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Towers Full of Sky

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His life could easily be divided into two parts; the Before and the After. Before, before his mother wasted away, lifebond severed and soul shattered beyond healing. Before, before he and his sister learned that sometimes... Sometimes love isn't enough. Before Asa was sent away. 

   And then there was only the After. 

 But Goddess, even now his heart bled, little by little with the remembering.

"Momma, Link, are we almost there?" She asked, voice on the verge of a whine but not quite there yet. 

  "Not quite Asa. Be patient- I know you want to see Daddy and the castle, watch carefully and tell me if you see the walls when we get to the top of this hill." The hill was a long winding thing, like much of the hills in the area. Not much more than sheep and goats could thrive here, but it was green. The sort of green that burned the eyes if you stared too long.

   Asa stopped dragging her feet, instead sprinting up the road as fast as her skinny legs would take her. 

    And she stood there, impatiently waiting for them, for to a 7 year old most amounts of time are too much when it stands before you and something else that you want. 

 "Momma, I don't see anything!" Asa scowled. 

"Oops, my mistake. Hmm. Maybe it was the next one?" The words had hardly left her mouth before Asa was running again. "Link, go follow your sister and make sure she doesn't get into any trouble." 

  Link followed Asa, grinning. He knew very well the game his mom was playing- she'd done much similar to him in an attempt to wear him out. 

 Asa shrieked, the sheep grazing in the field beside the road looked up in distates before resuming their chewing- this time keeping a careful eye on the noisy interloper.

  "I see it I see it I see it!"

  "Hmm. If you see it that means we should probably find an inn, we wouldn't get that far before dark."

  "But Momma you said we'd get there today!" Now Asa really is whining, face contorted into a scowl.

  "I said we'd see it today Asa, not that we'd get there. Now stop that or we'll turn right around and go back home." 

 

    White marble, that's all Link allowed himself to see. The Queen was talking to his mom, the conversation boring enough that it faded into the background. His dad standing guard, a small smile on his face at seeing his family for the first time in nearly a year. 

   Asa chatting happily with the young princess. Goddess, she couldn't be much older than her could she? 

    Then it all went wrong. Too many people came in too quickly, weapons drawn. The Queen pales, shoving Asa and Zelda behind the throne, and there's a blaze of light and warmth as she holds her hand forward. 

   The arrow was fired as the barrier passed through it, as it pushed the archer back. The  aim was true though. And everything went to hell. 

   There's a song coursing through his veins, one that feels like fire and he reaches for a weapon that a faint memory tells him should be there. Hands grasp empty air, blood pools on white marble. Weapons aren't allowed on civilians here, not that he'd ever carried a weapon in the first place. 

   His dad falls, his mom screams. The song grows more insistent- there. Link can only look on in horror as his body moves, driven by that fire that burned what felt like his very soul. The sword comes clean of the stone with a blaze of light, his dad gets to his feet again. Slowly, his body a barrier between the assassins and the young girls. More guards swarm the room, most fall.  

    And his muscles tense, his dad falls again. His mom screams the sort of scream that is terrible and final and Link knows his dad is dead now. 

    The sword burning in his hands he can only watch as his body cuts down the remaining assassins. Echoes of memories that only serve to confuse running through his mind, glimpses and nothing more but they can't touch him. 

   White marble stained red, he falls to his knees and struggles not to throw up. More guards come swarming in, dragging him away. One has the presence of mind to shove a bowl into his hands, looking on with a mix of awe and pity. Now, now it was only the After. 

   The After, a glimpse of his mom covered in blood weeping over her husband's body. Of the girls being shuttled away, both of their eyes wide in terror. Zelda stumbles, a hand going out towards her mom. 

  "Momma, momma? You're going to help her right? She's gonna be okay!" She whimpers, Asa only has eyes for their parents. She doesn't understand just as Zelda doesn't. They understand that the arrow sticking from the queen's chest, the darkened silk and the blank eyes, they understood all this to be bad. There were no answers now, only the rushed shuffling of feet and Liana's weeping. 

 

    "The sword finally allows itself to be drawn. Too late I fear, too late. I don't blame you lad." King Rhoam sighs, he was the king and couldn't allow himself to mourn his wife. He'd loved her, that love and sorrow etched into his face so that even Link could see it. 

 The princess was sitting in a small chair in the corner of the study, face red and blotchy. She'd lost her mother the day before. It was understandable. 

  "I'm sorry Link, you'll have to stay here to train. We'll do what we can for your mother and sister. It's all we can do." The words unspoken, until your mother dies. It must have been a lifebond, that's what they whispered when they thought Link couldn't hear. It must have been a lifebond, all the light was gone from Liana's eyes. She'd hardly even look at her children, staring despondent into nothing. 

   Asa didn't understand, how could she? She was only 7, Link only 12, how could they understand how their father's death completely broke their mother to the point where the love she held for her children couldn't hold her here. The thread was severed and Liana's soul couldn't process, couldn't handle the break. 

     

   The silence had held him for as long as he could remember. In the Before, in the After- it didn't matter. The silence was a constant. It sank into his soul and choked the words he might try to coax from vocal chords. He'd almost drowned once, the surface fading further and further away. The silence was much like that, pulling him under even as he struggled his way to the surface for air. For survival and life. 

   Before, before sometimes he could choke a feeble word out. He could force his way to the surface for small moments in an attempt to tread water before sinking back down. 

   In the After there was only silence. 

 The silence was easier though, it was easier and so he drowned in it and was thankful for the chance. 

   It was a simpler thing than the hushed conversations that always stopped as he passed. He already knew what they were talking about, his mother who'd finally succumbed to death a mere week after his father. 

   Then it was about his sister, who was sent away to a desert so far that he smothered all hope at seeing her again. The whispers of the guards, the uncanny way Link had with a blade that unsettled them all. They all looked at him oddly the day he disarmed the new captain of the guard. The man who replaced his dad.

