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In Good Company

Chapter Text

 

The fall of the Calamity had brought many other curses down with itself, and the blood moon was one of them.

It’s a lot more convenient without that endless cycle of monsters coming back to life now, to travel across Hyrule and search for the last few remaining shrines that Link had yet to find. Even following the villagers' cryptic words to find the glowing structures became less of a challenge and more of a past time.

It had taken him about two years to free the four divine beasts and to complete his own challenge against Maz Koshia, to end the Calamity once and for all. He’ll admit that times had been desperate every now and then, as he would find himself injured from stupid stunts, swallowing down liters of elixirs to heal as fast as he could. He’ll admit that he had lost hope more than once, when the blights would refuse to let go of the divine beasts where the champions had been trapped. Feeling useless and alone hadn’t helped. One of the few things he found comfort in was completing the challenges of the shrines; At least, for some time, he could pretend he knew what he was doing.

But it’s no use to ruminate now, he realizes. The Calamity is down, and Zelda is free. While he doesn’t need to complete the shrine challenges anymore, he’s started it, so he might as well finish. Who knows, perhaps it’ll help him recover some more memories? He’ll try anything at this point.

And he’s so close to finding the very last shrine that he can practically feel it in his bones. The Hebra mountain trail had been a pain to climb, but it had been what the little Rito girl had said to do. Thankfully, Zelda has let him hold onto the Sheikah slate, at least for now, while she takes care of the castle’s reconstruction. It allows him to find himself on his map and soon realize that he’s reached the Talonto peak.

A bird in the mountain, right? It’s what he’s supposed to look for, but he’s not sure he should take the Rito girl’s words so seriously. He highly doubts that a giant white bird would fly around so clearly in the mountains. Honestly, he’s a little tired of people talking to him in riddles.

For now, he looks around. Once he finds this very last shrine, he’ll go back to a place where the climate is at least a little more reasonable; here, he can only cover himself in his warm Rito garb while the snow falls upon him and pricks at his skin like needles. 

Maybe he should light a fire before he starts to scan the surroundings. He can see all of Hebra from where he stands, so surely he would end up finding that giant bird soon , right?

Link sighs to himself. As he looks around him to try and find some firewood, something in the corner of his eye catches his attention.

In the distance, the landforms are in a peculiar shape - two mounts are separated from each other, but the perspective does make them look joined. His eyes squint harder before finally noticing the pattern formed by the snow.

A giant bird with its wings spread, made of snow on the rocks. Very clever. He’s not sure what exactly he’d expected, but even if he’s found the answer to the riddle, he can’t help but grumble in mild frustration.

With hasty movements, Link takes hold of the paraglider tied behind his back. He deploys it above him as he pushes on his feet, jumping down and letting the wind carry him towards the so-called ‘bird in the mountain’.

The wind blows against his back, thankfully; it doesn’t take him long to find himself above the mount, his feet dangling into the void between the two cliffs, and soon, he sees the glow.

In the cave under the fake bird’s belly, a shrine stands, hidden away from all kinds of eyes. He knows that not even monsters dare to venture into the caves - but still, he proceeds forward until his feet reach the entrance.

Clearly the shrine hasn’t been activated yet, judging by the way it glows that familiar warm orange. Link wastes no time taking out his Sheikah slate, placing it against the pedestal until the glowing aura melts into a bright blue that, as always, hurts behind his eyes. But at last the shrine opens its doors, leaving the way open for him to enter and face his last challenge.

He’s used to it, but that doesn’t mean he’s come to enjoy it. The platform goes down, leading him underground in a building that feels too surreal to exist in his reality. Another dimension, he imagines. Whatever it is, it’s just like the rest of all these shrines; unpleasantly blue, too quiet for his liking, and the challenge is even worse .

Major test of strength.

“Ugh,” he grumbles, his hand searching through his pouch without looking at it. He takes out one simple bottle and downs the mighty elixir in one go. It’ll at least make defeating whatever training machine that lurks into that ditch just a little faster, and he’ll finally go back to central Hyrule - maybe he can try to find the Korok seeds, next.

Once he’s stepped inside the arena, the challenge begins. From the pit emerges a platform carrying a guardian scout; one of these three legged machines wielding various amounts of weapons. This one in particular has a battle axe, a spear, and a sword. They all glow of that same painful blue, but Link can’t let it bother him; with his Sheikah slate, he summons a savage lynel sword, readying it as he takes out his Hylian shield.

Link quickly lunges forward and lands the first strike at the guardian's side without leaving it any time to begin its attacks. He slashes it repeatedly, eliciting no reaction whatsoever from his foe aside from the fact that it jumps backward in defense. He’s grateful that his attacks seem to be doing quite a good amount of damage; only a few minutes more, and that robot should be down.

The guardian crawls towards him, its battle axe brandished to its side, an obvious planned attack. Link waits for just the right moment; the millisecond after the glowing blade slashes the air, the Hylian steps backwards, jumps into the air and somersaults right above the axe to dodge the blow. Once he perfectly lands on his feet, the machine is too ‘startled’ to step back quickly enough. Link darts forward, slashing the mechanical beast repeatedly in a flurry of strikes. The metal of his sword hisses against the mysterious material of the guardian , a sound that’s become rather usual to his ears seeing how many times he’s encountered these pests. It almost feels strangely nice to hear since he often associates  the noise to victory.

But he knows that he’s not done yet . The guardian jumps a few meters back, all of its weapons lifted  as it prepares to spin in circles and rush towards the Hylian like a murderous top.

Link can’t give it that satisfaction however, if these machines can even feel that. Instead of waiting, he takes out his royal bow, nocking an ice arrow and pointing it to the guardian’s single glowing eye. As he releases the bowstring, the arrow rips through the air, landing right in the center of his flickering target and  making it tumble on its side.

Although he's pretty proud of his aim, Link still tries to stay focused; the mighty elixir only lasts for so long, after all. He speeds up once again, hitting the beast as many times as he can while it’s still down and too disoriented to attack.

At least one good thing about this situation is that the guardians always attack in the same pattern, and because of that repetition Link has come to know it perfectly. He knows of all their behaviors, and he knows that after hitting its eye with an arrow it’ll stay down for  exactly three seconds.

One, two, three, four,...

As Link keeps on hitting his sword against the machine, he realizes that it’s been going on for too long.

Hesitantly, he stops himself. His sword has cracked in multiple places, but nothing’s unusual about this; what doesn’t make sense is that the guardian scout is twitching onto the ground, emitting pitiful whirrs that sound too unfamiliar.

What the hell?

He’s never seen a training guardian act like this before. He stands back, far enough from the beast that he won’t be caught off guard. Ten seconds pass  before the guardian suddenly hits its battle axe against the tiled floor, smashing it to pieces as something dark and gooey escapes its joints.

Gross, Link thinks to himself as he readies his sword, examining the object from afar. Some kind of slug crawls across the floor right next to the guardian in no particular direction, leaving dark stains behind itself as it makes its escape.

How the fuck did a slug get in the shrine?

He curses himself for it; the critter takes too much of his attention, and at last the guardian is functioning again and quickly throwing its spear towards the Hylian. Link only has enough time to block it with his shield, but the strike is so strong that it sends the piece of defensive metal flying far away into the corner of the room and leaving him utterly defenseless as a result.

Shit, he thinks to himself - this is the first time a guardian has hit this hard. Link tries to process it as he turns back, dashing to get his shield and protect himself again, but the machine is much faster.

With its free mechanical arm, it pushes Link face first onto the floor with a loud thud . As the pain reverberates in his head, he still shifts to turn around and face the guardian as he attempts to get up.

But it’s much easier said than done; the creature’s leg pins him down, preventing him from getting  back on his feet. With a sharp grunt of pain, he writhes under the guardian’s impressive weight, trying his hardest to get a hold of his sword once again.

Guardians aren’t smart enough to do this. It’s impossible.

As Link brings his sword up, he lets out a pained cry before plunging the  pointed edge right into the creature’s eye. The machine immediately loosens  its deadly grip onto Link’s chest, allowing the Hylian to breathe in and sit upright as his sword savagely pierces deeper.

He persists like how a barbarian would , flinching when the guardian hisses and growling when the sparks finally fly out.

He takes his sword out after a few seconds, and the guardian drops all of its weapon across the room as it collapses. The eerie blue glow fades into a pitch black mess as it crumbles on itself, and finally, the Hylian can claim victory.

He would usually proceed forward until the monk showed itself, but right now, all that he wants to do is to sit down and breathe for a few minutes. He falls like a dead weight onto the floor, his vision wavering as the elixir’s effects vanish.

And then everything fades to white.

*

“We're working on restoring Hyrule Castle,” Zelda says, taking the Sheikah slate into her hands. “As you can see, they’ve started rebuilding the main hall. I’ll say that sleeping in a tent is not my favorite, but I can’t complain much about that , can I?”

She asks the question with a giggle, looking back to her appointed knight. Link sits against the trunk of a tree, barely awake - it’s seven in the morning, for Hylia’s sake. How can the princess be so enthusiastic so early in the day?

“All this time, you must’ve slept outside a lot,” she adds, tapping on the screen of the slate and looking through the map. “Oh! I see that you’ve activated the isolated shrine in the Hebra mountains - that is fantastic!”

A weak smile tugs at the corners of Link’s mouth, his chest puffing with pride. He won’t tell her how hard he’d struggled against that damn guardian scout, but at least the shrine shows up on the map. And even if it means that he can fast-travel there now, he sure as hell isn’t going back anytime soon.

Do you need the Sheikah slate with you? He signs to his friend, a little concerned. It’s very likely that he would need to let go of the slate for now, as Zelda would have a great need for it while she travels across Hyrule to try and help rebuild what she can.

“I hope you don’t mind,” Zelda replies, her smile fading and her pointed ears drooping. “Well, you probably do. But I’m sorry, Link, I’m going to need to be fast and effective, and this is the only way.”

It’s fine, I just wanted to know, Link signs and dismisses her concern with a wave of his hand. I actually really like traveling by horse. Besides, I don’t need the runes that much anymore.

“I see…” the princess hums, zooming in and out of the map, looking for places to pin down. “Well, if you need to go anywhere, feel free to do so. We aren’t in any danger anymore and you probably need to rest.”

Link’s eyes snap wide open, his head tilting to the side in confusion. What about the reconstruction? He asks, to which Zelda replies with a reassuring smile.

“It isn’t your duty,” she replies , pointing to herself. “As strange as it is to say, I am… The queen of Hyrule now. My responsibility after all these years is to make sure I fix the damage done by my mistakes as a princess. You deserve a break. Isn’t there someone you’d like to visit?”

Link thinks about it only a slight amount; he had made a few friends through his journey, and it’s true that he hadn’t visited anyone for the past six months. Indeed, there’s someone in particular he’s been meaning to say hi to. So he nods to her question while pushing himself back up to stand and stretch.

Bwip-bwip

A startled hum escapes him as he brings his hands together and reaches them forward, looking to Zelda for the source of the noise.

What was that? He asks, to which Zelda shakes her head in confusion.

Bwip-bwip

“This sounds like the Sheikah sensor of your slate,” she replies, her bright blue eyes squinting as she examines the object in her hands. “I’m not sure what it’s detecting, though.”

Link frowns as he thinks, looking around for any sign of movement. But all they’re surrounded by is a vast field and hyrule guards along with a few tents here and there.

That’s weird , Link signs, approaching her to look at the screen. I set the sensor to guardian stalkers last time. But they don’t get detected if they don’t function.

“What do you think it is?” Zelda asks, tapping wherever she can, looking at the picture of the guardian in the compendium that Link had taken despite the high risks. The Hylian still isn’t sure how he’s pulled it off.

Well, now that Ganon’s gone, the guardians are all just piles of trash aside from the small ones in the shrines, he signs, rolling his shoulders into a shrug. I’m not sure. I wouldn’t be surprised if that slate were malfunctioning, after all this time using it non-stop.

“I suppose you’re right,” the princess utters as she stands up to look at her surroundings. Seeing how clear the view is, a nearby guardian would be easily noticeable even now; but nothing is in sight, not even a ‘dead’ guardian.

“I think I’ll warp to Hateno village and see if Purah can look into it,” Zelda continues with a tinge of worry to her voice. “In the meantime, would you like to travel somewhere? I won’t have difficulty reaching you if need be.”

Link looks to the east, watching the clouds gather near a familiar mountain he’s climbed more than once. He pats the dust off his Hylian tunic, breathing in the fresh air of a peaceful Hyrule, delighted at the mere notion of rest for a few days.

I’ll head to Zora’s domain.

*

After Vah Ruta had moved back to the reservoir lake, Prince Sidon had quite easily understood that the Calamity had fallen. That it was all finally over.

Of course, he had noticed right away, as he would watch over the divine beast for a moment each day. It allowed him to pay respects to his sister as well - after all, in a strange way, Vah Ruta is really all he had left of her.

And he had reported the news to his father the second that the divine beast had gone out of sight. He had been so exalted at the time to announce that Hyrule was finally free of the Calamity that he had forgotten the possibility that, on the contrary, the enemy had prevailed instead.

But that possibility had been reminded to him by King Dorephan with rational thought. In Sidon’s mind, it was clearly impossible, unfathomable that Link, the champion, would lose against Ganon. No, there was simply no way - his treasured friend had shown that much while they fought Vah Ruta together! Truly, he had no doubt in his mind at the time.

He had only been all the more proud when the messengers had made their way to the domain, bringing the official news that the Calamity was no more. The celebrations had been endless - over a century of living in fear, brought to an end by the incredible and courageous Link - Sidon can’t quite imagine what it must feel like for the other races that populated the rest of Hyrule, but many Zoras had lived through that century. Many of them finally saw their world being given back to them on that day, the spirits of their lost family members finally avenged and able to find rest.

Mipha had finally found rest as well. Sidon is sure of it.

Three weeks had passed since the battle had been won. Link hasn’t visited the domain yet, but the prince can’t blame him; after all, he must be extremely busy helping Princess Zelda to reconstruct the land they’ve lost. Although Sidon wishes he could be of some help, leaving the domain had become harder than it even used to be - things needed to be taken care of in Zora’s domain as well, after all.

“The observer we sent to the Lynel at Ploymus Mountain finally came back - unscathed, thank Hylia,” Laflat begins with a sigh. “As Zoras it seems like there is not much we can do against it. But it is safe to assume that once the beast is  slain, it should not be revived any longer.”

Laflat hands the folded papers to Sidon with a quiet sigh. That monster had been a problem to the Zoras for a very long time, and even if Link had defeated it a few times, the blood moon would always bring it back. Oh, how tiring it had become.

“I am guessing none of the other soldiers we found were able to tackle the issue?” The prince asks, remembering the few Hylians, Ritos, Gorons they recruited for the task. He doesn’t remember seeing any of them boasting about any victory, however.

“Indeed,” Laflat replies, relaxing her posture as Sidon leans against the barrier in front of his palace, the one where he’d usually stay at to watch over Vah Ruta when she was still in sight. “They would either give up as soon as they would see it, or they would escape the battle injured. It seems like no one other than the champion himself can truly deal with that monster.”

Sidon can’t help but feel a small smile playing at his features - this is no surprise to him. It feels a bit unfair to call Link over to slay the Lynel now; he must be so busy in the Hyrule fields with Princess Zelda after all. For now, it seems like the Zoras will have to look for another solution.

