dormant on the ground, little more than rocks. The firewall didn’t rise again. Instead, Demise roared to the shattered ceiling and his hair blazed like an unholy halo, the inferno of his eyes no longer resembling anything from the mortal plane.

When Ganondorf responded with his own furious roar, Link felt the battle shift. Horror dragging him from his battle rage, Link turned to Ganondorf.

His scimitars had transformed into massive swords, blazing with Ganondorf’s anger and bloodlust. His eyes shone, immortal fire shining from mortal eyes. The Triforce of Power flared so brightly on Ganondorf’s hand that Link couldn’t even see his arm anymore.

“No,” Link breathed, and Ganondorf’s eyes -- Ganon’s eyes -- turned to him. Horrified, Link could only stare back.

The Triforce’s light was too bright. Link couldn’t see Ganondorf’s face. 

“Don’t,” Link whispered. Don’t do this. Not like this. They were so close .

They were almost home.

Ganondorf panted, and in the sudden silence, in the sudden stillness, he even sounded like the monster who arose from the remains of Hyrule Castle. They were in the middle of a battle, the most important battle of Link’s life, but for the first time, Link found himself distracted. Even with the threat still there, still fighting, Link couldn’t bring himself to look away.

“Please,” Link said.

Ganondorf exhaled, and slowly, slowly, the fire died down. The Triforce quieted. The swords turned into Gerudo scimitars again.

“No!” Demise roared. Link whipped his head around to see Demise back on his feet, rage twisting his face into something bestial. “My hate will fill this world!”

Something red flashed from his claws. Unthinking, unhesitating, Link moved to stand in the way, two steps to the left.

Again, the twilight was filled with the sound of heavy breathing. Then one splash. Two. Link looked away from Demise and his outstretched hand and down to his own chest.

Through the tear in his clothes, he could see the remains of Ganondorf’s pendant, green shards bloodstained. In the middle of the mess, a dull red blade glistened. It shone with an inner fire for a moment before flickering out.

Oh. Link stumbled to one knee. The Master Sword shook in his hands.

No! ” Ganondorf howled behind him. Somewhere in the distance, Demise laughed.

One more strike, Master.

Once more, Link.

Somehow, through it all, Link’s grip on the Master Sword never faltered. Even as Ganondorf reached for him, Link threw himself forward, feeling Zelda’s power flow through him, feeling as if the Master Sword was somehow pulling him along.

Demise was still laughing when Link embedded the Master Sword into that bleeding scar.

There were voices then, Demise speaking before fading away, Ganondorf’s voice loud and sharp. Link didn’t care. All he cared about was Ganondorf’s familiar hands easing him to the ground.

“No, no, don’t you dare do this, you insane Hylian, don’t you dare .”

At last, the Master Sword clattered from his hands. Link breathed a silent apology to her. She didn’t answer.

“You idiot, look at me. Link!”

When Link blinked and looked around, there was no sign of Demise. There was only him and Ganondorf, Ganondorf holding him tight on his lap. Ganondorf’s mouth was moving frantically, but it was hard to make out the words. Link raised a shaking hand to Ganondorf’s face, trying to get him to stop, but Ganondorf only grabbed his hand and held it so tightly it hurt a little.

“I will get you help, you idiot ,” Ganondorf was saying over and over, eyes wild. Blood stained his front. Link didn’t know whose it was. “Stay awake , Link, and I will --”

Link squeezed his hand. Instantly, Ganondorf raised his hand to his lips in a quick kiss. “You will be all right. The pendant stopped the worst of it. We will leave and I will find you a new one --”

Again, Link squeezed his hand. He was starting to feel it, starting to feel everything : the throb in his chest, the sharp pain of broken ribs, every bite of those demonic teeth, the lingering drain from Fierce Deity’s Mask.

Running out of time , he thought dizzily.

“Blue potion,” he croaked.

Ganondorf froze. “What -- You have another.”

Link nodded and closed his eyes. 

“No! Don’t do that, I will find… Link! Open your eyes! Link!”

Chapter Text

 “ Link, get up! Hey, c'mon! Can Hyrule's destiny really depend on such a lazy boy?”

Navi? Link tried to open his eyes, but sand weighed them down. Out of habit more than thought, mind as exhausted as his body, Link assessed himself. His body ached but faintly, more reminiscent of hard exercise than injury. His skin felt filthy, particularly his chest, but nothing concerning.

Beyond the strange sensation of rocking .

The world filtered in slowly, first sensation, then scent. Sweat and dirt and under that, the familiar scent of spice and something earthier, masculine. He knew that scent.

Sound came slower. Snatches of a familiar voice, with the words drifting into focus. 

“-- gave you the potion, now wake up . Come back, Link.”

Ganondorf. Demise. The blue potion.

His eyes grew no lighter but Link forced them open, anyway. He recognized the ache now -- the aftermath of the blue potion, the memory of pain -- and the lethargy. His body recognizing the battle was done. Now he could rest.

Well. Almost.

He was sprawled over Ganondorf’s lap, Ganondorf’s arms tight around his torso. Link’s blood splattered them both. Ganondorf’s gaze was fixed on his face, and his eyes met Link’s. His words cut off. For a long moment, they were silent, the cavern soundless but for their breathing.

Then, “If you ever do that again, you insane Hylian, I will kill you myself.”

Link smiled sleepily. Eh. He had worse. “It’s done.”

Not eternally, no. For how long, he didn’t know, but at least he knew that for this lifetime, Ganondorf’s lifetime, Demise was sealed away. Perhaps the Goddesses had more for him to do, but he could rest knowing the evil which haunted his dreams was defeated.