  How could he say the truth? That that day had woken the echoes of memories that sank into his muscles, into his bones. The memories of how to shoot a bow and have it fly true, how to fight and win. The Master Sword no longer sang to him, but it felt right in the palms of his hands and he could make it sing a different song. 

    When he grew older the gossip hushed, he was too dangerous now. But different gossip came, and the silence was easier than acknowledging as he followed the Princess, always three steps behind. Drowning in the silence was easier to embrace than the memory of a gruff father and a mother who'd wasted away. Silence was easier than missing a sister who'd always be so small in his mind.

   It was funny really, not truly it was. It was funny how more at home the Master Sword felt in his hands than the memory of his mother's smiling embrace. 

   

    Within the silence he didn't have to react to a princess with too much on her plate. Link sympathized with Zelda, even as she pushed others away. What else could she do when her words were taken lightly and disregarded even as she formed the next syllable? Politics in Hyrule were interesting to say the least. They stood at the very precipice of disaster and it seemed like only Zelda and Link could feel the ground slowly crumbling beneath them. 

   Perhaps  this is what a curse felt like, for if not a curse what else could it be? A glance between them told the tale of endless reincarnations Zelda thinks they shouldn't be able to remember. Or well, it wasn't quite remembering. It was an arrow beneath his skin, the feeling of a blade in his hand and the muscles that remembered without once needing to be taught. Link blames that day for it all, Zelda refuses to talk about it. 

     Zelda prayed to Hylia, knowing that her blood held the same light her mother used. It was locked inside, the key unknown and lost- Link stood guard as she screamed her frustrations to the wind. She knew how to use it, that thing she couldn't touch. She remembered how to use it, she was born knowing but there was no amount of praying that opened the door. 

  She never asked why Link didn't speak, why he could never make words come out of his mouth and so relied on expression and flying hands to make himself understood. Remembering was feeling older than 20 and taller than 5 foot 1. Remembering was much like standing on the edge of eternity and knowing, just knowing with one wrong move everything would collapse into the void. It was knowing what eternity looked like in the first place, and the lack of it was not knowing what they were waiting for. 

   Part of Link is looking forward to whatever happens next. Anything to make his life more interesting- more meaningful than this. 



  "It's no use. They don't listen to me and whatever is coming is going to destroy those. Those FOOLS! And they'd deserve it! I've been telling them for months now, more and more monsters are showing up at our borders. Something very wrong is happening and no one is listening!” It was meant to be a mutter, under the breath and inaudible to those around but it came out much louder- servants looked at Zelda, startled. 

    The council session was the same sort of thing as the last five, arguing over taxes and trading. Each of the elderly counsellors convinced that because the heir was only 16, a mere teenage girl that she didn’t know what she was talking about. That she was overreacting. Meanwhile Zelda was fully under the impression that the entire world rested on their shoulders and theirs alone. No accounting for the Goddess, no accounting for the King. 

   “Really, do they think I really don’t have a brain? That I’m a foolish child that should still be in the nursery? I’ve studied the texts, I’m the one helping the archivists translate them for Goddess’s sake! We need to do something if we are going to even have a chance; because something is going to happen, I can feel it!” She sighs, pausing in the corridor for just a moment. She doesn’t look back at Link, they’ve already established that. But she continues, quieter this time- a mere whisper.
  “What happened to everyone else? Beyond the two races we still have a relationship with I mean. Is there anyone left to establish alliances with? We can’t be the only ones with monsters on our doorstep.” 

  There was nothing Link dares say in return. He’s bad at politics, missteps before taught him quickly that silence was the better course. Zelda was the Princess, the Heir. The most that would happen when her words circulated fully would be a scolding from her father. Link, Link was merely her champion, the unfortunate soul charged with guarding a person who refused to be guarded. One wrong word, one wrong glance and what little remained of his family would be in disgrace as well as the village that he was born in. No. Opinions were something he didn’t allow himself to have out of desperation not to screw up. 

     

 

   

 

  She’d argued and argued, and eventually her father found it easier to simply let her do as she asked than to keep refusing. Link was almost impressed truth be told, she’d kept it up for over two weeks straight without letting up even the tiniest amount. 

   The furthest she was allowed to go was the village on the edge of the enormous fen that probably never had a proper name to begin with. Or if it did everyone had forgotten it. Kaya’s Landing was the end of the line when it came to traders and peddlers, if they got any at all. 

  It had around 30 homes, a modest inn and what looked like a general store. In the past it must have been prosperous, selling more than just intricate woven baskets and hats as the buildings were stone with slate roofs instead of thatching. 

   As the line of horses and pack mules rode in children stopped at their chores and went scampering like ants into different buildings. As they disappeared adults wandered out, all obviously having stopped at their work as well. 

    Zelda reins in her mare, “Excuse me, I’m looking for the mayor. If you have one?” Storm, being entirely too smart and contrary for her own good and sensing her rider’s uncertainty paws at the ground superciliously. Then she carefully gauges her surroundings, Link gives her a pointed stare, daring the mare to act up. 

   She takes him up on it, rearing suddenly and doing a little dance as she comes back down in an attempt to dislodge her rider. Link sighs, Zelda to her credit manages to stay in the saddle, scowling and clutching the pommel for dear life. Dalia manages to bribe Storm to settle down with treats, having dismounted the moment Storm began her pawing. She struggles not to laugh, it was plain. Storm tried this sort of thing frequently, Zelda being equally stubborn refused to ride a horse with a milder temper. Granted, she’s gotten excellent at actually remaining in the saddle, which meant Storm took it as a challenge to try harder. 

     An elderly woman makes her way to the square, bones obviously creaking and body hunched over with age. She looks over the party carefully and scowls. “Well. Looks like you aren’t the tax collector. Wrong time of year for that.” 

    “Oh no, I’m not the tax collector Ma’am. My name is Zelda, these are my guards. This is Kaya’s Landing correct?” Zelda had dismounted as soon as she was given the chance, handing the reins off to Link who’d dismounted as soon as they’d entered the village. 