“Your Highness.”

Sidon turns around at the voice, finding none other but the captain of the Royal Guard, silverscale spear in hand and a somewhat troubled expression across his eyes.

“What is it, Bazz?” He asks, to which the shorter Zora straightens himself.

“I have something to report, from the citizens near the Ne’ez Yohma shrine,” he begins, somewhat tripping on the pronunciation. “As of late, it seems to have started glowing a strange red, something completely different from its usual hue. We have yet to determine the cause of this phenomenon.”

“Is that so,” Sidon replies thoughtfully as he steps forward. “I shall see to it immediately. Will you both join me?” He addresses Bazz and Laflat, who both nod without hesitation as they follow behind.

Of course, no Zora would ever make use of the Ne’ez Yohma shrine, as only those equipped with a Sheikah slate could enter it. Still, it’s important that they make sure everything is in order in case Link were to use it.

They make their way to the shrine, soon descending down the set of stairs that leads to the small cave where the structure is nestled. Shooing the numerous bright-eyed crabs to the sides, they finally reach the shrine and immediately notice its faint, blue glow. It isn’t quite the red color that Bazz described earlier - still, it’s usually much brighter than this, and that alone is enough to cause worry.

“...This is not the first time it happens.” Sidon mumbles to himself, reminiscing the similar event that happened to the Dagah Keek shrine near the Veiled Falls. It had only lasted a few minutes, with no consequences whatsoever, and so, it had simply been brushed aside as a harmless malfunction. But now that he thinks about it, the Zoras aren’t quite qualified to say whether ancient Sheikah technology is harmless or not.

He brushes his hand against the smooth surface of the ancient material, feeling a certain warmth emanating from it. Rather strange  for something stone-like that would usually feel cold to the touch. Aside from this, he’s not sure there’s anything else he can do; perhaps he should see his father and request that a few Sheikah scientists look into it -

“How many times are we gonna have to tell you this, you freak?!”

The loud voice comes from outside, only a few meters away from them. It has Bazz quickly frowning, stepping out with his silverscale spear in hand while Sidon and Laflat follow closely behind.

To nobody’s surprise, it’s the group of Lake Zoras - a community that lives under the domain in isolation. Most of those Zoras are just becoming adults, though they've been intimidating the civilians for quite some time now, with their heavily tattooed bodies and weapons carried without purpose. They're the ones causing trouble once again. The residents of the domain have gotten quite used to it, so they’re more of an annoyance than a real danger, but still… Gruve is frozen in place at the edge of the small waterfall, in a defensive stance as a green colored Zora shakes some kind of red fish under his eyes.

“Stop. Throwing your garbage. In the lake. It’s not that hard to understand, for fuck’s sake!” the green Zora shouts again, his headfin flaring with anger. To his side, a shorter, violet Zora shakes him lightly by the shoulder.

“Eki, it’s fine. You know they don’t listen,” she says in a deadpan voice, a somber expression darkening her features.

“No, Vetli! I’m tired of these assholes thinking they can get rid of their rotten fish in the lake where we sleep!” Eki replies, throwing the fish at Gruve’s feet as the latter can’t help but yelp in surprise.

“But- I didn’t-!”

“What’s going on here?” Bazz interjects, striding to the group with slitted pupils. “Our agreement was clear, wasn't it?” He asks, eyeing at one short Zora in particular. “No violence shall be used to take care of disagreements. If you keep threatening them, I will be forced to arrest you.”

The Lake Zoras seem to tense up at the sight of Bazz, even more so at the sight of Prince Sidon. The only one who doesn’t lose his fire is Eki once again, who seems to be a leader to the others - he points to the fish with his moblin club, to which the guard captain can’t help but grimace.

“Then tell your precious citizens to stop treating our damn lake like a dumpster! Does this look like a freshwater fish to you?”

Sidon’s eyes shoot to the dead fish, and truth be told, Eki is actually right - this sort of fish has nothing to do with their lake, especially in the state it’s in; half-eaten by bugs and oozing a strange, dark substance that can only be identified as some kind of mildew. Sidon sighs, stepping in to put an end to this - they have other troubles, and dealing with the Lake Zoras comes last.

“Will you let me apologize on their behalf?” The prince asks, putting a hand to his chest and bowing lightly. “You have every right to be angry. I will make sure that everyone in the domain respects the lake, as it is as important to us as it is to you.”

To this, Eki pauses. Right. As powerful as he may be, talking back to the Zora prince might get him in trouble, and even he knows this very well. “Fine,” he finally mutters, throwing his club over his shoulder and patting the violet Zora’s shoulder. “I’ll look at the water very closely, then. Let’s go.”

With that, the group of Zoras steps away with a few irate glances behind, disappearing in sight as they cross the bridge.

Sidon sighs, and Laflat’s shoulders drop. “They really are insufferable,” the woman says, while Bazz gives a short scolding to Gruve for polluting the lake, despite how much the other man insists that he’s not the one who did it.

When all that is said and done, Sidon feels that it’s important to return to the matter at hand. But it doesn’t seem like the Ne’ez Yohma shrine is where the strange phenomenons stop.

“The red glow seems to persist on the Sato Koda shrine in the uplands, according to guardsman Tottika,” Bazz starts again, pointing to the hills in the distance. “I’d suggest we investigate this one as well, before reporting it to King Dorephan.”

“The Sato Koda shrine?” Sidon asks, eyes widening. “Is it not the one that Link activated only a month ago?”

“Indeed, so we can rule out any cause linked to a possible lifespan,” Bazz replies as he guides the other two forward. “Then again, we are no Sheikah. It is only a hypothesis.”

Sidon quietly nods as he follows Bazz to the waterfall, accompanied with Laflat whose interest, once again, seems to be more piqued than ever.

*

The air feels somewhat cooler in Upland Zorana, but that’s to be preferred. Treading there is a little tedious, but they soon reach the Sato Koda shrine, and sure enough the blue glow has transformed into a deep crimson that seems to pulsate under the sun. The pink skin under Sidon’s brow furrows in concentration as he looks to the ill color, finding it difficult to relieve his worry now that it seems to spread from one shrine to another.

“This one looks even worse,” Laflat mutters, slowly stepping forward. “I’m worried about what might be inside. We will need to warn Master Link about this as soon as we can, in case he decides to venture inside the shrines again.”

She’s right; they know Link is looking for the remaining shrines, and Sidon can only hope that everything is fine on the Hylian’s end. He recalls Link telling him that the inside is nothing but riddles and puzzles, so what could be invading those structures? A kind of parasite, perhaps?

He keeps the thought to himself for now. Of course, he’d prefer to warn his friend through a letter, but where would he even send it off to? There’s no telling where the Hylian Champion might be at the moment, as surely, most of Hyrule needs his help after all.

“I would like to look into it,” Laflat continues, a spark lighting up in her eyes despite her attempt to stay serious about the situation. “Will you allow me, Sidon?”

It’s hard to reply - he knows just how fascinated Laflat is with the monsters and the unknown. Being her lifelong friend had taught him that she would study them thoroughly in her spare time, making her one of the most knowledgeable individuals in the domain on that matter. Still, it’s not something she can explain just yet; and for that reason, the prince worries again.

“I would rather you stay out of this until we determine exactly what it is,” he replies, trying to soften the blow with a smile. “It could be dangerous, and I do not wish for you to get hurt. Come on now, let us go back to the domain and report it to father.”

With Laflat’s and Bazz’s nods, they ready themselves to get back home, but out of nowhere there is something that suddenly changes in the air. And naturally, the three of them can sense it; it grows heavy upon them, tightens around their throats like a snake, forcing them to remain stuck in place as they feel a cold shiver crawl across their scales.

“Your Highness,” Bazz utters, his voice uncharacteristically soft. “Let us head back quickly. I sense a great danger - perhaps the Lynel.”

“No,” Sidon interrupts him, his eyes scanning the horizon for the cause of their unease. “It isn’t the Lynel, I am certain of it.”

His sixth sense tells him what he needs to know; this thing is approaching, still far away enough that they would have time to run, yet… another sensation is there, something he’s felt much too strongly before to ever forget.

“This is worse than that.”

“Sidon, we need to go,” Laflat urges him, tugging on his wrist. “We have to warn His Majesty-”

In the distance, a blood-curdling screech can be heard; it buzzes through Sidon’s eardrums and even leaves him dizzy for a split second. A sound right out of his worst nightmares. He thinks briefly that he simply hallucinated it, that the other two haven’t heard anything of the sort, but the horrified expression that covers them is enough to tell him that this was very real.

From behind a hill, another group of Zoras run to find safety. Their feet hit the grass to take them somewhere, anywhere they could go to escape the dread that follows; Sidon can’t see the threat for now, but he can recognize the Lake Zoras from earlier, who were bothering Gruve.

The young Zoras scramble over to them in a panic with looks never seen on their faces before; terrified, scared. Traumatized , almost - it makes even Sidon wish he didn’t have to see what was coming, yet as it approaches their way, he can feel it again.

“What the hell are you doing here?!” Eki shouts, catching his breath for a moment as the others stop themselves as well. “Run for it! It’s going to kill us all!”

The whirring and the screeching resonates into Sidon’s brain as his eyes flicker left and right, only to quickly find the creature that was already locked onto them all.

The spider-looking machine crawls their way, loud and overwhelming as its mechanical legs stomp down the ground. Even Sidon feels small in comparison, but what worries him the most is the eye in the center of its head; the blue, glowing eye that flickers red as its ray of light settles onto Eki as its target.

Suddenly, Sidon remembers what Link said about those said creatures when he had come to the domain for a few days of rest. Don’t find yourself face to face with a guardian, he had said, the prince seeing the other’s concerned expression clearly in his head. Unless you have a good shield or a bow, there’s nothing you can do but pray.

The group dashes through the uplands as fast as they can go, and Sidon never imagined that such a large machine could keep up with them. The faster they run, the better it follows; and as its red ray focuses on the green Zora without fail, its noise accelerates into something that turns Sidon’s blood to ice.

The guardian shoots its deadly beam of light, and the blinding ray travels through the air faster than Sidon’s eyes can follow. What he can’t miss is where it lands, and the way Eki’s blood spills like a fountain into the green pasture, his voice leaving him in a sharp grunt of pain.

“Eki!” His friend Vetli shouts, bolting towards him with panicked breath, falling onto her knees to carefully hold up his arm and look at the injury.

Sidon winces, his stomach churning at the mere sight of the injured Zora;. Eki’s left arm is torn to shreds, the flesh blown here and there deeply enough that the bone underneath is starting to show. The prince’s heartbeat starts to raise its pace as he stops himself despite the danger, looking between the guardian and its victim in utter disbelief.

“Let me go, Vetli! I can get up!” The green Zora orders, forcing himself back on his legs despite the tremendous pain he must be in. The guardian doesn’t wait, however - it readies it next ray, this time targeting it at someone else, and it’s exactly what Sidon feared the most.

“Miss Laflat, we need to run immediately,” Bazz says, trying to stay calm, but Sidon can still hear the oscillations in his voice. The red spark is settled right onto the woman’s brow, something that she can’t quite see, but she obeys still - her webbed feet take her forward once again, creating distance between her and the mechanical monster still chasing them while the Lake Zoras try to follow with their heavily wounded leader.

“This way! To the Veiled Falls!” Sidon shouts to the other Zoras, pointing repeatedly to the waterfall that they can jump down into - if there’s one thing he knows about guardians, it’s that they won’t follow in the water. He urges Laflat to take sharp turns as she sprints, so that the guardian can somehow lose ‘sight’ of her; he wants to warn her as it shoots again, but the deadly light reaches her before his own voice can.

For a second, Sidon believes it’s reached her head - but in a miraculous turn of events, it flies right past it. He wants to use the last gulp of air in his lungs to sigh in relief... until he hears her crying out in pain.

His vision sways before he can see it; She clutches at the left side of her face, her mouth hung as a scream escapes her again. Her hands are covered in crimson, shaking as if she were having a seizure, and it takes a few more seconds for Sidon to notice that her left forefin is two meters away from her, marred beyond repair and lying in the grass like a piece of dead fish.

“It hurts!” She screams, taking her hands off the wound and looking down at them, only to let out yet another shaky cry. Her eyes water with pain as she covers the deep wound once again, and Sidon believes he’s in a complete nightmare.

This can’t be real. Yet her blood is dripping on his own hands as he tries to pick her up, warm and filling his senses to the point that an intense nausea starts to overcome him. “Let me help you, Laflat - come with me! We need to treat it right away!” He says, thankful for her smaller size as he brings her to her feet. The way she whimpers has him feeling only sicker, and just when he’s about to take another step forward with her, another groan can be heard from behind him.

Eki is now on the ground again, his healthy arm fighting to get away as his claws scrape at the earth; and as strong as he may be, there’s nothing that can be done against the monstrous weight of a guardian claw pressed right against his back, pinning him down and crushing him ever so slowly. His friends try to help, either hitting at the guardian’s leg with whatever weapon they hold to no avail - it’s as though it was planted there, with no hope of ever leaving its place.

As they keep hitting, the guardian’s head gives shaky turns left and right - it trembles on itself, its eye soon letting out small beam of lights, still dangerous enough to wound Vetli’s ankle. The woman curses as she falls to the ground, but no one has time to do much more to escape - at this point, the guardian is firing at whatever it sees, even scraping Sidon’s arm in the process.

Everything turns hazy. He can hardly register Bazz’s words as the guard captain tries to pull him back to reality - right now there’s only the scent of blood, the screams, and despite it all, the sudden silence in certain voices.

Out of nowhere, a flash of blue appears in front of his eyes - something that moves rapidly, yet precisely enough to attract the guardian’s attention. The silhouette holds up the shiniest weapon the prince has ever seen, striking the beast on the leg twice until it shatters and leaves the green Zora’s back. Pointed ears perk up as they look around, feeling no desire to escape when the red ray settles onto them this time. They hold up a large shield in front of them, waiting for the beast’s next strike with bated breath.

As soon as the beam is shot, it’s deflected in the opposite direction by the shield, to hit the guardian in the eye. It seems to topple as Sidon tries his best to stay awake through it all and clutch onto an unconscious Laflat. The light seems to escape the machine as cracks appear through its frame, and finally, it crumbles on itself, leaving behind remains of a technology none of them can explain.

Their savior lets the shield down, swaying as much as Sidon’s vision. It’s only when the Hero falls to his knees that the prince finally understands.

His vision fades, but the other’s name weakly escapes his lips as he calls out to him, his most treasured friend.


Chapter Text

“It’s a bit risky for you to come here completely unguarded.”

Zelda’s eyes are focused on the floor as her hands nervously bundle together. “I’m not exactly alone,” she begins hesitantly, her head gesturing to the doors behind her. “One Hylian guard is waiting for me outside.”

She stands in the middle of the Hateno ancient technology laboratory in company of Purah, a person that Zelda only vaguely remembers. She had met her before the calamity struck - but she’ll have to admit that, while the damage to her memories isn’t as deep as Link’s, her recollection of the past isn't as clear as it could be.

But Purah is the only one who can truly help with the Sheikah slate. For now, it rests on the guidance stone as Purah sits behind it, tapping a few buttons that she doesn’t seem to want to explain the functionality of.