Ganondorf’s exhale shook them both. Despite Link’s reassurance, fear still darkened his eyes. “And you? Are you done? Do you need to return to… wherever, whenever , then?”

Not fear: terror. Grief. His hands were so tight on Link they bruised his already worn body. It was ridiculous and possibly cruel, but Link couldn’t stop smiling. Ganondorf offered him a home, fought beside him, wanted him to stay . No farewell waves, no casual dismissals. No more careless good-byes.

“He doesn’t.”

Ganondorf started and tightened his grip on Link. Unable to stop smiling, Link looked up.

The original Hero grinned back. He no longer wore the red scarf and his hair seemed darker, eyes wider, but Link knew it was him. There was a boyishness to the Hero’s grin as he scooped the Master Sword up from the ground. 

When he spoke, it was with an unfamiliar accent, one not heard in Hyrule for thousands of years. “Demise’s spirit is bound to the Master Sword again. He will get free again to spread his malice, but it’ll take time.” The Hero pet the bared blade like Link pet Epona. “In the meantime, I’ll take the Master Sword to the forest. There is no need for her to rest in the Temple of Time anymore.”

Even as Link was nodding, Ganondorf was shaking his head. “I do not understand. Who are you?”

The Hero’s eyes sparkled. “Just an old Knight. Hang on tight. Before I leave, I’ll send you both home.”

He winked at Link when he said it, and Link relaxed. Home .

“But --”

The Master Sword blazed white, and then the world flared around them. Somewhere in the rush, almost drowned out by Ganondorf’s curses, Link heard, Good luck, Master Link.

xoxoxox

Their arrival in the middle of the courtyard caused a small commotion among the Gerudo. It took several hours before Ganondorf restored order, organized the Gerudo still at the Fortress, and escaped from the Healers. Link, with barely a bruise on him, was able to sneak away much easier.

When Ganondorf found him again, Link was back in his room, studying his shield and bow. There was no sword. He never discovered where the Silver Sword went, and the Master Sword was now at rest somewhere hidden in the forest. For several heartbeats, Ganondorf stood in the doorway, watching Link examine his gear, before closing the door with a click behind him.

“If they left promptly and travel with speed, our people should return to the desert tomorrow night.”

Our people . Link smiled, running his fingers over his bow. He liked that.

Ganondorf reached over, stilling his hand. Liking the feeling of Ganondorf’s broad hand covering his, Link allowed it. Link looked up to meet Ganondorf’s gaze. The fear was gone, leaving only an intense warmth. 

“I knew that day,” Ganondorf murmured, “that destiny brought you to me to help restore the Gerudo people.” He smiled wryly. “Although the Goddesses prove ever quixotic and fail to provide further directions.”

Link sighed. Ganondorf had no… Well, maybe by now he did.

Still, Link knew some things. He knew they needed to travel back to Hyrule Castle. He had a letter to deliver. It would probably be a good idea for the Gerudo to build ties with the Zora and Goron, banish the memory of Ganondorf being the lone kneeling leader in its entirety. He wanted to take Ganondorf to the forest, show him the place he called home for so long. Not instructions, per se, but something of a path.

He also knew another important thing. “Whatever happens, I’ll need a new sword.”

Ganondorf raised an eyebrow. “Indeed, a sword for… What should your position be? A priest, perhaps?”

“No.”

“A lord?”

No.

“Perhaps a consort then?”

“...a what?”

xoxoxox

While they waited for the others to return, Link expected Ganondorf’s questions to begin. Yet for all of his comments about expecting Link’s story, Ganondorf never asked. Instead, Link found himself again dressed in red Gerudo clothes, another green pendent resting on his chest. Ganondorf explained that it came from the same stone as the first but refused to elaborate, only made it clear that he expected Link to always wear it. Considering it stopped Demise’s strike from killing him, Link agreed. A new sword was commissioned (“A proper Gerudo blade, this time”). Several Gerudo made it clear that, even as Link refused the title or anything to do with priest , they viewed him as a type of religious leader. It was odd, to say the least. 

Odd, but good . Nebu celebrated the confirmation of Link’s staying by putting his hair up in an elaborate style and dancing with him as he played the ocarina. Ganondorf ate breakfast with him and talked about future meals, and Link realized that he had no idea of Ganondorf’s favorite foods but would have time to find out. A young Gerudo challenged Link’s archery score and told him that she would make the course harder for him.

So many things and Link had time to do them and explore them. 

When the Gerudo arrived that night, a contingent of Hylian warriors followed, led by Tasl. Above them, high on the cliffs, a pack of wolves watched. Link doubted it was for a hunt: probably only curiosity about the high level of activity. Still, he found himself saluting them. 

“My king! Sa’ven! ” Kali called, and Link walked with Ganondorf to greet them, dressed in his Gerudo clothes and wearing his Hylian gear. His new necklace caught the firelight from the surrounding torches, shining bright.

Only later did he realize that he couldn’t remember the last time that he heard the Song of Time play in his mind: that the only sounds were the laughter and voices of those around him. But that was later, like Zelda’s note, like the Ocarina of Time. Now Link listened to Gerudo voices calling sa’ven and realized that sounded good. Good enough to be his new role, since Ganondorf refused to explain what a consort was.

Link smiled back at the Gerudo now and waved, oblivious to how another Link, miles away, smiled in Saria’s arms and waved at the mysterious sword now in the middle of Kokiri Forest. Saria rocked him and listened, unsure what she was listening for .

At the entrance of the Fortress, Link reached out for Afrit, aware of Ganondorf looming beside him, and smiled at Kali and Nabooru. “Welcome home.”