   “Hmph. I’ve told that scrawny man that the crown keeps sending by here every year that the name ain’t Kaya’s Landing or whatever. This place has been Lanayru Grove for a good three hundred years and you’d better remember that. Now get those horses to the inn’s stables and we can have a nice little chat.”

   

   The woman, who’s name turned out to be Omith and who was indeed both the mayor and the innkeeper sat them down at a large table. She didn’t even blink when Link nodded to the guards to take their positions, she glanced at Zelda and nodded to herself. Confirming. 

   “So. After near forgetting this place for a century except to collect money what are you doing here Princess? What does the crown want from us now? More money? Our children? And for what, they don’t even fix the roads.” She asks, taking her own seat near the hearth. 

   Zelda blanches for a split second, then recovers smoothly. “I’m attempting to investigate the far side of the fen. Or rather, send out my guard to do so for me since unfortunately I’m stuck here by royal order. I wonder why this corner of the kingdom was so forgotten, would you happen to know anything? Does the fen have a name?” 

   Omith snorts. “There’s not anything worth looking at at the far side of that fen ‘cept octorok and lizalfos. Gave up on trying to clear them out after my requests for help to the capital went ignored and too many of my people died. We only go 4 miles in now. That’s it. I won’t risk any more of them. Place doesn’t have a name that I know of” 

   Zelda nods, thoughtful. “Have you had any problems in the last decade of the lizalfos coming too close to the village? Where you having issues before that? I’ve noticed monster attacks increasing in frequency in other parts of the kingdom, also equally ignored. I wonder if the same goes for here.”

  That makes Omith pause, she stays quiet for a minute before speaking. “I stopped sending them out on overnight trips because they kept creeping closer and closer to our fishing grounds. Until a few years ago we couldn’t go out more than 2 miles in without being swarmed. Things have gotten better in the last five years or so. Haven’t had any run ins, have been able to go further out. I still won’t allow overnight trips, too risky.” 

   Zelda mulls this over, then pulls out the waterproof container holding multiple rolls of parchment. Separating one sheet from the others she lays it flat on the table. “Is there anyone who would be willing to mark the current boundaries for me?” She asks, the parchment was a copy of an old map, blown up just to show the area around the fen. 

  “You’ll have to wait till the folk fishing come in. Don’t see why they wouldn’t.” Omith softens considerably, happy that they weren’t here to actually take anything. And the prospect of actually making some money didn’t hurt any. 

 

 

  “It used to be part of Hyrule, the lands beyond anyway. There aren’t any records of what happened, but on older maps it shows where the fen should end. Where it ended 350 years ago rather. That’s why I had Pela make copy of that section alone as well. There’s a mountain in the north- the Goron retreated around the same time as the Zora.” Zelda pauses, staring intently at the map in front of her. Link recognizes the handiwork of the apprentice archivist, even if Zelda hadn’t said as much it was obvious. The original map would be much too valuable and fragile to bring regardless. But the lines were clear and marked out where the cities were at that point. 

   The one that Omith had a few of the fisherfolk mark up was laid to the side as she compared the two. Omith had also made her own markings, the furthest her people had ventured and returned from; the areas where lizalfos and octorok had been seen and so on. She’d also marked out where the paths were, valuable information that it was. 

     Zelda smooths the edges of the parchment even as they tried to roll back up. “I… I don’t understand why there aren’t any records. That’s the odd thing. Just. One year mentions of trade in the roster, taxes collected and population changes. Then nothing for five years and then nothing! No mentions at all. The borders were redrawn and that was that. Goddess- and I don’t know why!” She puts her head in her hands, frustration plain. “Be careful Link, please just be careful. I have a feeling something is terribly wrong.” 

   She would wait here though, in the inn along with the full squad of guards Link had insisted on when she’d laid out her intentions. She’d been irritated, as a given she barely tolerated Link’s presence. Only the memory of her mother on the floor finally made her relent. 

   That, and Impa also considered the guards necessary. Link was mostly glad he didn’t have to figure out sleeping arrangements, they filled all the beds in the inn and then some. And they’d be here an entire month unless Link returned sooner than expected. 

   At least Omith would be happy. She was getting more business now than in the last five years combined. 



   Most of what must have passed as the road at one point was collapsed. Every so often a small bit of stone remained, poking out of the shallow water. The rest long since crumbled and worn away into nothing. Out of necessity Link ignored it in favor of the raised boards the villagers apparently used to avoid slogging through peat. 

    The ripples in the water and the rustle as birds flew between the rushes were all that disturbed the quiet birdsong, for the first time in a long while Link felt like he could breathe. The lack of expectation, the lack of eyes watching him constantly for a mistake was freeing. A relief. The trout threading their way through narrow and winding streams didn’t much care what he did as long as it didn’t bother them any. 

   He whistles replies to the birds, wondering what they’d take it to mean. And idly, Link plays with theories as to what happened? Those five years of silence couldn’t have meant war. War made records, and victors always told tales that eventually morphed into the only truth worth knowing. Did some past king step on too many toes and cause them to withdraw? Did they just suffer overwhelming tragedy of their own? Famine and plagues were always possibilities. These were questions he couldn’t answer, not now having seen nothing. 

   The first night he spent an hour searching for a slightly more solid bit of ground, finally giving up and wedging him in the first tree he saw that would support his weight long after the sun fell from the sky. No wonder no one really bothered to cross the fen completely, where exactly were you supposed to camp? After that he made it a point to stop at the first bit of solid ground he found in the afternoon. There was no telling if he’d find anything else before dusk and the ground was treacherous enough that he wouldn’t risk it in the dark.

   The paths ended, forcing him to pick across deer trails. He still ended up with soggy boots, objectively the most uncomfortable thing he can think of. Eventually after a few days of this the fen gives way to trees, a day later actual solid ground. And rain. Link resigns himself to the idea of never getting quite dry.

    But the ground was slightly solid, or well. Solid enough where the fear of sinking a foot deep wasn’t applicable. And there was a proper path even though it was mostly mud there still wasn’t the risk of sinking in deep so really there wasn’t too terribly much to complain about. He just about wept when mud turned to stone. 