“Your Majesty…” the small scientist begins, pushing up her glasses to look at the much taller princess. “I get that you’d rather be left to wander with as few guards as possible, but you seem to forget what happened in Hyrule for the past hundred years.”

How could she forget? She was conscious the entire time, and while most of her attention was directed towards fighting the Calamity, she would sometimes hear the passing echoes of the various voices in Hyrule; sometimes of important individuals, sometimes of the most insignificant nobodies. She’s heard just how many times Link had been mocked or even looked down on for ‘pretending’ to be the Hero, for what they see as a failure .

She’s heard of the bitter feelings most Hyruleans hold towards her for not managing to save their kingdom back then.

Her gaze travels across the messy room, soon finding itself to the windows above the high piles of books. “Hateno seems like such a peaceful village,” she mutters with a sorrowful sigh. “Would it really be dangerous for me to walk around unguarded? I didn’t believe it was this bad.”

Purah closes her eyes in thought, her brow pinching. “I’d say it’s better to be safe than sorry,” she says with her high-pitched, angelic voice,  tapping at the screen once the slate is removed from its pedestal. “Though to be honest, I don’t think any of the villagers here are… courageous enough to do anything to harm you. It’s not like any of them offered to deal with the calamity, or to help Link in any way, so I wouldn’t worry about them too much.”

Zelda bites back a caustic smile - the Hylians are her people, but she doesn’t blame some of them if they do despise her for not being able to prevent all the damage done to Hyrule a hundred years ago. She’s fought all this time... but it’s not like any of them will ever know this. Only a handful of people still do truly believe in her and that is what keeps her standing. At least, for now.

“Now, the slate…” Purah hums to herself as her tiny feet bring her back towards the princess, large, round eyes searching here and there. “Nope, doesn’t look like anything’s wrong with it. It works just as well as last time your knight came here, at least.”

Zelda’s head shoots up, casting a worried glance at the other woman.

“Are you sure?” She asks, holding out her hands when Purah gives her back the slate. “Back in the Hyrule fields, the sensor was reacting to something that wasn’t there. I might be overthinking this, but I really need the Sheikah slate to be fully functional now that I’m trying to put everything back in order.”

“How do you know for sure that it wasn’t there?” Purah asks, something suddenly lighting up in her crimson eyes. Zelda is at least thankful that she doesn’t instantly call it paranoia.

“Um… To tell you the truth, I just looked around - the Sheikah sensor was supposed to react to functioning guardians. If it were nearby, I think I would’ve seen it.”

The Sheikah woman pauses, bringing a finger to her chin in deep thought. It takes her a few seconds of silence to even respond to the princess’s words, but as she does, she jumps off her stool with a huff.

“Come outside with me,” she says, gesturing for her to follow. “I want to try something.”

They step out of the lab, and the sunlight feels almost blinding to Zelda now that she’s spent time in the darkened room. The breeze gently blows across her blonde hair as she looks around and down onto the village where her people go about their day.

“Anything out of the ordinary?” Purah asks, pointing to the slate.

“Not now. It seems to work properly, but…”

Before she can finish her sentence, the shorter woman takes hold of the slate, slowly removing it from the princess’s hands. With a concentrated mumble, she descends down the path to the village - something extremely rare for her. Zelda knows Purah wouldn’t show herself to the villagers unless it was absolutely necessary.

Despite her surprise, she follows her. Her guard tags along as well, slight confusion written on his features, though the princess isn’t quite sure if she can explain anything to him just yet.

After a few minutes of striding down the hill, Purah comes to a halt under the eyes of a few curious townspeople. “Let’s see,” she speaks to herself as she completely ignores their stares, and for some reason, brings the slate down until it rests on the ground. 

It’s a surprise to everyone but her, apparently - the sensor acts up again. It’s weak, but the signal is there, slow and quiet, reacting to a guardian that once again is nowhere to be seen.

“It’s as I feared, Your Majesty,” Purah finally pipes up, her back still turned against her. Zelda’s pointed ears perk up in attention, but deep down, she had a feeling the answers to her questions would be lying right under her feet.

“There’s something underground.”

*

His eyes are hazy when he finally wakes up, but a throbbing headache forces him to squeeze them shut instantly. He grimaces lightly at the bad taste in his mouth, swallowing hard enough that it hurts - but not far from his bed, a gentle voice speaks to him.

“You’re finally awake,” it says, and Sidon tries to open his eyes again. He first takes a quick look at the room he’s in. He doesn’t recognize it right away, but the bed he lies on tells him what he needs to know.

He’s in the clinic. Its largest room, in fact, usually the one they would keep for him or for his father if needed. The room is dimly lit by luminous stones as the curtains are drawn, and Sidon lets out a quiet grunt as he tries to move.

“Do not push yourself, Your Highness,” the voice says again before the prince falls back onto his bed, his vision going blurry for the brief second his head hits the pillow again. Any movement hurts right now, especially his arm, where a wound has been sewn shut.

Carefully, he looks to his right; the voice belongs to a woman standing by his bed, her light lavender scales giving to Sidon the indication of her identity. He thinks for an instant that she’s wearing a short cape, but her long shoulder fins make her look that way at all times. After that, it’s easy to recognize the lazy flick of her long tail against her back, the violet birthmarks spotting her scales like wine stains, and the unusual, rose gold color of her jewelry.

“I gave you pain-killer not long ago,” the head nurse of the Zora clinic gently says with a warm smile. “It should take effect soon enough. How are you feeling?’

“Felephun?” Sidon says as he remembers the woman’s name. “What happened?”

“You were caught in a guardian attack in upland Zorana,” Felephun explains, sitting down to encourage him to stop trying to move. “It shot a ray of light towards you, leaving a rather deep injury on your arm. A healer’s power was not enough to close the wound completely, so we had to give you stitches. It should be completely healed in a few days.”

The prince swallows dryly, now hyper-aware of the slithering pain across his arm. “I see,” he answers, pressing his lips into a thin line before his eyes snap wide open again. “Wait- I wasn’t alone there, I remember… How is everyone else?”

Despite the situation, Felephun seems rather detached, as if something else was on her mind. “Everyone… is alive,” she slowly answers with a reassuring nod. “But Eki of the Lake Zoras is currently unconscious, suffering from severe injuries. Doctor Najon is doing what he can to save him at this very moment.”

Right. Najon, the head surgeon of the Zora clinic. If he’s the one personally taking care of the poor man, it’s most likely that Eki is floating between life and death right now. Sidon’s throat tightens, not knowing how to answer to this new information. Not yet at least.

“Your friend, chief secretary Laflat,” Felephun starts again, her hands resting on her knees. “She’s going through surgery for now. We are amputating what remains of her left forefin.”

How could he forget. The image of his friend falling to her knees as the guardian shot her goes through his mind once again, and it was clear to him even back then that there was nothing that could be done to heal this. As he suppresses the urge to bite down on his claws, he thanks the Goddess that the damage was at least not life-threatening for her. If it hadn’t been for...

“Link!” He finally exclaims, his tail perking up. “It was Link who stopped the guardian, I saw him! Is he alright?”

It’s as if Felephun just remembers. Her hollow gaze still doesn’t change, however, but Sidon knows very well that nobody can ask the head nurse to show much negative emotion. At all times, it’s as if she wears a smiling porcelain mask that hides its mouth when the situation is severe. And when Link is brought up, a smile pulls at the corners of her lips.

“Master Link is in another room nearby,” she says with another nod. “He’s recovering from his injuries.”

“What injuries?”

“According to Captain Bazz, he used a shield to deflect the guardian’s last beam. But the force of the blow injured his arm, and it seems like one of the machine’s claws scrapped heavily at his legs before he fell down.”

The prince takes some time to sigh in relief. He will have to see Link as soon as possible, to at least thank him - yes, had it not been for the Hylian champion, none of them would’ve lived long enough to crawl back to the domain.

For a few instants, he manages to sit upright, looking down at his own hands in contemplation. What could that guardian stalker have been doing in the uplands? He can only recall seeing a few guardian skywatchers in these parts, but-

“Sidon!”

A loud voice shakes him out of his thoughts as a large form barges through the door - his father. Of course, King Dorephan must’ve been worried sick; he strides to Sidon’s bed, kneeling at his side and towering over him despite it.

“I learned of what happened from the Guard Captain,” Dorephan begins, placing a gentle hand on Sidon’s arm, avoiding the wound. “I cannot express how thankful I am that you are safe. Goddesses, you’ve terrified me!”

The prince can tell how shaken the king is, and he can’t help but feel the guilt gnawing at him. His father always worries so much about him, after what happened to Mipha a hundred years ago… And now, his health isn’t strong enough to recover from another tragedy. Sidon hums in response, allowing himself to hug his father’s arm in apology. “Forgive me, father - No one expected a guardian to show up in the uplands, so we were completely unprepared. It is merely a scratch, though-”

Sidon wants nothing more than to reassure his father, but the king interrupts the attempt.“What were you doing in the uplands?”

A cold sweat overcomes Sidon as he tries to remember. It wasn’t normally such a dangerous place, so he truly was expecting to be safe, but…

“The shrines,” Sidon begins as the memories flow back into him. “We were investigating the shrines. Their glow have turned into a crimson red, and we were going to report it to you as soon as we came back.”

Dorephan’s eyes seem to narrow at his son’s answer, his hand nervously twitching in response. “I see,” he simply utters before letting out a sigh. “I will see to it myself when enough guards are available. I am truly grateful you are safe, Sidon. However… You must practice extreme caution from now on. I expected the guardians to vanish after Calamity Ganon was defeated, but it seems I was wrong.”

Deep down, the prince supposes that it’s what he had been expecting as well. But after all, there's no way to learn anything new about the guardians on their own. The Sheikah are the ones knowledgeable on this matter. He nods quietly before giving his father a smile of reassurance.

“I will let you rest for now and I will be asking the guard captain for the details of the events,” Dorephan finishes, nodding to the head nurse. “When will he be able to leave?”

“In a few hours,” Felephun replies, getting up and gathering ingredients to prepare an ointment. “The healing potions we use are extremely effective. Still, resting is necessary.”

Dorephan finally gets back up on his feet, giving her a grateful bow. “Take good care of my son, please,” he says before giving a light pat to Sidon’s head and slowly stepping out of the door.

The prince finds himself alone in his room once again, finding that even the presence of Felephun doesn’t help. He lies back down onto the bed, a little more relaxed now that the medicine is taking effect. Still, the sight of the room brings an unease that he hasn’t felt in quite a while; he closes his eyes again, trying his hardest to ignore the smell of medicinal herbs and healing potions.

And it’s then that Sidon painfully remembers just how much he hates clinics.

*

The next time Sidon wakes up, the pain is mostly gone even when he tries to move. With another detached smile, Felephun gives him the permission to leave the clinic but remain extremely careful nonetheless. The prince gladly steps out of his room, finding himself in a hallway crowded with guards.

“Your Highness!” Bazz exclaims as Sidon closes the door behind himself. “Oh, thank Hylia you are fine. I… I want to apologize, I wasn’t able to…”

Sidon can tell that the black Zora is filled with regret and shame; however, the prince also knows just how painful it is to blame oneself. He puts a hand to his guard captain’s shoulder before reassuring him with a smile.

“You did not know it was going to happen,” he begins, to which Bazz relaxes his posture. “It is not your fault; besides, you were the one who warned the domain about what happened so they could take us back. I thank you for that.”

Bazz nods quickly in gratefulness, his hold on his silverscale spear tightening. And suddenly, something seems to pass through his mind as he turns around to catch the other guards’ attention.

“Guardsman Torfeau, Prince Sidon wishes to see Master Link - Please do let him in,” he orders to the woman, to which she straightens herself and bows to the prince.

Right, Bazz must’ve read his mind - he wants to visit his friend as soon as possible. He knows that the Hylian is fine, but in a way, he feels like he has to see it for himself.

He enters the other room, finding Link sitting at the edge of his bed, already preparing himself to leave as well. His arm is still bent against his own chest as he rests it, and Sidon can’t help but lose his smile at the sight of the heavy bruises across it.

This doesn’t prevent Link from beaming once he sees his Zora friend, however. The Hylian’s ears perk up as soon as Sidon enters, a cheerful sound leaving him.

“Link!” Sidon exclaims, stepping closer to the bed and kneeling at his side. “Oh, I’m so relieved to see you!”

The hero of Hyrule trains his own arm to move again as he starts signing. Me too, he answers a bit too hurriedly, and he winces through the pain. Are you alright? You got hurt, didn’t you?

Sidon glances at his own injury before waving it off with a dismissive flick of his hand. “No need for you to worry about such a thing. Thank you ever so much for saving us in the uplands, Link-” he begins, and if he could, he’d hug him to show just how grateful he is. He’s afraid he might hurt him by doing such a thing for now, however. “I cannot dare to imagine what would’ve happened if you hadn’t come at the right moment. Had you heard of this rampaging guardian, somehow?”

It’s a lot  to respond to and the prince soon realizes how inconsiderate he’s being, seeing the state of Link’s arm. He’s about to apologize before a nurse comes into the room and salutes to both of them.

“Your Highness, Master Link,” she starts, “I suggest that you go to our hot springs; the waters have been blessed by Lady Mipha herself, so it should allow your wounds to heal much faster and your energy to replenish.

Sidon has to think about it for a moment; he’d wanted to wait for Laflat to be awake after her surgery to visit her, but it seems to be taking a lot more time than he’d expected. He knows of how effective the blessed springs are though, and that Link needs them just as much as he does. Perhaps it’ll allow him to sign properly again soon enough.

With Sidon’s help, Link prepares himself to leave again, mindful of not moving his arm around too much. It’s only a couple of minutes later that they leave the clinic, walking side by side. Sidon would feel impolite to talk so much while Link is unable to, so he mostly wears a smile, showing the way to the hot springs to his dear friend.

The hot springs are thankfully empty at this time of day. They both step into the small cave, already feeling the healing properties of the water. Sidon slips into it quickly enough, sitting himself down with a relieved sigh as Link remains standing nearby.

“Hm?” Sidon looks to him with a curious glance. “Go ahead, Link. You can join me; the waters really help.”

There’s a slight red hue tinting Link’s cheeks now as he lowers his head. The prince is initially confused, of course, but it doesn’t take long for him to understand just what is going through his friend’s mind.

“Oh, I apologize!” he says, straightening himself and facing the opposite direction. “I will look away. Please, do not mind me.”

It seems to be what Link was expecting from him - right, unlike Zoras, Hylian can’t exactly hide their private parts without clothing. Sidon contemplates the wall for a minute as he hears the sound of weapons being settled on the marbled floor, the ruffling of clothes being removed, and finally the sound of Link dipping himself into the water at a reasonable distance.

Sidon slowly turns around, finding the sight of Link sitting across him in the spring, sighing in relief at the warmth brought to his sore limbs. The prince cannot say he’s unhappy to see his friend, however… he wishes the circumstances had been different.

“It has been a while,” Sidon begins, offering him a soft smile while hoping that engaging in a conversation now wouldn’t trouble the Hylian too much. “We have been informed that the Calamity was taken down a few weeks ago. I knew you could do it!”