 

  

    It was only when he crossed a bridge over a river that formed where three different streams converged that he started feeling eyes on his back. That was something he knew intimately, there wasn’t any mistaking it. The foothills before this had been quiet, not a lizalfos or even a bokoblin to be seen. 

   And it was only when he crossed the bridge, searching for those eyes that found him that he actually noticed the huge tower in the distance on top of a particularly large crag. It went up, and up, past the low hanging storm clouds and reflecting their fury back at them. 

  It called to him, inviting him to come closer. So he went, though his clothing was soaked to the skin and he couldn’t help his shivering. It was further than it looked, he was forced to make camp beneath a large tree with low hanging branches.

   It took nearly an hour to get the fire started. Link never quite got to the point of being warm, but the shivering stopped and his clothes got to merely damp instead of soaked. And when he crawled out in the morning, eyes blurry and back sore it was raining. Still. 

    The crag towers above him now, and the tower towers above it. A narrow trail picks its way up the cliff, twisting and turning alarmingly even from his vantage point down here. A trail littered with bokoblins.

   His hands itch for his sword. It felt like decades, a lifetime, though it’s only been two years since he’d last been allowed to go clear a lair. Or do anything more exciting than guard Zelda for that matter. That was before he’d grown old enough for the position the King had planned for him, before the silence well and truly felt like drowning. 

    Link tells himself that this was far enough. That he should turn back now and gather the other ten guards but his sword was drawn and his body launching into a brutal dance. Deep inside he knows he mostly wanted to see if he could actually get to the top alive. It was a challenge.

   That and high spaces as a given appealed to Link, he enjoys maintaining the illusion that he wasn’t the shortest fully grown person he’s encountered. Even Zelda was an inch taller and she still had time to grow some. 

    He fully knows it’s foolish to go after that many alone in unfamiliar territory. Unknowing what lay beyond them even. He knew this all even as blood stained the mud red.

   But still the dance continues. Even as his shield arm starts to numb from the repeated blows a fierce joy that almost scares him runs coursing through his blood. Block, slash lunge- it was all the same and all something he knew how to do on a base level. He doesn’t recognize his own laugh. It borders on hysteria. 

   He staggers, not quite understanding that the path had reached the top of the crag. How long he’d been fighting he couldn’t say. Too long probably, judging by the fact that he was trembling with the effort to stand. His knees give up after a moment, he collapses into the mud. 

  The tower was still a third of a mile away, further along the crag. He guesses there are more bokoblins there as well, excitement wells up that he quickly shoves down again. 

 Hopefully the probable bokoblins in the tower won’t realize what had happened to their fellows anytime soon. 

   With sheer effort of will Link forces himself to his feet again, to walk along the cliff in the opposite direction of the tower till he hears the trickle of water within a copse of trees. He nearly stumbles right into the spring that trickles along into a tiny stream. The birds chirp away cheerfully, he lets himself relax. They hadn’t been disturbed, so he was probably fine to stop here for the night. 

   He makes a hasty wash in the tiny stream, not really wanting to contaminate what would be his drinking water. After filling his waterskin he examines each tree as he munches on rations that didn’t actually require cooking, then wedges himself into one where the branches form a dip in the center, wraps his cloak around him and sleeps. He’s done entirely too much sleeping in trees this past week, enough for a lifetime probably. 

   He wakes aching, body protesting the unnatural position after the exertion of the day before. Mouth painfully dry he nearly falls out of the tree as he tries to get up. For a moment he doesn’t remember, but then he catches the tower in the distance and everything becomes a tad more grim. Stretching until all but the most stubborn aches fade completely, and the rest only whimpering slightly he can almost find this situation comical. 

  Goddess, he wishes he could risk a fire. Anything was more appealing than the dried little bars that you had to suck on forever before you could even think about chewing because if you didn’t you were very likely to break a tooth. The smoke would be hard to hide, so he suffers through yet more trail rations and thinks yearningly of roasted cattail roots.

   Carefully he stows his pack at the edge of the copse, only grabbing a few things (mainly medical supplies and the trail rations that weren’t disgusting) that could be shoved into the small bags secured around his hips. He represses a shudder at the eyes he can still feel watching him. 



  Clearly the death of their fellows had been noticed, Link grimaces as an arrow grazes his cheek. Part of his brain traces the staircase running around the base, the locations of the visible bokoblins. The rest of him concentrates on fighting. 

   It doesn’t blur together like yesterday, he’s all too aware of each blow, each minute, each enemy that falls. He’s aware of the blood coating the steps, choosing his footing carefully because of it. The rain would wash it away. 

   Link’s aware of the gash in his thigh, the blood trickling down his cheek and the rain dripping beneath his mail. His shield arm complaining heartily from holding it at the proper angle to deflect arrows. 

   The tower was beautiful, the smallest part of his mind admires it even as he’s making his way up the stairs. 

   The chamber takes him by surprise. Each step had been mechanical- he hadn’t paid actual attention to where he was in relation to everything in his ascent. Only that he continued to go up and bokoblins and moblins continued to fall. Link pauses while he looks inside. There’s a moblin there, because of course there was. Only this one is silver. Silver and purple and he’s somehow sure this is really really not a good thing.
  He doesn’t give it a chance to turn around, he feels an urgency that he hadn’t felt at all in these past two days as he lops the head off completely with one smooth stroke. And the urgency disappears as suddenly as it came. 

     

   He’s beginning to feel a tad lightheaded by the time he actually gets around to climbing the last few stairs to the very top. Lightheaded, but fairly certain all the monsters were dead. Pouring water on the gash in his thigh he winces. Everything always hurt more after the fighting was over, even the smallest scratch hurt. He digs out a clean bandage, resolving to clean it properly later with actual antiseptic.

   His arm hurts, the sort of hurt a bandage couldn’t really fix but it didn’t feel like it was actually broken so there wasn’t really anything he could do but hope the pain went away. Forcing himself to chew and hope the nausea would also go away he finally allows himself to take in his surroundings. 

   It’s hard to say what this place was, it certainly wasn’t a watchtower. Watchtowers never had this much effort baked into them, nor were they this tall. It was silly to have a tower so tall where it hung above low lying clouds, where the air at the top was thin enough that each breath no matter how deep felt shallow. 

   The situation with the air probably didn’t help his head. But the view made everything worth it. He could see where the clouds broke up, the suggestion of a city beyond. What looked like a dam, not like anything he’d seen before. Even further away there was a glimmer that bust have been the ocean.

   It sent an ache down his chest, the sight of the ocean being a luxury he’d never been afforded. His mother had talked about making the day trip when he was a child, thinks kept coming up. Then his father was stationed at the castle, only getting a week off every year to come home and she never did feel up to taking two small children alone. But he remembers the taste of salt when the wind blew from the east. It was funny really, the ocean quite literally a few hours walk and he’d never even seen it. 

    The taste of salt, for once a good memory that didn’t bring an ache. The taste of salt as he sat under an apple tree, staring up at the sky. 

  Carefully he perches on the boundary wall, not that he was in danger of falling. It was at least four feet thick and would take actual effort to topple over. A deep breath, he lets himself simply watch and rest. And with with the watching came a sense of peace. Maybe he should turn back now, early. Maybe this would be enough for Zelda. 

   It wouldn’t be. The tower only brings more questions. Maybe if he sat long enough the food would settle in his stomach and the nausea would subside. Or better yet, the dizziness would stop (it wouldn’t), maybe he’d make it past this looming disaster he could feel in his bones alive (improbable). There were too many maybes. Most unpleasant. 

 

   “Pardon the entrance, but are you a Hylian?” The voice breaks Link from his thoughts; reflex has him scrambling to the ground and on his feet with sword in hand within seconds. It was probably a mistake. The sudden movement has his head swirling something fierce and he can’t stop himself from staggering a little. 

   After a moment of waiting for his body to cooperate he actually notices the tall figure didn’t actually have a weapon in hand. Oh, there was a large glaive, but it had been set down next to the stairs. All they actually have on them is a small dagger, safely stowed away. And they look a tad sheepish at managing to startle Link, not actually a difficult task given the circumstances.

  Carefully returning his sword to its place on his back (it was too large to keep at his hip comfortably) Link keeps a firm hand on the barrier wall he’d been sitting on. His head was still swimming and he really didn’t want to fall over. 

  “ Yes.

  It only occurs to him after that sign language wasn’t widely known. Panic sets in, he really couldn’t even try to talk now, on top of everything. Even the thought of speech made him even more nauseated. Even at the castle he mostly had to rely on Dalia to interpret, that’s why she was the next in charge after him. That and other reasons. 

  “Oh, wonderful! I really must thank you for cleaning out the tower, you have no idea how big a favor you’ve done for my people. I’m not sure how you did it but it was amazing! I watched you of course, to make sure no reinforcements came mind you-” Ah, the source of the eyes. “We’ve been looking for a Hylian but travel much further past the wetlands is rather difficult for my people.” Each word comes out faster and faster in his excitement.

    Link can only stare blankly, brain attempting to process what he was saying. The relief at being understood was there, certainly. But so was the wonderment on how a single person could be so… So damned tall. 

  And the words continue to fall. “Oh! My apologies, my apologies. I’m getting ahead of myself aren’t I?” A rueful grin. “I’m Prince Sidon of the Zora and I thank you sincerely for unknowingly assisting us.” Sidon is barely understandable at this point, he pauses to make a courtly little bow that not even the master of ceremonies could critique.

    The main question was did he ever actually manage to give himself a chance to breathe? How?

   Sidon continues, “Now, pardon for asking, but what is your name? You really were most stunning!”

   Blinking rapidly Link nods, and gives his name- not his name sign but rather the finger spelling that was more understandable. This all felt. It felt like getting struck by lightning for a second time, he had scars and witnesses to prove the first. The dizziness becomes worse, he sways a little unable to stop himself.
  And then he collapses in a dead faint, crumbling to the ground and somehow managing not to hit his head.
  Sidon is bewildered at this sudden change of events, then sighs. He carefully prods the unconscious Hylian, the bandage wrapped around his thigh was soaked through with blood. There really was no helping it, he had to get him to Mipha. With a tenderness that surprises even him he lifts Link up into his arms, grabs his glaive and makes his way down the tower. The man was so slight he was hardly even a burden.

  

 

   What is grace? She’d asked her mother once when she was a young child. Her mother had been alive then, alive and full of life. Her father’s eyes had settled on her mother, expression soft and tender as he waited for her reply. 

  “Grace? Well Mipha, grace is whatever it needs to be.” Her mother, so delicate; each movement as soft as the wind.

    Grace was a good word, she’d decided then. It was the sort of word that held you as you spoke it, as you thought it, as you wrapped your mouth around the shape of the word in silence. 

  Grace was her mother, guiding her to bed. Grace was the sun making its slow arc over the ocean and gulls crying. It was the morning after a storm, when everything was clean. 

  Mipha was born with a grace cradled in her chest. Soft and smooth, the feel of it was much like her mother’s touch. Using it felt as if she were hung in the center of creation, for just a single second and then she was simply another drop of water in the sea. 

   A tug had her experiencing emotions she was not prepared to understand. A delicate, shining line between her parents, connecting in the faintest suggestion of gold.

  A touch healed, pals laid flat on flesh knit all wounds. A hand held gave the gravely dehydrated the strength to retain water. 

   The first story a Zora heard in the womb was that of the homewaters they were driven from. How they were driven, none would tell. Perhaps no one left actually knew. 

  Pure springs in which the weakest could thrive in, a city born of crystal. Home. She always found herself pestering because the words Zora’s Domain felt so lovely on her tongue and with each hand she held she knew her people were not thriving here in this cold ocean. 