He doesn’t exactly expect an answer - what Link usually does in response to praise is lower his head, blush and shake his head. This time, he lets out a puff of laughter before signing - it seems like the water is already doing wonders to his injured arm. Thank you, he replies, I couldn’t have done it without your help. It was a collective effort, really.

Sidon wouldn’t say the part he played was as important as Link’s, but he doesn’t wish to contradict him. After all, the praise also has him lowering his head a bit.

“Well, even now, you never cease to amaze me,” the prince starts again, trying to one-up him on the compliments. “You came to our aid back there, and I can never thank you enough for this. Truly, I remembered what you said about guardians - but none of us had a shield. We had no choice but to flee, and even then…”

Sidon’s smile falters as he remembers the way Laflat and Eki got injured, but Link’s answer quickly brings him out of such grim thoughts.

The Hylian shakes his head, slowly bringing his hands up to sign. None of us would’ve known this was going to happen. There was no way to be prepared for what was coming.

“You were prepared,” he replies, his tone quiet but clear enough so that the Hylian can hear. “You always are. This is why you impress me, my friend.”

Link gives a little scoff before sinking deeper into the water. Sure, I had a shield, he signs, blue eyes moving upwards as he reminisces. And a shield is usually enough, I’ll give you that, but… this has never happened before.

Sidon subconsciously bends himself to somehow be closer to him, even if only just a little. “What are you talking about?”

The guardian beam pressing so strongly on my shield that my arm almost breaks, the Hylian replies, bitterly biting at the inside of his cheek. That, and the attacks with its claws. Did you see how it pinned that Lake Zora to the ground, too? Guardians aren’t supposed to know how to do this.

To that, Sidon has to pause. He can’t say he’s ever fought a guardian before, so all his knowledge comes from either his father or Link - and as far as he remembers, they’ve never mentioned the beasts using such tactics before.

“...And what do you think it means?” he asks, a shiver slowly creeping along his arms, which he tries to alleviate by submerging them into the water.

I think something’s really wrong, Link finally replies, and even he seems horrified by his own answer. Guardians aren’t even supposed to be able to function right now - the malice left with Calamity Ganon, so there shouldn’t be anything left to control them. I don’t understand.

“Could it be simply an isolated case?” the prince asks, bringing up the theories that spark in his head in search for reassurance. “Perhaps this was a lone malice piece that failed to vanish; one that was strong enough to take control of a guardian.”

He can see the way Link’s throat seems to tighten as he swallows. Maybe, he replies, hardly adding onto Sidon’s words. Maybe that’s just it. I’m hoping that it is, at least.

The silence drags on for a moment. It’s true that he can’t confirm or deny that it was the case, but for now, he chooses to remain positive; still, some precautions must be taken.

Something has been running through Sidon’s mind though, and he knows that only the Hylian can answer. “Speaking of,” he begins, looking back at his friend. “I thought that, when you saved Vah Ruta, my sister had given you her power; the one that allowed you to heal your own injuries, even the most severe ones. Not only that, but Master Daruk of the Gorons had given you his protection, had he not?”

To that, Link’s eyes fall vacant. When Sidon realizes that he’s most likely not going to respond, he continues. “Forgive me for asking, but… were you unable to summon these powers this time?”

It seems to be the question that the Hylian dreaded, if the way his shoulders stiffen is of any indication. With almost shame written on him, he replies at last with a defeated sigh.

I can’t use them anymore , he says, head bowing in apology. I’m sorry.

Sidon instantly brings himself a little closer, speaking softly. “You do not have to apologize, my friend,” he begins, “Though may I ask, why is that…?”

Link’s shoulders sink slowly, his lips parting in a trembling sigh. It hurts to see him looking so downhearted, even after his grand victory against the Calamity.

I don’t really know why, he signs, averting his eyes for only a second as if he were expecting the prince to frown, in a way. Before I defeated Ganon, the spirits of the champions were always with me. I could feel the warmth of their encouragements, their resolve and even their sorrow at times, he continues and Sidon’s heart starts to weigh a little more.

But… as soon as it was all over, they were gone. It felt cold. I couldn’t hear them anymore, he adds, then points to his heart. There’s nothing left.

It had always been somewhat relieving to Sidon to know that a small part of Mipha was still here, in this world - but according to Link, she is truly gone this time. Sidon had known what it felt to live with her absence, although he had never gotten used to it, of course. What he can understand from this is that, after her wish was fulfilled, she finally found rest in another realm.

The tears threaten to well up in Sidon’s eyes, something he attempts to blink away. There’s no need for Link to feel guilty.

I guess that was to be expected… Link signs again before looking down to his palms. But to be honest, I wasn’t prepared for it. I didn’t think they would leave so soon, so abruptly - but it’d be selfish of me to want them to stay when they’ve been trapped here for the past hundred years.

Sidon’s lips press into a thin line as he reads Link’s gestures, his eyelids soon falling in acceptance. “Of course, you are not to blame,” he speaks up, “you’ve saved them, Link. I cannot begin to express how grateful I am that you’ve freed Mipha. And… I hope that I can somehow help to alleviate the loneliness that you surely must be feeling even now.”

Link’s expression grows warm, gentle even, as a smile appears on his face. Yeah, I do feel a bit better now that I’m here. I have you to thank for that .

Link’s words make the heartache a bit easier to bear now, at least. The Hylian’s presence in the domain only brings good; Sidon had known that from the start, after all.

Although, I do have to leave soon, Link signs again with a saddened frown. This is serious, and I have to warn Zelda. Her powers have waned too, so if she were to be attacked by a guardian…

Link doesn’t seem to want to finish his sentence, as the possibility would most likely be sinister. While Sidon wishes the hero could stay a little more, he certainly cannot get in the way of the princess’s protection. He’s about to speak again, but an echoed voice resonates in the cave.

“Master Link?”

Link’s head snaps to the side, suddenly seeming hyper-aware of the fact that he’s bare under the eyes of anyone that could walk in. Sidon looks to the source of the noise as well to recognize Guardsman Dunma, who stands somewhat awkwardly at the entrance of the cave.

“I am extremely sorry to bother you,” the woman says as she bows in apology. “But I have come to warn you of Princess Zelda’s arrival in the domain. She demands that she sees you as quickly as possible.”

The Hylian swallows hard, nodding quickly to Dunma as she leaves. Before he can leave the water, he shoots a glance to Sidon in request that he turns away once more, until the Hylian’s dressed again.

But once he’s done, Sidon decides to step out as well. “May I join you, my friend?” He asks, letting the droplets of water fall at the tip of his fingers. “If possible, I wish to introduce myself to her. I will leave if the matter does not require my attention.”

No, come with me, Link signs rapidly, tying his damp hair back into the usual low ponytail. Whatever it is, we have to tell her about the guardian anyway.

They only need to take a few steps out to find the princess of Hyrule outside, standing by Mipha’s statue. Her hands are bundled together in worry,  throat tightened as her gaze finally meets the duo. With a push to her feet, she strides towards them, finding herself in front of Link despite her eyes being directed towards the tall Zora.

“Oh, good evening -” she stutters, seemingly impressed by his height, as anyone would be. “I am Zelda, princess of Hyrule. And you must be…?”

At her hesitation, Sidon nods to her words. “Sidon, prince of the Zora. It is a pleasure to finally meet you in person,” he says.

Zelda brings a hand to her mouth, gasping in wonder. “Incredible! You’ve grown so tall, I didn’t think…”

“...Pardon me?” Sidon asks, tilting his head in confusion.

“Oh- Silly me, you most likely don’t remember,” the princess corrects herself. “We have met before, although you were much younger. I am glad that you seem to be doing well, however…”

Right; obviously, he must have crossed her path a hundred years ago, Sidon realizes. He was only a young child back then, so his memories of whoever he’s met are rather fuzzy - still, he does feel like he’s being a bit rude by not remembering his encounter with her, although Zelda doesn’t seem to mind. Instead, her eyes direct themselves to the injuries.

“Did something happen?” She asks, her brow furrowing.

“A guardian surged in Upland Zorana and attacked us,” Sidon replies, resting a hand on Link’s shoulder. “It did quite a bit of damage, but Link arrived just in time to save us.”

“A guardian?” Zelda asks, her shoulders stiffening. “Link, didn’t you say that guardians were not supposed to function anymore?”

I did, the Hylian replies, allowing himself more time to sign now that he’s out of the water. I don’t know why or how it showed up. I was about to leave the domain so I could warn you about it.

“This might be linked to the reason why I arrived here so hurriedly,” Zelda utters, taking the Sheikah slate out of its slot. “I warped to Hateno village to ask Purah about the sensor, it turns out that… it is detecting something, although we can’t seem to see it. Purah said that it could be underground…”

Sidon isn’t quite sure what the princess is speaking of, so he looks over Link to see his reaction. All that passes the Hylian is a thoughtful hum, his teeth seemingly gritting.

How could the guardians be underground? Link asks, his hand signs still a bit awkward. There are no tunnels under Hyrule, are there?

“Not that I know of,” the woman replies with a sigh. “We’ll need to investigate this thoroughly. I can’t let the safety of my people be threatened once again.”

The determined shine in her eyes contrasts with the defeated obscurity of Link’s own. What do we do now? He asks.

“Since the danger appeared here, I believe it is wise for us to stay and investigate the surroundings of the domain,” Zelda utters with a finger brought to her chin, before her stare moves to Sidon once again. “That is, if you do not mind us staying here for a few days.”

“Of course not, Princess,” Sidon replies, bowing to her. “You and Link are welcome to the domain for as long as you wish. And I shall help with the investigations as much as I can.”

She gratefully nods before focusing her attention on Link once more. “By the way… What about Daruk’s protection? I thought this power made you completely invulnerable to guardians.”

The question might not be aimed at Sidon, but it still somehow manages to pierce through his heart after what his friend had revealed to him. And Link’s displeased expression is enough to tell him that he wishes he didn’t have to say it again.

Despite it, he explains it to her just as well as he had to Sidon, though he tries to keep it brief this time. The prince understands that the knight wouldn’t want to show weakness to his princess, so he stands by quietly until he’s done signing.

Zelda’s hands drop to her sides as her gaze locks onto him.

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

*

It’s hard to find the will to go find some rest after everything that has happened, at least, for Link it is. For some reason, he hadn’t imagined that he would have to lie down again so soon while they seem to have much more important matters to deal with at the moment; but well, he’s not in the wild anymore, and walking around in the domain in the middle of the night might not be the best option.

It’s a delight to be able to sleep in an actual bed, though. The king had thankfully offered guest rooms in the palace for him and the princess, but he feels almost inadequate as he walks into the hallway by Sidon and Zelda’s side.

Zelda finds her own room, stepping in and locking the door behind herself with a goodnight and two guards standing tall outside of her room, no less. And when Link arrives to his own room, he realizes that he will be guarded as well. How unusual.

“Here is your room, Link,” Sidon says as he opens the door and gestures inside. The Hylian realizes that most rooms are built this way in the domain; a large, round room surrounded by pillars, the entirety of it made out of blue marble. Luminous stone lamps illuminate the place at this time of night, something that he can cover with a silk cloth when he decides to sleep. In the middle of the room is a cistern full of water, and Link supposes that this would be where a Zora guest would sleep; however, there is a king-sized bed as well, something a lot more convenient for him. He looks to Sidon with a grateful smile before the prince decides to speak up.

“How are you feeling, my friend?” He asks, concerned. “These events surely have shaken us all; I do not think Princess Zelda had ill intentions when she asked you about the powers you unfortunately lost.”

Link thinks back on the conversation - he can understand why Zelda would’ve wanted to know about the spirits leaving him, and he can’t deny that he should’ve talked to her about it before.

But truth be told, it was too difficult. With the calamity gone, he didn’t expect this subject to ever come up, so he had pushed it away. Just like how it was when Ganon fell, his heart feels icy, and he feels as though he should be ashamed for not being able to keep the spirits here.

He doesn’t know. He supposes it’s best that Zelda knows now, at least, that he’s surely not as useful as he used to be.

“I will let you rest now, my friend,” the prince says, holding the doorknob in his hand. “If anything comes up, my quarters are at the end of this hallway. Do not hesitate to reach out; the guards will let you in. Alright?”

The Hylian nods softly, waving goodbye to his friend before the door is closed behind him. He then finds himself alone in the room, looking between the bed and the bathing room.

Letting himself soak in a long, warm bath doesn’t sound half bad.

*

Mipha would always wait for him at the domain, something that Link had started to find endearing. He’s not quite as welcome in Rito village because of that winged prick Revali, and the other two cities are rather inaccessible most of the time, so it always feels nice to be welcomed so warmly by the Zora princess herself.

Link would often come to help the Zora warriors with their training in preparation for the day that the Calamity would strike. He’ll admit that a lot of them aren’t taking this seriously enough, as it was only a prophecy, but he hopes that they will all be prepared enough just in case the day does come.

He’s rather confident, especially now that Mipha is here to encourage him and heal his wounds if necessary.

“I believe we can do anything, as long as we are together,” Mipha utters, looking to the distant domain as she stands at the cliff near the Veiled Falls. Link sits only a few meters away, breathing in the cool air of a region that feels much calmer than anywhere in Hyrule at the moment.

Her hold on her Lightscale Trident is light, and Link looks to her back, his cheeks feeling just a bit warmer. He’s not sure if she’s including the other champions when she utters the word ‘together’, but he’s not going to ask.

“I am worried about my people,” she whispers, but clearly enough so that the Hylian can hear. “They do not seem to realize what danger crawls under our world. I know my father worries as well.”

When Link hears the subtle sorrow in the light sound of her voice, he stands up to slowly walk over to her. She’s still facing her home domain, wistful and deep in thought as the Hylian approaches to timidly try and rest two hands on her shoulders.

He stops himself when she lets the words spill again. “May I tell you the truth, Link?” She asks, and the Hylian champion lets out a hum of approval.

“Us Zoras can sense certain events ahead of time, like a storm, or the apparition of a beast,” she begins, her eyes now directing themselves to the lake below. “I did not want to worry the princess, nor did I want to cause panic, but - I can sense that something immensely horrific is soon to befall us.”

Link’s pulse raises itself just lightly at the words. He doesn’t want to believe it, but who he is to deny the words of the Zora princess? He can only hope that when it comes, he will be ready.

“When it does come, I will have to face my fate with Ruta. My father and my brother may not know yet that these moments might be my last here, and eventually, I will leave them behind…”

Link swallows at the thought. He finds himself at a complete loss for words at her side, suddenly finding the sight of the domain a lot darker than it was a few minutes ago. The entire city shrouds itself in black smoke, a cloud that twirls and swallows everything it sees, and Link’s stomach leaps.

The moon is crimson, burning into Link’s retinas. He can’t seem to take his eyes off of it, however, as it forces itself into his soul, tearing to shreds the memories, the emotions, the courage, until there’s nothing left.

His hollow shell looks down to the domain again, finding corpses of his friends, eviscerated, dismembered, beheaded. The blood rains above them, covering Link’s hands, dripping into his mouth like poison as he can do nothing but watch.

The screams ring into his pointed ears as they bend down, and somehow, something prompts him to look back at the Zora princess.

His terrified gaze meets the sight of a distorted face, obsidian eyes decomposing and dripping like mush, an open mouth with no tongue. The Hylian’s breath catches itself in his throat as he painfully recognizes the broken body of Mipha, decaying with every second, losing color wherever Link’s eyes land.