   It was later she found the words for the truth. Zora’s bodies weren’t meant for saltwater. Or at least, her people. Perhaps there were Zora out there who were built for this, they weren’t. It took strength and energy to repel the chronic dehydration that seeped in if you weren’t careful. Saltwater was harsh, it stunted the growth and fewer and fewer children were born each year. 

   She tried to purify batches of water for a while, hoping it would help. But purification of water to drink did nothing when you slept beneath the waves. 

   Sidon was a miracle, a miracle their delicate mother could not survive. Too much strength gone, the saltwater dried her out little by little no matter how long Mipha held her hand. No matter how much purified water she tried to make her drink. No matter how much she willed her grace into her mother, nothing happened. 

   "Mipha darling, one day you'll know what must be done. Just promise me dear heart you'll do what you must." Words Mipha could barely make out, over the squalling of her baby brother. Her mother's grip on her hand was like a vice, only after she had nodded did her mother relax and close her eyes once more. Later, she wishes she paid more attention. Those words were her mother's last. 

 

t started with murmurs, the dread. The overwhelming feeling she was reaching the crest of a wave she didn't want to fall from.

Then the dreams that left her gasping in terror. Knowing that everything hinged on Mipha's ability to return her people to their home. Dreams that ended with blood, her baby brother's head rolling on the floor and wounds her grace could not heal. 

 

"Father, I'm leaving." The steel in her voice surprised even her. But did she have a choice anymore? Words fell on uncaring ears. 

Her father finally turns and looks at her. He loved her, she knew he did. But she also knew all he could see in her was her mother's face. 

"Mipha. Please consider this." Her father's voice was smooth, calm but she could feel the undercurrents of grief. In it she could hear the deepest depths of the ocean. 

"We're dying here. I've considered every possible solution Father, I will not be complicit in our people's demise."

And her father, so strong sighs and looks away again. She knew he knew this just as well as he, but he wasn't willing to take the risk.

"Mipha, I never did tell you why our people had to leave. The city was overtaken, each step towards it felt like dying. They tried, multiple times but it ended up with more and more dead. Are you sure, if you leave you give up everything. There's no throne waiting for you, there will be nothing for you to inherit. Are you sure? You'll most likely perish." The sorrow, the acceptance of the sorrow cut deep into her heart. She had to, why hadn't he told her this before? 

   Of course the city was overtaken, she knew the defenders had fallen as they allowed the rest to flee. But the return? Why hadn't he told her? 

But her steps were guided by dreams, by the memory of blood and the clutch of her mother's hand. And Sidon's head rolling.

"I will return when the Domain is ours again, and free of whatever taint holds it. I promise you father, I will return. Farewell." 

She hadn't expected Sidon's steps to follow hers. Sidon, the catalyst for this all. She hadn't foreseen a third of the guard following in her wake. Nor the hundreds of civilians who followed them. She didn't know that all they saw was that grace, held deep against her chest.

  The grace, to live well or die trying. But try nonetheless.

The King only prayed she succeeded. 

 

 

  The outer walls of the encampment were largely deserted, the rainy haze darkening as dusk grew closer and closer. The sentries saluted, then their eyes fall to the unconscious Hylian in his arms. Sidon nods to them, ignoring the questions in their eyes. More Zora stood guard within the walls, but with a curious glance they let Sidon be as he strode through utilitarian structures.

   He was the Prince afterall. There must be some reason for his actions. There usually was. 

    They'd been here long enough to make things sturdy, long enough to replace wood with stone. But still, after half a decade it still felt like the place would blow away in the next bad storm. It didn't feel like a home, and really it wasn't. But his feet knew the way even if his mind was elsewhere. It kept repeating that dangerous deadly dance Link had performed. The name echoed in the recesses of his mind, like it ought to be familiar as the sigil inscribed on his sword. 

  Both drew a blank, it was frustrating. So he kept replaying the fight, ever fascinated by the sheer grace. And he finds himself in front of the building he knew Mipha would be occupying.

  "Mipha, can you help?" He called out, more eyes turned in askance. But Mipha opens the door and assesses the situation within a second. Quickly she gathers up the papers and scrolls on the table  and gestures for Sidon to set him down as she shoves them on a shelf.

  "It looks like blood loss." She lays her palms on the man's chest. "Ah, there's a wound to the thigh, multiple minor fractures to one arm and various cuts. Quite a bit of bad bruising as well." Her palms start to glow, as they always did when she healed. And then it was done, but still he slept. "Yes, a combination of the wounds and blood loss. But mostly plain exhaustion. Care to explain?" 

Sidon shakes his head a tad. "Well. I was scouting out towards the bridge when I saw him heading up the road. I decided to follow him, because we've been looking for a Hylian and I was trying to find the right time to approach him. Then I decided it was prudent to wait in the river below the path up to Lanayru because he was in the process of slaughtering all the bokoblins. Alone." 

   Mipha hums and shifts. "And then what Sidon?" 

 "I think he slept in a tree at the top. I'm unsure but I heard the sounds of a battle the next morning and went to investigate. Mipha this Hylian cleared out Lanayru! Alone!" Sidon doesn’t mention that he’d gone back to those trees after the fact. 

  Mipha draws a blank, and attempts to gather her wits about her. Finally she speaks after a few moments of processing the information.

He... what? That would explain the wounds at least. But alone Sidon?"

"Mipha I'm serious here!" He hisses, mindful of the fact that Link was still unconscious on the table. They'd need to figure out something for him, Sidon had the distinct impression that Hylians didn't sleep underwater. "It really was quite the sight, he cut them down like blades of grass, blood everywhere granted some of it was clearly his. I'm fairly sure he was laughing for a while there." 

  "You were close enough to hear him laugh?" Mipha arches a brow, and Sidon can feel the scolding forming in her mind. 

   But Sidon is also struck by a sudden realization. "Oh. Oh that wasn't really the smartest course of action."

   "Oh?" 

"I probably should have been a bit more hesitant to approach him as I did in hindsight."

The look on Sidon's face leaves Mipha torn, on one hand she rather wanted to laugh but on the other she just knew her brother had done something irreparibly stupid and showing amusement at it wouldn't be wise. It'd just encourage him. 

  "Hm?" 

"Well... I might have startled him a little bit." Sidon says hesitantly. Mipha just gives him a look, he continues. "Well, I startled him, he drew his blade- don't worry! He nearly fell over just doing that and he didn't wave it at me or anything." 

   "Sidon." Mipha sighs. Deeply. Somehow her brother managed to waltz his way through life with a lot of very very near misses. Of course he actively invited trouble- it just kept missing. How he managed all this and was still alive she didn't even think Hylia herself knew. 

  "Okay okay, I startled him but he was up there for what seemed like hours and hours and I really did feel it urgent to speak with him before he moved on." Each word tumbled out faster than the last- Sidon always spoke more quickly when agitated. "At least it worked out in our favor?"

"Obviously you realize you could have easily gotten hurt. And I suppose, do you even know their name?" 

  "Oh yes yes, his name is Link." 

 

  He woke being carried, Link processes this information slowly, eyes closed. Yes, most all of him hurt like hell, he can feel aches he didn’t know he had increasing by the moment. Fighting was well and good until it was over. 

   He can deal with this problem later. He lets his mind drift off once more. He had to be safe, otherwise instinct would be screaming at him to run, to escape. Yes, it was time to rest. Everything could wait till then. 




  Asa adjusts her grip on the bow, squinting in an attempt to judge the wind. Draw, aim, release. It was a fluid motion that was familiar now. She judged the wind incorrectly, the arrow hits a handspand away from where she'd aimed. She readies another arrow, and adjusts once more. This time it hits true.

  "Enough!" Emesu calls out, striding through the practice yard. Each step kicks up dust. She was in charge of weapons training this week. Asa liked Emesu more than Rifota, who’d been in charge last week. Rifota only had bad things to say about everything. 

Asa had thought when she'd been sent here she'd miss the green. That she'd never get used to the sun glaring overhead, the warm dunes of sand and the cliffs rising above them. She was wrong. 

  "Dismissed! Asa, Lady Urbosa wishes to speak with you. Hey- you! Gather up those arrows before you go." She points to one of the other girls, who scampers down to the targets. Asa carefully sets the bow back on the rack and dusts off her pants.

   "Is it formal or informal Emesu?" She asks, knowing for the former she'd need to wash and change. 

  "Informal. Now run along Asa." Emesu nods as another girl asks a question and shoos her off with one hand. 

  Asa scampers up the road towards the palace, reflecting. She missed her brother, all the emotions surrounding her parents were numb now. Before, she'd been so bitter. She remembers screaming at her mother, only for her mother not to respond. Limp hand falling to her lap as she stared blankly ahead. Begging for her to eat, only for her to smile faintly and shake her head. Her death, one blow after another. 

   How could she forget about her? About Link. At least Link had an excuse, he'd been rushed away with that sword still in his hand. He'd looked at her, as if to say he's sorry. 

  Guards had kept them apart. Every time she saw him out of the corner of her eye she'd been guided away. She knew that now, Urbosa had scoffed when she'd arrived. 

 "One sorrow after another. And now you left behind in all this. I wonder how the princess is faring. It's a foolish thing, keeping you from your brother but I can't do much about it child. What do you want to do?" 

  "I want to learn to fight." She wanted to be like Link, who could at least defend himself. She never wanted to be helpless again. 

  So she had.

 

 The palace was quiet in the heat of the day. Most who had the opportunity took this time to sleep. Not Urbosa. Never Urbosa.

 "Asa, your training went well I take it?" Urbosa asks, pacing. She'd been busy for the past few weeks, not even having much time for her own daughter much less a 12 year old girl who was dumped on her five years prior.

"Yes, Lady Urbosa." Asa gives a little bow of her head. Just enough to be courteous but not over the top. She'd learned other things as well. 

 "You can drop the title Asa. I'm going on a trip, I was wondering if you'd like to come with me?" She asks, one brow raised and already knowing Asa's response. 

 "Yes, yes! Where are we going?" She wants to jump, she would have jumped five years ago. Now she holds herself still and confines her excitement to her voice alone.

 "We're going to pay a little visit with the Rito. I'm unsure if King Rhoam is paying proper attention to his borders." 



 He wakes again, a true waking this time. The faint hiss of rain on the roof, he'd been placed on what felt like his own bedroll. Huh. Then he realizes he doesn't actually hurt, and a hand darts down to where the gash in his thigh was. The skin was smooth and unmarred.

 Slowly he lets himself absorb the information. He'd been fighting, there was definitely a tower involved. And a prince. Goddess he'd had enough of royalty, he must attract it like moths to a flame. 

   With a groan he rolls over and shoves his face into the rough fabric. 

"Oh, you're awake! Good good I'll go get Mipha." The voice could only be Sidon, but Link couldn't find it in him to get irritated.

 

 Link doesn't bother getting up until he hears soft steps nearing. And only then does he drag himself to his feet, grimacing.

   Mipha turned out to be another Zora, though much shorter than Sidon and more delicate. Jewellry chimed softly as she walked. He notes bitterly that even she's taller than him. 

  "Hello Link, I'm Princess Mipha. Please just call me Mipha. I'm sure you're confused and we have a lot of talking to do. First things first you probably need food. Come along." 

   At the mention of food his stomach protests, loudly. So loudly in fact that Mipha glanced over at the noise, and he shrugs. 

   

    Food turned out to be fish, raw fish in fact. The sort of thing that not even Link would eat and he pales slightly. 

  "Oh, can you not eat it?" There's Sidon again, hovering in the door of the stone structure he'd been led into. Out from one and into another, they were largely identical.

  He shakes his head slowly. 

"Hmm. Hadn't thought about that, my apologies my apologies. Is there anything we can do to remedy the situation?" 