His pulse races. His blood boils beneath his veins.

And the feeling of claws scraping at his throat keeps him alert through the horror.

“Just like you left me behind,” Mipha growls, her thumb claw finding itself right under his jaw, digging into the skin. The Hylian looks up into the sky, finding the moon again, letting himself be blinded to forget, forever .

Her claw pierces his skin, and it shakes him awake like a violent earthquake. With a sharp gasp, he bolts upright, feeling his throat almost drying up when the air reaches him.

For a few seconds, he breathes heavily, looking down onto the covers. With a fist tightly clenched around the fabric, Link wipes the cold sweat off his brow with his other hand.

Everything is gone - from the friends he doesn’t remember, to the blood moon, the calamity, then Mipha - it’s all gone, and he’s alone, sitting on the bed of the guest room in the Zora palace.

With time, his breathing steadies itself, until its rhythm goes back to normal.

The nightmares aren’t memories. The nightmares aren’t memories. The nightmares aren’t memories , he has to sign to himself in order to truly believe it.

Yet, all the images he keeps of his old friends are those of blown up corpses, monsters with no faces, and even Mipha feels like she had never been real.

He lies on his side, and tries to find sleep once again.

Chapter Text

It’s the sunlight through the curtains that finally wakes Link up, and the transition is a lot smoother than any kind of nightmare. The Hylian can hardly believe he managed to find rest again after that dream, but it makes a little more sense when he looks at the wall clock, which indicates that it’s already eleven in the morning.

He’s usually not one to sleep in late, but he guesses it doesn’t hurt every once in a while. However he does wish it wouldn’t happen in dire times like these. Before he can feel guilty, he stops ruminating and instead decides to start his day by splashing cold water on his face and slipping on his Hylian tunic - he’d rather not be reminded of the blue hue of the Champion’s tunic. At least, not today.

Link assumes that Sidon and Zelda must’ve been awake long before him. As he leaves the guest room, the morning guard greets him with a smile that's as fresh as the day.

“Good morning, Master Link!” Rivan exclaims, straightening his posture. “How was your night? I see that you’ve gotten a well-deserved rest,” he beams through a toothy grin, and Link does feel a bit overwhelmed, hearing such enthusiasm first thing in the morning.

You could say that, Link replies with a nod, completely brushing aside the nightmare he experienced. If someone needs to know about it, at least he knows it’s not Rivan, as friendly as he is. Say… You wouldn’t happen to know where Princess Zelda and Prince Sidon are, would you?

Rivan brings a finger to his chin, humming thoughtfully. “I do not know of the princess’s whereabouts, but Prince Sidon did mention going to the clinic to visit his friend. You will surely find him there.”

Link nods in thanks; he supposes he’ll have to find Zelda later. For now he lets his steps bring him out of the palace, his eyes still a bit bleary from the restless sleep. He reaches the clinic in only a few minutes, saluted by one of the nurses at the entrance who doesn’t even ask him to state his business - she knows very well. Again, the smell of all those medicinal herbs isn’t his favorite, but he supposes he can handle it.

He only needs to enter the hallway to notice the presence of the Zora prince a few meters away, walking in the opposite direction. His expression is one that Link had admittedly never quite seen on him before, - Sidon looks almost mournful, regretful, perhaps something else that the Hylian can’t comprehend. But as soon as the tall Zora notices Link, he changes completely.

“Oh, Link!” He says, his tail flicking slightly. “My friend, I did not expect to see you now. Are you here to see Laflat?”

Link nods, bringing his hands up to sign. And I wanted to see you too. I was wondering what we were going to do from here on - have you discussed anything with Zelda?

“Princess Zelda wishes to gather information on the recent occurrences around our domain,” Sidon begins, gesturing vaguely to the view outside the window. “I'm sure you've noticed the shift in color in the shrines, for example… I cannot help but think that this is related to yesterday’s disaster. I know that my father will examine the Sato Koda shrine a bit later today as well.”

Link agrees with a hum; that seems to be the only thing they can really do for now. His head shot upwards to face his taller friend the best he can.

I wanted to tell you something, too, he begins, swallowing dryly. He might need to address his concerns as quickly as possible if he wants to be in the best state of mind, after all.

“What is it, Link?” Sidon asks, tail perking up in interest.

Despite the prince's question, it takes Link some time to feel like signing again. Hesitation creeps up into his thoughts, making him believe that, perhaps, now isn’t truly the right time. He feels a little stupid to act like this, but he supposes it’s not the worst thing that’s happened.

...Nevermind, actually. He finally dismisses it with a wave of his hand. We’re all busy right now, I think I’ll keep it for later.

A hint of disappointment and worry shows itself on the prince’s features; Link knows it’s not always the best feeling to be left hanging, but he’ll tell him another time, really. “I understand,” Sidon replies, his voice the usual smoothness that Link finds rather reassuring, once again. “Please do not hesitate to reach out to me if you feel the need to talk again. I have matters to attend to, but you may find me in the council chamber for the next few hours. I will see you shortly, yes?”

Link nods with a thumbs up, watching him go as the prince leaves with determination in his steps. As soon as Sidon is out of sight, Link continues to walk down the corridor, trying his hardest to block the horrible smells out of his senses and heavy atmosphere out of his mind. He’s soon enough standing right in front of Laflat’s room, knocking three times to let her know of his presence.

“Come in, Link.”

The Hylian’s lips press together. Right, Zoras can recognize smells rather easily, so he shouldn’t be surprised that she already knows who’s visiting her. He awkwardly opens the door, and he can’t seem to prevent his gaze from reaching the woman’s face and examine it quickly.

Not only did the attack  seem to have drained her energy away, her appearance has apparently taken a hit  as well. It’s hard for even him to recognize her at first. The left forefin that used to dangle over the side of her head had been amputated, leaving the left side of her face completely uncovered. It’s truly a miracle that her head wasn’t blown off - she bears a few burn marks on the scales of her cheek, staining it in pink here and there.

Link doesn’t dare to stare any longer than necessary. He can’t even begin to imagine what she must be feeling in this moment; after all, her appearance has been drastically altered, and there’s really no way to come back from this. The aching of her heart is visible on her tired features.

“It’s nice of you and Sidon to come see me,” she says, her voice soft and somewhat weakened. She must’ve slept with the same difficulty that the Hylian did. “My surgeon said I would need to stay a few days here while I recover.”

Link’s eyes shift towards the small bouquet of nightshade left on the table nearby. Great, now he feels a little stupid for not bringing anything. But at the same time… he’d never been one to believe that bouquets of flowers could alleviate such deep injuries.

One glance at Laflat’s eyes tells him she thinks the same.

Does it hurt? Link clumsily asks, ruffling a hand through his hair right after as if to remind himself how terrible he is at comforting others.

“Not so much, at least right now,” the woman slowly answers, leaning back to rest her bandaged head against the thick pillow. “Well, I have been drinking bottle after bottle of elixirs. I’m probably a little drunk on them, to tell you the truth.”

The Hylian stifles a laugh at her joke and nods along as she continues. “But I’m alive,” she adds with a feeble smile, resting a hand against her own heart. “I don’t think I want to think too much about anything else for now.”

A moment of silence passes before Link bundles his hands together, looking to the marbled floor with a bite on his lower lip. After his hundred years of slumber, Laflat was one of the friends he had made, and it was all because of Sidon; they seemed to be rather close friends. His memories after the slumber are still intact, so at least he's forgotten nothing about her.

“Sidon said that you were the one who saved us,” she utters after clearing her throat, her gaze soft and fixated on him. “Thank you, Link. Us Zoras are extremely lucky to have somebody like you on our side.”

Feeling almost embarrassed, Link shakes his head. I’m just glad I arrived in time. I’m guessing Sidon already told you about the few things we learned?

“That your Sheikah slate seems to react to guardians, although there shouldn’t be any, yes,” Laflat begins, her voice still trembling. “Link… Do you think that I can help once they let me out of this place? I may not know much more about guardians than any regular Sheikah, but I want to be useful.”

Her wide, golden eyes seem to implore him as he stays wordless for a moment, and Link isn’t quite sure what to say. The choice doesn’t really belong to him, does it?

I think it’d be fair, the Hylian signs, only wanting to reassure the woman in front of him for whom it must be painful to remain trapped in a room where she can’t do anything. He’s experienced the frustration, so he can absolutely understand. As long as it’s something that doesn’t put you in any more danger, I can try to talk to Sidon about it. I don’t think he’ll disagree.

It seems to be part of what the woman needed to at least smile, even if it’s only a small movement of her lips for now. It’s always better than nothing at all, but he just hopes she will be let out soon; her knowledge on the guardians is more vast than any other Zoras in the domain, so he knows her help would be greatly appreciated.

“Thank you so much, Link,” she finally says, sighing in relief. “I always knew I could count on you, ever since that time you’ve taken that picture of the lynel for me despite the risks.”

Link remains at her side for a good half-hour, not only discussing the situation at hand, but anything that comes to mind; after all, the two hadn’t seen each other in about six months. It’s always a pleasure for Link to have someone listen while he talks in detail about his fight against the calamity, about all the people he’s met across Hyrule, so in turn he’s glad to listen to her gush about her findings and growing collection of monsters encyclopedias.

Link can’t help but steal a glance towards the stump on her head every now and then, feeling a hint of guilt forming in his heart; what were the reasons for this accident, anyway? He’s supposed to have defeated Ganon, yet...

Thankfully, her words manage to make him brush these thoughts aside, even if only for a short moment. But he has other duties as well; so eventually, he leaves her room with a friendly wave of his hand, promising to visit her again as soon as he can.

And when the Hylian closes the door behind himself, the lump in Laflat’s throat finally starts to feel too heavy to bear. She brings a clawed hand to the side of her face, tracing the scars along her cheek, then the line where her forefin would be.

“Damn it...” she mutters to herself, tears overflowing and falling freely onto the covers of her bed now that she’s alone.

She lets herself cry for a few long moments, desperately trying to clutch something, but she only meets an unfamiliar emptiness at the side of her face. The air feels so cold against her scars. Laflat even ends up slightly poking at her own scales with her claws until something much heavier settles in her heart.

A change of atmosphere. Sudden, dark, and sinister - the pressure seems to come from all around, but especially from the room next to her own.

Right, that’s where Eki is being treated, isn’t it? The poor man had suffered injuries much heavier than hers, and there she is, complaining… but now, it’s something entirely different she has to worry about.

The smell of death invades her senses. No, not death- something that is somehow worse, all coming from Eki’s room. The presence is so strong that she feels like her heart is about to be crushed.

She isn’t certain how long this poisonous aura remains for. But once she can feel herself breathe again, there’s one thing she knows for certain - and she soothes her own heart by resting a hand against it once more.

His suffering has come to an end.

*

When Link leaves the room, he hides himself from another visitor nearby.

One of the Lake Zoras who was there during the attack at Upland Zorana is standing up straight, speaking to two Zoras that Link manages to immediately recognize; after all, he’d met them many times after his numerous visits to the clinic during his quest.

The Lake Zora in question is Vetli, a violet-scaled Zora with a threatening gaze. The fin she bears on her head is so large and heavy that it falls in front of her face most of the time, but in this moment, her temper seems to flare it the point that it’s fully raised. She’s clenching her fists, her lace-like tattoos showing on her tense muscles. Link had spoken to her multiple times during his visits to the domain, but only really knows her as an acquaintance.

The two people who stand before her are part of the clinic’s staff. The woman is Felephun, the head nurse with bright lavender scales, and the much taller man next to her is Najon, the head doctor of this place. His brown and white scales are hidden beneath a white lab coat, thin, long ulnar fins almost brushing the floor as he lets his arms rest at his sides and a long tail resting against his back in defeat. The two bear solemn gazes, remaining calm as a somber frown passes through Vetli.

“They said you were the best doctor in this damn clinic.” she mutters, raising her hand, although it’s like she refuses to touch him. “They said you could save him. And now, you tell me that he’s dead?”

Link can only guess she’s talking about Eki. Oh, Hylia... he can’t say he expected the news about him to be very bright, considering the injuries he’d suffered, but still… Vetli  had just been so hopeful . The two had seemed to be really close friends.

“I am very sorry,” Najon whispers, bowing his head in apology. Felephun does the same, although there’s something blank in her stare, something that Link instantly frowns at.

“Bullshit,” Vetli answers, somehow keeping a low voice, a tough composure that threatens to break, yet somehow never does. “It’s your job, you don’t get to feel that. I don’t want your apologies, especially not in front of--”

She suddenly points an accusatory finger towards the head nurse, her claw close to the underside of the other’s jaw, yet Felephun doesn’t budge. Instead, she simply stares down with a frown,  a spark of something lights up inside her golden eyes.

Vetli doesn’t even finish her sentence. “Whore,” she hisses, baring her teeth, “You’d better get out of my sight.”

Link’s ears perk up at those words. Now, that seems like an entirely different kind of argument he’s not aware of, but he’s not going to try to understand it.

Although the circumstances have changed now. Someone died from this attack. If there was one victim, there might be others. The Hylian can’t say he knew Eki that much - during his journey, he had made friends with some of the Lake Zoras. They, along with Sidon and some other younger Domain Zoras, all accepted him as he was without ever blaming him for the death of Lady Mipha. He felt… welcome, in a strange way, whenever they would let him stay at their side.

“Why did you have to be the one to take care of him? Why would I trust you, of all people?” Vetli asks, her finger still poking at the other’s throat even as Felephun tilts her head back. Her expression shifts - now, all that can be seen on the nurse’s face is utter disdain.

“Now, please-” Najon interrupts, placing a hand against Felephun’s shoulder to pull her closer to himself and away from Vetli. “I know you are upset, Miss Vetli, but I cannot let you threaten her like this. Dear Felephun, will you please go back-”

“No,” the head nurse cuts in, standing so straight that she nearly makes herself look taller. “Let her threaten me all she wants. I know that she won’t go further than this.”

“You--!”

Najon has to step in again , separating them with an exasperated sigh. “This is really not how I had wanted this to go… Please, will you have some respect for your friend who just passed away?”

The glare that Felephun throws to the doctor is one that could pierce like a thousand knives. But Najon’s scales seem much tougher than her silent threat. They have a wordless exchange in a matter of seconds, seemingly coming to the conclusion that Felephun has to leave immediately. The lavender Zora walks away at once, leaving behind her the Lake Zora and the head doctor to stand face to face.

“My apologies for bringing Felephun here,” Najon utters, adjusting his collar. “I was unaware that your relationship is so tense… either way, there is something you must know.”

Vetli’s headfin falls down in front of her face once more, completely hiding one side of it. The subconscious gesture looks almost like an abandon of hope.

“Before he passed away, Sir Eki… said that he wanted you to take his place as the leader of the Lake Zoras’ community. You, along with another gentleman named Tova.”

Nothing that Najon says seems to elicit any sort of reaction within the young woman. She’s shaking her head, pushing her headfin away from her face, her hand rubbing at her tense wrist.

“Do you wish to see his body?” The doctor finally asks, and Vetli nods without hesitation.