  Link thinks for a moment. He could have sworn he'd left his pack at the edge of the copse, yet he'd woken in his bedroll. Which had been attached to the pack. 

   “ Do you not cook it? ”Link signs.

Sidon looks thoughtful. "Not typically. Fire and my people tend to be rather... Incompatible. I'm sure we can figure something out for you though."

  “ Where's my pack? ” Link asks, thinking rapidly. If it too had made it here he had a traveling cooking set with the framing to keep things at a suitable distance from the flames. It was a necessary burden, something he never really left behind if he was planning on travelling for more than a few days. He had unfavorable opinions when it concerned rations. 

 "Ah yes, here let me have someone fetch it for you!"

 

"What are you putting in it?" Sidon asks, puzzled as he watches Link cook from a good distance away. The flames made him nervous, he wouldn't admit as much though. 

   Link ignores him long enough to finish sprinkling a small amount of tarragon in with the fish from a small packet. He'd already added salt and pepper. The tarragon had to be added towards the end. He wishes he'd found garlic as well. Garlic was awkward to travel with though. Dried herbs were small and compact and each little twist fit easily in a waterproof box the size of his hand. 

    He dusts his hands off and realizes he doesn't actually remember the sign for tarragon. 

  “ Herbs, salt, pepper. ” Link finally settles on. 

 "Why? I mean it certainly smells good but why?" Sidon looks puzzled, "I apologize, it's just we typically just eat fish raw and plain. I'm having a bit of a hard time wrapping my head around cooking it."

  Link sits back on his heels and stares at the pan with the fish cooking. It would have been better with lemon, but they rarely had lemon to begin with since it had to be imported from the south. 

  “ It makes. It makes it into something more I guess. It tastes better. ” He wraps a hand in a piece of cloth and gingerly lifts the pan from the flames and sets it down on the floor. Then taking note of Sidon's continued anxiety he extinguishes the flame. 

  "Ah. I see..." The Zora looked thoughtful. "Link, really you did do us a great favor clearing out that tower. Who are you? I mean you're certainly an excellent warrior. But isn't there anything else to it?" 

   Link takes a bite of fish, blowing on it but too impatient to let it cool down any further. 

 “ I'm the captain of Zelda's bodyguard.

  "Who's Zelda?" Sidon asks, further puzzled.

 “The Princess and heir to Hyrule.”

  Ah yes, those are the words that make Sidon blanch. He recovers quickly though. "Are all your people such great warriors? What a stroke of luck! What are you even doing here?" The words come out fast. Link wonders again if the Zora was capable of speaking normally for any length of time at all. 

  “Not exactly. I'm supposed to be scouting, I got sidetracked. She's waiting for me, I can't really say more than that.” Rather. He didn't want to say more than that because it would require too much talking and he was hungry. 

  "How old are you anyway? I know Mipha saying something about Hylians aging differently than Zora."

   Link takes another bite. “ 20

"That young? Do Hylians really grow so quickly? Or are you not fully grown- you are awfully small. Is it the norm?" 

  “I'm an adult. It's unlikely I'll grow taller than this.” He doesn't state outright that he's just short but it's definitely implied, Sidon picks up on it and chuckles. 

  "I see I see... I'll let you eat Link. Mipha will probably want to speak with you later." Sidon rises to his feet and wanders off. Link finds himself staring after him, wondering how the fuck someone is allowed to be that tall. 

  

 

 "Mipha, I was talking with Link and apparently he has connections to the throne of Hyrule!" Mipha looks up from her notes at her brother. Carefully she sets down her quill.

  "I thought you were figuring out something he could eat?" She asks.

"Well we were, he just ended up cooking the fish and sprinkling things and plants on it, it really was quite odd but then we got to talking and apparently he's the captain of Hyrule's princess's bodyguard. He's also only 20, you were right Hylians do age differently from us." 

   Mipha listens in amusement, it was still a mystery how her brother ever managed to breathe. 

 "Are you suggesting he bring his princess here to save us all?" She asks.

 "Well no, he did say he was scouting but he also was able to do something about the encampment in the tower so I suppose it's worth a try?" 

  Mipha sighs, she was rather hoping this wouldn't come up this soon. 

"Truth be told Sidon from what I'm gathering from the situation surrounding the Domain it's probably a curse. And we will need outside assistance. I'll speak to Link. Also why did you ask how old he was? Couldn't that be taken... Wrong?" 

   "Well, I was mostly concerned because he's so small. Apparently he's just short. And he is an adult." 

  "Dear Hylia give me patience." Mipha mutters, carefully inserting the stopper in the bottle of ink. 

 

  "Do you think your Princess would consent to a meeting?" Mipha asks. 

 Link nods, this was definitely a point where he could go back and report. “I left the group at a village on the western edge of the fen. I can't give an accurate timeframe because I'd gone through alone and not with 15 people and 4 mules.” They refused to travel without them, convinced that Zelda required every luxury possible while traveling. She didn’t. 

   Mipha nods, "Fair, I can have Sidon escort you at least to the edge of the fen. We've managed to clear out the monsters that far since we've settled here. That should shave off a little time, I can have an actual escort wait for you there to guide you here. The area is a tad perilous for the unwary and this encampment is well hidden." 

  Link nods, this would more than satisfy Zelda. It would also explain why Lanayru Grove had fewer problems with monsters.

 

   He left the following morning, on the heels of Sidon who was surprisingly quiet. 

"What was it like where you grew up Link?" He asks after a while, breaking the silence.

  “South from here. Over the mountain.” He points to the large mountain looming in the distance.

  "Do you miss it?" 

 There were a lot of things he could say to that. He missed the freedom of being a child, not a care in the world. He missed what his family had been, before. He missed the apples and his family's home on that hill.

  He could only nod. Sidon seemed to understand.

After a while he speaks. "I was born far to the northeast. A tiny island in the middle of the ocean. It was cold, I prefer it here. I miss my father, the friends I had who didn't follow. I wonder sometimes if I'll see them again." 

   Link simply nods.