After they enter Eki’s room, Link decides to wait in the corridor for a few minutes. No matter how well he may have been hidden behind that wall, Zoras are Zoras, so they probably smelled his presence. It would probably be rude to leave without saying a word to Vetli…

Minutes pass, and once the violet Zora comes out, Link finally dares to show himself. He places his hands behind himself and steps in front of her.

“Oh, Link.”

Soon, her tall silhouette is in front of him. Vetli looks down to the Hylian, gaze more piercing that any he’s ever seen before. Her large headfin flattens at the realization that it’s just him - thankfully, someone she considers a friend. It doesn’t take long for Link to realize that she has more tattoos on her body now than the last time he’d seen her.

I heard what happened, he signs, bowing his head. You have my condolences.

The light of sun shines behind her from the windows, making her face dark as her expression remains the same. The soul-crushing truth has left her with an empty gaze, one that still somewhat reflects the image of her friend’s body lying on the clinic bed.

Had she ever been trained for such a thing?

Link doesn’t dare to ask. “...Thanks,” she simply replies, and at first, Link believes she’s going to stop at that. But she seems to have more to say. “Sorry about… What you saw, between me and the nurse.”

Link shakes his head, unwilling to ask her about such a thing right now. It isn’t the time.

This shouldn’t have happened, Link signs, always making sure that the woman looks at him. I’m sorry. I can’t help but think I’m responsible, after all-

When her gaze illuminates, Link freezes in place - slowly, she brings a hand to his shoulder, something a lot more gentle than whatever he expected. He can feel it. The anger that forms a ball of fire in her core, the restraint she uses to hide it; now that he thinks about it, Vetli seems to be the most suited to become the Lake Zoras’ leader, because she’s pretty fucking terrifying when she wants to.

“Saying this isn’t going to get us anywhere, Link, alright?” She says, her voice feeling like icicles dripping in a cave. “It happened, there’s nothing we can do about it anymore.”

Her words aren’t so reassuring, and Link can’t bring himself to do anything but gulp.

“You’re not at fault in this. You saved us,” she continues, letting go of his shoulder. “Don’t blame yourself again.”

After only a few seconds of silence, he quickly nods in response. Right, this woman must know just what it feels like, considering she was the one holding Eki when he fell to his knees in the uplands.

“Sorry, Link, but,” Vetli starts, averting her eyes as her tail droops behind her back. “I’d like to be alone for a while.”

The Hylian doesn’t question it. While she remains in the corridor, leaning against the wall, Link carefully steps away.

*

Once again, Mipha’s statue towers tall above him, looking down like a watchful spirit.

Link would often stop there to gaze up at her, just as many Zoras did. A lot of love was poured into this statue; whoever made it must’ve admired her, perhaps even loved her - everyone loved Mipha, apparently. She was supposed to be the queen, the great ruler to the Zora people, but now all that remains of her is this luminous stone statue in the plaza.

It’s difficult enough for himself, who barely has any of his memories - he can only imagine what her loved ones must feel, even after all these years. Sidon and King Dorephan always remain positive even now, so it’s difficult to imagine that someone this precious had left them so early in life.

When the Hylian had come here the first time to save the domain from Vah Ruta’s relentless rain, he had learned that… the Zora princess was in love with him. She even made a Zora armor just for him, with one of her scales placed into it.

But she had never given it to him herself.

Why hadn’t she? Was she told not to? Was she afraid? Link doesn’t know, and he most likely never will. That armor had been given to him a hundred years after her death, only because its purpose would help in stopping Vah Ruta. It just wasn’t the same . He only learned about its true purpose after, that she was going to propose to him with it.

What he hates the most about it all is that he doesn’t remember any of this. One single memory of Mipha had come back after all this time, just one . What is he meant to do with it? All he knows is that she healed his arm once - anything else comes from her diary that he had been allowed to read, events that he can’t even picture after all of these years.

Did he love her at all? His emotions didn’t come with the memory. Whenever he reminisces, he is only a spectator of something that he doesn’t recall happened. Only he can know about his own feelings, yet it looks like the shrine of resurrection took it all away.

He feels almost guilty wearing the Zora armor for that reason, so he only wears it in case of extreme necessity. Even holding the Lightscale Trident feels like an affront towards her - whatever they all say, he didn’t earn it. He should’ve been there for her. He shouldn’t have left her in that machine to die alone, to be slaughtered by Waterblight Ganon.

Perhaps her spirit would’ve known if he did love her. Perhaps he should’ve asked when she was still here with him. But it’s over now. Even in his dreams all he can expect is for her silhouette to come out in the most disturbing ways, repeating that it was his fault, after all.

The image from the previous night comes back - of her soulless husk hovering in front of him, eyes putrefying and claws overgrown, just to haunt him in his lonely moments as the dread envelops him.

“Link?”

The Hylian’s ears jump up at the sudden sound of his name, recognizing the voice of Zelda who unknowingly pulls him out of his endless cycle of doubt and self-blaming. He smiles through his turmoil and acknowledges her with a slow nod.

“Forgive me for interrupting you,” the princess says timidly, her eyes moving between him and the statue; he would rather be speaking to the living right now, anyway. “King Dorephan is soon to leave the domain for Upland Zorana, to see the shrine for himself. Would you like to join us?”

Of course Link will join. The Zora monuments had taught him that the king has fought a guardian before, but he also knows he’s not in a good enough shape to do the same again. The more people there are to protect whoever comes along, the safer they will be - so Link nods to her question, following her to the palace.

It takes very little time for them to meet up, and Sidon is present as well. The seriousness he displays is about the same as when the two were facing Vah Ruta together. Numerous guardsmen have been required to come along to defend them, and of course, everyone present has a shield in case things were to go awry once again.

It’s raining by the time they reach the uplands, making the ground muddy and difficult to tread onto, but that’s not going to stop them in the slightest. There’s still a lump of anxiety in the Hylian’s throat at the idea that another guardian could appear, and truth be told, it seems to be the case for everyone else; as they walk along, tense whispers are exchanged and it’s not until they find the guardian’s ‘corpse’ that the group falls silent.

Perhaps it’s not so impressive to Link, who’s been seeing these practically everyday, but some Zoras remain slack-jawed, gazing at the beast’s monstrosity and the unfamiliar material of which its shell is made. All its lights are off and the only glow they can detect is the one from the Sato Koda shrine, which remains crimson like the blood spread onto the grass only the day before.

Link’s nose scrunches up as he remembers what he’d seen. Zelda is one of the first few to come forth, approaching the remains of the guardian to examine its claws and central eye. The Hylian champion is mostly checking his surroundings at this point, ready to strike at any moment if anything were to show up; after all, ever since the Calamity had fallen, monsters made their home in the uplands as well.

“I assume that you were informed of… the passing of one of our civilians,” Sidon’s voice comes quietly to only Link, rather formally at that. “May I be truthful with you, Link?”

The Hylian whirls around to face him, nodding quickly.

“Before yesterday, we did have a few… problems , with the shrines, that is. Like Sato Koda that you see just here,” he continues, gesturing to the crimson-colored structure, “This red glow has only started appearing a few days ago, according to several witnesses. For a moment, we believed that they were simply malfunctioning, but it seems it goes beyond that.”

Link’s eyes shoot a glance to the shrine in the distance, puzzled by it all. He’d only activated this one a month ago, so why…?

You think this is related? He asks, looking back up at the prince.

To this, Sidon finds himself looking at the ground in deep thought. “Well, it is only a hypothesis, of course,” he explains, then requests Link to come closer with a gesture. “While they check the guardian, would you come with me to the shrine? Perhaps there is more that you can tell us, considering you’ve used it before.”

Link nods vigorously, following closely behind Sidon as they go. The view isn’t so clear because of the thick curtain of rain, something that Link had started to ignore anyway. Indeed, the parts that usually glow orange or blue are now red, and that red seems to be the same as the light that guardian flickered while it was still ‘alive’. He would venture inside to check, but…

No, the last time he went into a shrine, he almost got obliterated by a simple guardian scout. And… its behavior sounds familiar, doesn’t it? The claw against his chest as he tried to escape, the irregular movements that contradicts their usual programming…

How could he have forgotten this? Had he been knocked out well enough to leave his memories of the event completely fuzzy?

That makes too many malfunctions for this phenomenon to be normal. He’s about to explain his own experience to Sidon before his hand settles itself onto the pedestal, his thoughts meddling together; and something else glows in the corner of his eye.

He steps back with a startled sound, instinctively putting an arm in front of Sidon to protect him. On the ground, oozing from the shrine, rests a small mass of black and red matter. It's some kind of goo that moves on its own, pulsating like sick flesh; it spreads around itself in thick, black stripes, emanating a crimson smoke that forms particles of ash, something that disappears as soon as it’s too far from its source.

Sidon, tell them all to come over here, Link signs in panic, pointing to the lump in question repeatedly. I think this is malice. We probably need to take samples of that.

“What…?” Sidon mutters his question with a hung mouth, eyeing the substance with a slight grimace. He looks like he’s about to ask more questions, but as he realizes how urgent it is, he turns around to call for the others - his father, the guardsmen, and a few researchers. They walk over hurriedly as Zelda follows, fear spreading across her features; the princess knows more than anyone else what this curse can do. She looks to the mass with a creased brow, flinching only slightly when one of the researchers pushes her to the side a bit brutally to access it.

Don’t touch that shit, Link signs in his face so that he sees it clearly and doesn’t stupidly hurt himself. Put your finger on it, and it’ll burn like lava. Have you brought any tools?

“Yes,” the scientist stutters, a lot more intimidated by the champion than Link expected. Oh well, it’s always better than to be sneered at, he guesses. The awkward Zora mutters to himself as he ruffles through his bag to take out a few glass jars, gloves, and a sort of reinforced shovel. With a quick order, he requests help from his peers as the rest watch the surroundings.

“So the malice is still here...” Zelda whispers to herself, something that the other Hylian can still hear. “This can’t be. I sealed it all away with my power, it shouldn’t…”

“Princess,” Sidon politely cuts in after realizing that she won’t finish her sentence. “I mean no disrespect, but… is it possible that some of it might have escaped your grasp? Hyrule is vast, and if I recall correctly, Ganon’s malice was spread in many places.”

Zelda sighs, putting her hands together. “I don’t know. If this is what the Sheikah slate is reacting to, if it’s truly underground… Perhaps there’s more than what we expected.”

Link bites at the inside of his cheek. Fucking hell. Would it mean that all that work was for nothing, then? What if Ganon manages to emerge with what remains of his malice? He could gather it all and crawl out of the depths of Hyrule once again. After all this, after the champions left…

Would Link really have to be a hero again?

“There is no need to feel guilty, Princess,” Dorephan says, his voice remaining calm despite the implication of their new find. “The malice seems to be invading our home, and we must act quickly and do something . This lies in my hands; after all, if I had done something sooner, we would not have lost a civilian.”

The Hylian’s throat tightens, his brow sweating despite the rain. Memories of a lost daughter seem to pass the king’s eyes as he thinks to himself, soon finding the will to speak again, loud and clear.

“We require a Sheikah researcher’s help immediately. Unfortunately, it would take days for a letter to arrive to them, let alone for them to come, even if they have a horse,” the giant Zora continues, “And in that time, more incidents are bound to happen.”

I can reduce that timespan, Link suddenly signs, gesturing for the Sheikah slate strapped to Zelda’s belt. We’ll probably need more than one ancient technology expert. I know some of them hide in Kakariko - With the slate, I can warp to their village in a second to immediately make a request. We’ll only have to wait until they arrive here - three days at most.

Zelda nods continuously as she takes out the slate from its slot. “Link is right,” she says, her voice still shaken from the news. “If we write a letter signed by both you and I, King Dorephan, Lady Impa will know what to do.”

Sidon hums lowly, putting a finger to his chin. “It certainly sounds like the best option we have,” he replies, “And while we wait for them, we should of course put the domain under extreme surveillance. Link, may I come with you to Kakariko?”

He sounds determined, but Dorephan replies before Link even can. “You will stay here , Sidon.” The king objects firmly with the most authority Link has ever heard from him. “Your people need you, and your injury is still healing.”

The disappointment is obvious in the way Sidon’s mouth falls shut. He still looks to Link,  who feels like he at least owes the prince an explanation.

He’s right, the Hylian adds, hoping that Sidon wouldn’t be too disheartened from that fact. Besides, only one person at once can warp with this. I’m sorry.

“Oh, I understand,” Sidon replies, nodding in begrudging acceptance. “I shall wait for you here, then.”

“Let us head back once the scientists are done,” Dorephan speaks up again, utterly mistrustful of his surroundings after what he’s seen wriggling on the ground by the shrine. “I shall write this letter, and make an urgent public announcement. After this, Link, we will count on you.”

The Hylian champion does dread it, but it’s a matter of life and death at this point. And he’s nothing if he can’t protect Hyrule.

He offers a determined nod, silently swearing that he’ll do anything to prevent another disaster from unleashing upon them.

*

Link had wasted no time vanishing off the face of Lanayru as soon as Dorephan had handed him his letter. This way, he’s faster than any courier, even the trained Rito ones. He barely stops to talk to any of the residents of Kakariko village as he races to Impa’s mansion. Honestly, he’s pretty familiar with the place, perhaps a little more than any other outsider would be. His stops to Kakariko village during his journey had been numerous, even if he sometimes didn’t need them at all.

Link bows in front of the old village chief, waiting a bit impatiently as Impa reads Dorephan’s letter. He wishes the woman could read a little faster, but he can’t complain much, can he? She’s probably older than time itself.

“It is both signed by King Dorephan and Princess Zelda,” she finally utters, voice weaker than last time Link’s heard it. “I see that Zora’s domain seems to be in great trouble, just like the people of Gerudo town.”

Link’s head shoots up, meeting her focused eyes. What did you say?

“A group of Gerudo women have reported guardian sightings to us only a few days ago,” she replies, nodding to herself. “Naturally, we sent a few of our experts to the desert to try and understand the problem. I have not heard from them since; Gerudo town is a long ways from here, after all.”

The Hylian’s heart picks up a rapid pace as he processes those words. So they’re not the only ones with guardian troubles, which, honestly, is far from reassuring. He tries to remain calm anyway, but nothing is helping. Rarely anything does.

So do you still have a few experts in the village? The champion asks, huffing with a more visible sense of impatience. As you saw in the letter, we already have a victim. We can’t waste anymore time.

Impa sets the letter aside with a long sigh. “You may go back to the domain without fear,” she replies with a serious look. “Our experts will be on their way by the end of this afternoon. If you are needed there, I suggest that you go back; the Sheikah slate might be of great use to Princess Zelda.”

Link’s ears fall down, his shoulders dropping in slight relief. He knows he can trust Impa on this; after all, the royal family of Hyrule had trusted the Sheikah for thousands of years. He finally stands back up, discreetly looking around the main hall with sideways glances.

“Is something the matter, Link?” Impa asks, her eyes hidden from how barely she raises her head.

Where’s Paya? He signs to her, almost clumsily.

“Oh…” Impa thinks to herself before her head gestures towards the stairs. “In her room, I believe. Would you like to see her?”

Link hesitates for a moment, looking to the stairway that leads to the second floor of the mansion. It’s something he’s thought over, but…

Does she know I’m here?

The village chief seems to think on her answer for a moment, something that Link finds suspicious, but he won’t mention it. “She has been studying thoroughly lately,” she eventually replies. “She may not have heard you come in.”

Nevermind then, Link signs with a dismissive wave of his hand. Please don’t tell her I came here. I have to go now.

“Of course, Link,” the old lady replies without question, and the Hylian is grateful for that. “I hope to see you soon, then.”

The Hylian acts fast as he heads outside, descending the stairs to get as far as the mansion as possible. The fact that guardians had been sighted in the Gerudo desert is even more odd to him than anything else; no guardians ever crossed the sand, yet there they are, rampaging. He can only hope that the people of Gerudo are fine, and that unlike the Zora Domain, they haven’t had any casualties.

When he’s close enough to the village gate, he takes out the Sheikah slate and pulls up the map of Hyrule on the screen. With a deep sigh, he taps to the Ne’ez Yohma shrine, feeling himself evaporate as he’s taken back to the domain.




Chapter Text

The domain already seems to be in a panic by the time Link comes back.

King Dorephan must’ve already announced the news and the necessary safety precautions, seeing how all the guards are gathered near the plaza and listening to Bazz with the utmost attention. They’ll most likely increase the number and frequency of patrols, be it inside or outside the domain; but really, now that Link thinks about it, none of them have the right training or protection to do so. He acquired an ancient armor in Akkala a while ago, which he knows he’ll now put to great use, but what about everyone else? A single shot from a guardian’s ray can mean death if not dodged or parried properly.

He’ll have to think on it. If he has to train some of them, who will ensure the princess’s safety? Perhaps the Sheikah researchers will know of a solution, but in the meantime, his thoughts race madly while he tries to find his way through the crowd.

Once he’s further away, he notices a flash of pale purple in the corner of his eyes. He only needs to slightly turn his head  to recognize the head nurse Felephun as she makes hurried steps away from a small building that Link hadn’t visited in quite a while.

Link honestly didn’t think she would be the type to go at a tattoo parlor of any kind. The place is owned by a good friend of his, a Zora named Maror -  the only one to practice this art form in the domain. While most of these people were too ‘proper’ to dare to get a tattoo for themselves, Link will admit that the few who have them look pretty fucking cool. He’s been meaning to visit, but all the recent events had almost made him forgot.

As Felephun strides away, Link can’t help but notice the troubled expression on her features and the flush on her face, making him soon change directions to head towards the tattoo parlor. Not only is he a little curious, but he’d better go and say hi to his friend before he forgets again.

When he pushes the door open, a small golden bell chimes to let the artist know of his new visitor. The Hylian finds himself alone in the lobby, for a second considering whether or not he should leave - perhaps his friend is busy already. But before he can even turn around, something peeks out of the break room’s door.

“Ah, it’s you Link! Come in, I don’t have any customers right now,” Maror announces, as peachy as the color of his scales. One could tell right away by only his appearance that the man is an artist; lace-like designs are tattooed around both of his wrists, and an intricate, thorny vine creeps along the right side of his back up to his shoulder. Two of his four forefins bear silver piercings, and so does one the end of his tail. Now that Link looks closely, he’s added two rings on his bottom lip since the last time he’d seen him.

No wonder, Link signs, entering the break room and looking through the window. After what happened, I don’t think anyone has tattoos on their mind right now.

The Zora gives a sheepish smile, his hands crossing behind his back as he relaxes on his seat. “Yeah… It’s pretty scary. I hang out in the uplands sometimes, I didn’t know there were any guardians in that area. I know the Lake Zoras come up there too - I hope they heard the warning.”

Link breathes out a deep sigh while finding a chair for himself and sitting down. Trust me, they know, he signs defeatedly. They lost their leader this morning, so I don’t expect any of them to venture there anytime soon.

At his words, the peach-scaled Zora’s attention is all the more captured. His tendrils seem to shiver as the pink skin beneath his brow furrows, a clawed hand soon resting onto the table. “Wait,” he stops him, voice tight. “You mean Eki?”

Link nods in response. You didn’t know?

“The king didn’t give any precisions on the victim’s identity...” Maror mutters, almost to himself. “I had no idea. That kid was always pretty distant, so I didn’t know him that much, but he was a regular customer here.”

He looks around the room, seemingly feeling a certain type of dread now that the truth is revealed to him. “I don’t get it… Why didn’t Vetli tell me?”

Link’s shoulders shift up into a shrug. Right, Vetli is one of Maror’s close friends as well. She probably has a lot on her mind, he signs in response, But I thought Felephun was here to tell you about it.

As soon as the nurse is mentioned, Maror’s lips press together, his eyes flicking away from the Hylian’s. “Nah, that’s not… She didn’t tell me anything about the accident at all .”

The Hylian cocks an eyebrow at that, tilting his head. What the hell? Why didn’t she?

The tattoo artist shakes his head with a small grin. “Well, I wouldn’t know. She’s always been pretty secretive. Besides, I don’t think she knew him personally, so she probably doesn’t… care that much. You can’t expect Felephun to care about most people.”

How agreeable, Link sneers to himself. Except, he does feel like she should care, even if just a little bit - Eki was her patient, after all. But why was she here then?

The Zora goes silent for a few seconds, eyes flickering anywhere around the room as long as it isn't near his Hylian friend. His initial lack of response is rather suspicious to Link, especially at a time like this. “Lunch break. She always comes here.”

Right… Link signs, his stare still a bit incredulous. What kind of lunch?

“Shut up, man!” Maror barks out a laugh, mimicking a kick against the Hylian’s ankle. “You already know we were fucking, no need to ask.”

Link actually didn’t know what they were doing at all - he was only teasing. He has no idea why Maror would assume that the Hylian knows this. His eyes go wide for a moment, though he doesn’t think he wants to ask for the details.

Alright, whatever, Link signs, a hint of exasperation showing in his gestures. He doesn’t even know why he’s surprised - that’s just how the guy is . Well, at least now you know that you can’t hang out in the uplands anymore. Actually, it’d probably be better if everyone stayed in the domain for now.

“Ah…” Maror loses his smile when the serious matter is once again thrown at him. “Yeah, of course. I’ll just be waiting here until everything goes back to normal - you know I’m not a really good fighter.”

Link does feel his heart slightly pinch at that. Things shouldn’t have come to this. He’s about to blame himself for it all once more before he rubs at his forehead with a grumble, preparing himself to step out.

I have to go, he starts, giving a half-hearted smile. I’ll probably see you again. I kind of want one of your tattoos.

To this, Maror beams again, his toothy grin spreading across his features. “Don’t hesitate!” He exclaims, and with a salute, he lets the Hylian leave his parlor.

Link hadn’t wanted to waste too much time, so he quickly decides to go back to where he had been heading to in the first place. He takes the Sheikah slate in hand as he walks up the stairway to make it look like he just came back from Kakariko. In front of the palace he finds Sidon again, who’s seemingly been waiting for him, the prince’s eyes lighting up as soon as he sees him.

“Link!” He exclaims, striding towards his friend with enthusiasm. “You’ve come back! Will any Sheikah technology researchers be joining us soon?”

The Hylian champion nods in response, to which the prince lets out a somewhat relieved sigh. “I thank you for your help, my friend,” he continues, putting a hand to Link's shoulder “I am truly hoping that the solution to our issue will soon be found.”

I’ll report this to Zelda when I find her, Link signs, shaking his head slightly, but there’s another thing. The Gerudos are seeing guardians alive too. It doesn’t seem like it stops to Lanayru.

Sidon’s smile truly fades this time, leaving only a mouth hanging slightly open in discouragement, eyelids falling shut in realization that he’s hoping for too much. “I see...” he utters - and for once, it looks like he’s at a loss of anything uplifting to say.

Link can’t blame him for it, of course. Everyone is panicked or at least concerned in these times, so why wouldn’t he be?

Can we talk privately, though? Link finally says, eyes shifting left and right. There’s something I have to ask you.

To this, Sidon’s eyes seem to regain a bit of their light. “Of course, my friend,” he replies with a sharp nod before gesturing for him to follow.

*

Link didn’t quite expect Sidon to take him to his private quarters, but after all, there’s no other place in the domain that can truly be hidden away from prying eyes for the prince. And leaving the domain is completely out of the question, at least not without a group of guards.

They sit together at the glass table by the bookshelf, usually for the prince’s work judging from the piles of paper that Sidon pushes aside to make room for two cups of tea. Link isn’t too accustomed to sitting down and drinking that sort of thing, and while the smell of it is a bit familiar, he can’t quite put his finger on it. He curiously eyes his cup for a moment.

“It’s Cool Safflina tea,” Sidon muses as he pours some for himself as well. “Hebra Safflina, to be precise. It has much more flavor than the type that grows in the Naydra snowfield.” He says proudly, puffing his chest before he sits down.

Link stifles a laugh. He’d never thought that Sidon would be the type to be picky about the flavor of his tea, but he is a prince, after all. He keeps his remark to himself, instead bringing the cup to his lips and tasting the beverage.

...It’s rather sweet.

“So,” Sidon begins, finally sitting down. “What did you wish to ask me?”

Link thinks for a moment. He’s a little embarrassed, and honestly, very ashamed of having to ask this to him, but who else could he come to for this? He’s known Sidon for a little over a year now, and he’s always listened to the few things Link would want to admit, but this is… different .

A hundred years ago, when I came to the domain, Link begins, already serious. You were around, right?

“That is correct,” Sidon replies with a hum. “Though you’ll have to forgive me, my memories are quite fuzzy. I was very young, after all.”

Link can’t help but feel a prick of something unpleasant in his heart. Well, he can’t blame Sidon, of course - the Hylian doesn’t remember anything.

You said that Mipha loved me, he continues, and just signing the word ‘love’ has him biting at the inside of his cheek. How do you know that?

Sidon’s expression seems to change after the question. He’s pensive, his eyes soft, yet doleful, his smile watered down to something less forced. “Of course, it is one of the things I can remember quite clearly about my sister.” He explains, setting his cup down before even tasting it. “She would mention it to me all the time, you see. She even showed me the armor she was making for you, explaining to me the process, and how she’d pricked her fingers a few times,” he adds with a titter, something that has Link giving a smile of his own.

“Father and I were the only ones who truly knew. I was too young to understand the implications, but it was explained to me numerous times later on in my life,” the prince speaks up, his tail flicking lightly to the side. “Mipha was in love with you.”

There’s a silence after this, one that Link is almost afraid of breaking - but he wouldn’t have brought Sidon here alone if that was his only question.

Do you know if I loved her back?

To this, Sidon’s smile wavers. From what Link can see, he deduces that it’s not the type of question the prince expected.

“I wish I could tell you,” Sidon replies, “but unfortunately, I do not know. Are your memories still…?”

Link nods, refusing to let him finish that sentence. I can’t remember anything aside from her face. And even then, it’s… I don’t know, anything that comes to mind stops making sense after a while. I tried to think about it earlier today, but nothing works at all.

Sidon gives the impression that he wants to apologize for something he’s not to blame for, and honestly, Link doesn’t want to go there. If anyone’s to blame, it’s the Hylian himself - if he doesn’t even remember her, perhaps it means that he just didn’t care enough.

It’s difficult to think about, but it’s a possibility. What was he even like, a hundred years ago? Maybe he was the biggest asshole to walk the paths of Hyrule. It’s not like Sidon would be able to answer that, so he keeps that question to himself for now.

“I wish I could say that I understand, but that would seem rather self-centered of me. I have never been through what you went through yourself,” Sidon speaks again, slightly leaning forward. “So may I ask… How do you feel now ?”

The Hylian has to think for a moment, but again, he’s too preoccupied by recent events to truly know what he feels towards Mipha. He chooses to avoid giving a straight answer. I don’t know. My memory of her is way too distant for me to understand what was going through my head at the time, and things are even messier now.

Link swallows dryly before continuing on, addressing another matter to not linger on the discussion about Mipha too long. It brings too much heartache. I just wish I could understand what’s wrong with me, he signs, throwing his hands up in frustration. I don’t remember anything, not even my own family. Not only that - I spent two years doing what I could to destroy Calamity Ganon, yet look around, he continues, gesturing outside the window before taking another sip of his tea so that his anger wouldn’t show.

It’s back. It didn’t work, he signs with an annoyed grunt. Whatever happened, there’s something I must’ve fucked up for the malice to still be crawling around. And now, none of the champions are here to help.

He throws his head forward for a moment, hands rubbing at his scalp and thumbs tracing circles into his temples as his elbows rest on the table. No, just because Sidon accepted to talk with him doesn’t mean he has to see him like this - he quickly pulls himself together, leaning back against his chair and heaving a long sigh.

I don’t know what to do.

Sidon’s perturbed eyes say it all; yet, he stops Link from saying anything else, placing a gentle hand flat against his back.

“Unfortunately, there is nothing we can do but wait,” the prince begins, voice mellifluous and thankfully helping to sooth him a little. “Link, we will surely find a way to stop this once the Sheikah have given us their help. I’m aware of how terribly frustrating it all is. And let it be known, I feel the same way as you do.”

Because Link looks closely, he can notice right away the way the prince’s irises fill until his pupils are thin like needles. Golden eyes seem to shine under a shadow of hostility, and the hero feels the need to swallow back whatever was on his tongue.

“That malice has hurt so many of my people in the past,” Sidon continues, the muscles of his hand tensing against Link’s back. “I cannot let it consume us again. Whatever there is to do, I will do it, to ensure the safety of our domain.”

He’s never quite seen him like this, but he’s with him on this. The images that haunt him at night surely come from something he’s seen before, perhaps the dilapidated corpses of friends he’s forgotten - what if it were to happen again?

No, thinking like this will only bring all the more nightly despair. He shakes his head slightly to forget, breathing in slowly.

Do you know if… Link begins somewhat hesitantly, scratching at the back of his neck, if there’s a type of medicine against nightmares?

Sidon’s eyes widen at the sudden change of subject, but he probably realizes that it’s not so much of a change after all. Only a fool would believe that Link’s nights aren’t filled with gruesome sights. “...Sleeping alone must not be easy,” he murmurs with a compassionate smile. “Would it help you to sleep in my room, for as long as you wish?”

It’s not exactly the answer, or rather, the question that Link expected, so his head shoots up towards him, obviously bewildered.

“I do not use my bed, as I mostly sleep in my cistern every night,” the prince explains, gesturing to the piece of furniture. “If you think it will help, I will gladly welcome you here. What do you think?”

It’s a tempting offer; while Link does like his privacy, he knows that a nearby presence will make it easier. Especially if it’s Sidon , who seems to have been born with soothing powers.

Can I come tonight then?

*

Early that night, the Hylian takes his belongings away from the guest room he was offered and instead takes them to the prince’s bedroom. Of course, the guards are a little confused when they see him walk by, but he pays them no mind; he’s already tired, and he has worse troubles than whatever other people may think of him.

He sets his bag near the bed, having already changed into something more comfortable for the night. This mattress is even softer than the one in the guest room, he thinks to himself as he presses his hands on it.

“I hope this is to your liking!” Sidon’s voice comes as he steps into his pool, arms resting at the edge to face Link. “I do enjoy some scented bath pearls in my cistern when I go for the night,” he adds, looking somewhat embarrassed. “Do you mind nightshade?”

Link shakes his head, sitting himself onto the bed. I’m sure it’s great, he signs, watching as the prince takes a small, round object out of a fabric pack before delicately dropping it into the water.

“Do not hesitate to wake me up if you need anything,” Sidon says, ready to submerge himself. “And I mean it, Link. I will be here for you no matter what.”

The Hylian nods in sincere thanks, watching as Sidon sinks deeper into his pool. The water reaches right above his mouth, his body hovering near the center as his eyelids fall shut.

Link pulls the covers over himself, and he doesn’t think he’s ever slept in a bed this comfortable before. In fact, he didn’t know something this mellow even existed. Thankfully, he lies down at the right time of night; the exhaustion is already there, warding off any shifting and turning as he lets his eyes close as well.

The subtle scent of the night flower slowly comes to his nose, and he understands now why the prince must enjoy it at night. He wouldn’t be surprised if it had narcoleptic properties in that form; it’s like a soundless lullaby, a nice addition to the noises of the night. They would stress him out, were he sleeping outside like he usually does during his adventures, but he can feel safe here, under the protection of a roof and guards that watch the surroundings so he doesn’t have to for once.

And that night, nothing comes to haunt him.

*

The past few nights had already been difficult to sleep through for Riju, no matter how hard she tries not to think about the danger of her home.

Indeed, ever since Vah Naboris had been appeased, Gerudo town had become a peaceful and safe place. Her worries had finally vanished, but soon after the Calamity had been brought down, the guardians had started to crawl through the desert.

Or so she's told. It isn't something that's ever happened before, and she's never seen one of those machines herself - all that she knows is that they've been rampaging much too close to the town lately and that she's not permitted to go outside its walls.

But as the Gerudo chieftainess, she could very well disregard that ‘rule’ set by her personal guard, Buliara. But the woman seems a lot more tense than she usually is, which is almost impossible in itself. Riju doesn't wish to give her trouble.

Although, as the Gerudo chieftainess, she has to at least be aware of the exact situation, doesn't she? The wind is awfully noisy tonight, and she can see the town guards running about through the hollowed-out windows of her bedroom.

She supposes that only taking a look wouldn't be too bad.

Discreetly, she moves from under the covers, shoving her feet in her slippers before making her way to the balcony. She tries to remain as discreet as she can, because she's fairly certain that there's another guard keeping watch on her room, and she wouldn't like to be noticed.

She'd already climbed to her roof before, in the middle of the night, whenever she would need some fresh air and to see the distant horizon to let herself go over her thoughts. She's rather used to gripping at the stone nearby and propping herself up, reaching the top of the roof very soon after.

She can already feel the sand reaching her mouth. As she stands upright once again, brushing away the stray strands of hair in front of her face, her eyes meet the desert - and what she sees has her breath stopping.

A pack of three giant, spider-like machines are crawling in the distance, causing the sand to fly, to form a spiral in the air. They're attacking monsters left and right, using either their claws or their deadly ray of light to annihilate them. Her mouth hangs as she watches them, overcome by a fear she had never known before now.

Her throat tightens as she kneels back on the roof, the sound of metallic claws hitting against one another filling her ears - and as she tries to calm down, she's soon facing a shocked Buliara who's standing on the roof as well, turning back to look at her.

“Lady Riju?!” Her guard exclaims, a frown darkening her already stressed features. “By the sixth heroine, why are you outside at this hour?!”

Riju can't seem to find it in herself to answer. She's stuck on the sight of the three monsters disappearing in the distance, leaving behind them trails of blood and sand clouds.

“Please, I implore you to go back to your quarters,” Buliara hurriedly speaks as she comes closer, gently placing her hands on both of her shoulders. The older woman tries to remain calm as to not panic Riju any further. “Do not worry. They cannot reach the town. I will never let them.”

Riju trembles, but Buliara's strong voice keeps her hanging to reality. Slowly, she nods, standing back up and letting herself be guided back to her room.

She's certain that one of the victims she saw wasn't a monster - but rather, one of the vai that guard the town.

*

The sky is rather clear when a few silhouettes make themselves known at the other end of the bridge. Judging by the colors of their tunics and their hair, Link recognizes the Sheikah researchers who have made their way to the domain after three days of travel.

And it’s just about time, because while there hadn’t been any other victims, the Dagah Keek shrine is starting to act up too. The Zoras are starting to wonder when things will go back to normal, when they’ll be able to go fishing again - so far they’d been depending on whatever Ruto Lake provides, but the area is utterly impractical.

Link had been feeding himself with whatever remained in his bags, cooking for others if they felt like trying it. It’s not everyday that Zoras get to taste poultry curry, so of course, many were interested. Especially Sidon, who, from what Link understood, doesn’t get to leave the domain as much as he would like to. Perhaps he could show him around Hyrule once it’s safer.

As the group of Sheikah approaches through the bridge with their bags and their cart, Dunma turns around to look at Link, waiting on whatever he has to say.

It’s the ancient technology researchers. Let them in, I’ll go get Sidon and Zelda, he signs, to which the Zora woman nods. Before he can walk away, however, he takes a good look at the group of four Sheikah men and women, identifying one of them.

Since when had Paya been an expert on ancient technology? Seeing her in Zora’s domain is the last thing he’d expected - she was mostly doing work in Impa’s mansion, so why is she here?

He darts away, trying to pretend that he hadn’t seen her at all - he’s a bit embarrassed to see her face again.

When he comes back to them, this time he’s accompanied by the Zora prince and the princess of Hyrule. Link wishes he could remain somewhere in the back, but honestly, it’s a bit rude of him to simply avoid the researchers for the next few days.

His relationship with Paya had been… rather strange, to say the least. During his every stops to Kakariko village, she would always be the most considerate - asking him how his journey went, sometimes offering him food, a place to sleep among… other things. Yes, Link would then come to Kakariko whenever he was in need of a bit of ‘affection’.

And curse him, he knew perfectly that she held romantic feelings for him back then. It’s incredible how obvious someone can be. For him, it’d mostly started as a ‘friends with benefits’ situation, but he’d never mentioned his own feelings about her.

Whether or not it was love, Link doesn’t know. None of them had ever confessed to the other, and as soon as he had learned that Mipha loved him, he had broken whatever his and Paya’s relationship was, out of pure guilt.

“Good afternoon, Master Link,” Paya suddenly says, her voice shaking him out of his inner monologue before she salutes him as if nothing had ever even happened between them.

Please don’t call me Master, it’s weird, Link signs with an awkward laugh.   By the way, I didn’t know you studied ancient technology.

“Oh, it’s… a bit different,” Paya replies, averting her eyes for a moment. “I’m not quite an expert yet. I am still learning, but I hope I can be of help here somehow.”

Maybe that was what she’d been studying so thoroughly lately, Link thinks to himself. He wouldn’t be surprised, actually.

All the other researchers seem to be older than her. They’ve brought quite a lot of tools and supplies, some of which Link can hardly identify. They walk into the domain, welcomed by most, eyed at curiously by some; Sidon leads them to a passage, something that opens the way for a hall right under the palace with enough room for them to do whatever they need. Link wasn’t even aware this room existed before, but he supposes it’s better that they settle here, away from prying eyes.

“We brought as much of our lab as we could.” One of the Sheikah women pipes up, setting her bag to the floor and looking around. “Lady Impa said that you guys were attacked by a guardian a few days ago. Correct?”

“Indeed,” Sidon replies with a sigh, eyes downcast. “Our scientists have picked up its remains since then, but as you could expect, they were unable to do anything of use.”

Zelda steps in, stealing glances at the numerous props they take out and put together in the room, already spreading their books and other papers onto the middle table. It’s starting to look more and more like Purah’s lab, now that Link thinks about it.

“I thought that the Sheikah had stopped studying ancient technology altogether,” the princess says, catching the attention of one of the Sheikah. “That since the guardians turned against us a hundred years ago, few were allowed to practice still.”

“And you were right to think that,” the Sheikah man pipes up, scratching at his beard. He seems to be the more experienced of the four, seeing how confident he is when he arranges the tools without even looking. “Purah of Hateno and Robbie of Akkala, along with their apprentices, are technically the only ones allowed to study it - in fact, Doctor Robbie even makes guardian weapons with his furnace, if asked. As the years went by, the guardians became a serious problem before the calamity was defeated, so we decided to help in hiding by studying the malice that controls them as well. With what we have we can provide hopefully the answers you need.”

Zelda nods, eyes sparkling with interest. Before she can say anything else, the man holds out his hand, smiling brightly.

“My name is Eidri,” he begins, shaking the princess’s hand firmly. “With me are my wife Jemi and our daughter Clessie, and, of course, our apprentice, Paya. We will do whatever is needed to bring peace to Lanayru once again.”

Link glances at the three strangers. Eidri is the only man of the group, most likely the eldest. He seems to be about sixty years old, his skin looking nearly sunburnt and his beard white as snow. He shows genuine smiles to whoever he speaks to, especially when he proudly presents his wife and daughter to the others.

His wife, Jemi, is about the same age as he is. Her skin is as pale as the moon, almost as much as her hair. While she smiles in this moment too, her expression is much different from Eidri’s - her blood red lipstick brings out something mischievous in her smile, although it seems like it’s just how she looks like. Her eyes are as sharp as a cat’s, and her white hair is voluminous, cut into a inverted bob. Her large, circle earrings poke out from under two longer bangs falling at the sides of her face.

The daughter, Clessie, is probably in her mid-twenties. Her skin is somehow much darker than her parent’s, and her eyes are rounder, her cheeks dotted with freckles and her lips full. Her hair is tied into a multitude of small braids, its color a beautiful, rare lavender. Her expression is a lot more deadpan than the other two, though she seems like she listens with attentiveness, her gaze losing itself every now and then on the other people present. When her amber eyes find Link’s own, the Hylian can’t help but smile awkwardly at her - something she hardly returns.

Eidri moves to shake Sidon and Link’s hands as well, greeting them with sincere respect. “You have my thanks,” the prince speaks up, putting a hand to his chest. “Is there anything you would like us to bring you that could help you in your research?”

The Sheikah puts a hand to his chin as he thinks for a moment, eyes scanning the room. “We’re going to need torches to keep our blue flame lit, and all the guardian parts that you’ve collected from the one you’ve destroyed a few days ago. And of course, the malice samples your scientists have taken.”

“Understood,” Sidon replies, turning around as his tail flicks back. He hurries out of the hall to find the scientists, leaving the others to stay for the time being.

Zelda looks to the item that Paya is taking out of its wooden box as she sets it onto the floor near a wall. She dusts it carefully, opening the lid to reveal its emptiness, something that has the princess tilting her head in question.

“What is this?” She asks, catching Paya’s attention and startling her. She’s only seen Impa’s granddaughter for a short time while she was in Kakariko, so she doesn’t know much about her aside from her name.

“Oh- Your Majesty!” The young woman utters, straightening her posture. “This is an ancient oven. Its purpose is to create ancient gear, like weapons and armor pieces. This one is only powerful enough to create arrows and small swords, though…”

“I see,” Zelda replies, kneeling next to the oven. “How does it work?”

Panic seems to take hold of Paya’s voice as she speaks up again, stuttering mid-sentence. “We need a furnace for it to be able to work,” she says, nervously pinching at her own fingers. “We currently do not have one, but we can build one very quickly with the guardian parts the Zora people are bringing to us. Hopefully this will be of use.”

“I’m sure it will help our guards greatly,” Zelda replies, standing back up and looking around the room once again until her eyes land on the two small objects standing next to each other on the large table.

Are those miniature guardians? Link asks, approaching the table with piqued interest.

“They are,” Jemi starts, “they’re built within the ancient oven and are programmed by ourselves. Of course, they’re much simpler than regular guardians, but this allows us to experiment on them and perhaps find a solution that could help us use their larger counterparts.” She closes the distance between herself and Link before whispering in his pointed ear. “It was Doc Robbie’s idea. This is the closest we get to taking back control of the guardians, at least for now.”

To that, Link snorts a little. But soon enough Prince Sidon is returning, followed by Zora scientists who bring them the entirety of the guardian parts they’ve acquired along with the jars of malice.

“We’ll be able to test something out with this,” Jemi adds, gladly taking one of the jars and setting it on the table. “One of these guardians will be left with its weapons to defend itself, and the other one will be contaminated by the malice that you found.”

Link steps closer to the table with a newfound enthusiasm. Carefully, the woman opens the jar, taking one of the small guardians and holding it above of the lump of malice that seemingly had only been waiting for a host. A small bit of the goo jumps up, entering the guardian from under and wiggling its way inside.

Everyone's a little on edge, seeing the damage that had been done, but the Hylian watches the scene with his mouth hanging open as Jemi sets the guardian back onto the table, causing the other one to raise its weapons.

“We’d better step back,” Jemi says, getting up from her seat and gesturing for everyone to stand back a little further. Before they know it, the two small guardians are awake, one glowing blue and the other glowing red like the malice inside it.

The blue one makes a few strides towards the red, throwing a battle axe forward that the red one dodges easily by stepping back at a much faster pace. The red guardian’s six legs are moving in an irregular pattern unlike the other one who is still very much affected by its programming. It makes the red faster, its reflexes sharper, and gives it the ability to dodge any blow that the blue tries to land. Everyone watches with great interest, the guardians’ light reflected in their irises as the mechanical legs hiss and whirr at every turn.

This is awesome, Link signs, eliciting a puff of laughter from the prince and a frustrated stomp of Zelda’s foot.

Truly, anyone can tell the battle is already won. The red one uses its legs to kick the blue one over, disarming it and throwing its weapons in all directions. Claws crush the mechanisms that keep the blue one working, and soon enough, its light goes out while the victor still stands.

When the red one starts moving again, Eidri steps forward to violently poke it with a glowing blue staff - probably more ancient technology, Link thinks to himself. Sure enough, it puts the guardian out, the blue glow burning the malice until there’s nothing left inside.

Once they’re sure that everything is safe, everyone steps forward once again to approach the two motionless guardians.

You guys should sell those to kids, Link signs, trying to alleviate the mood, but he’s once again met with another scolding from Zelda.

“This blue staff you’re holding,” Sidon says as he approaches Eidri, “Can it be used on larger guardians?”

A silence comes from the three Sheikah researchers, accompanied with stares full of disbelief. At their reaction, Sidon seems to realize that he’s probably asked a stupid question. “Ah, no? We cannot do that…?” He continues, to which Jemi shakes her head with a laugh.

“Try it, you might have some issues though,” she says with a hint of sarcasm behind her voice.

“Mom!” Clessie grumbles to her. “Forget it, Your Highness. This thing was made to experiment on the miniature guardians only. Even if we made a larger one, it wouldn’t be enough to bring down a guardian stalker.”

“Anyway…” Eidri picks up on his explanation. “It’s clear that the malice you found near the shrine has… different properties,” Eidri begins, poking at the guardians once again to make sure they’re both unable to start back up. “Normal malice would simply clog the guardian’s core, disrupting its programming and changing its target. This… ‘new’ malice here,” he adds, gesturing to the glass jars brought by the Zoras. “It does much more than that - it crawls into its joints, changing the movements of its limbs and causing it to completely disregard its programming in any way, attacking whatever is in sight with movements that would be otherwise impossible.”

It takes a few seconds for them all to process the words as they look to the jars, utterly dumbfounded. It completely takes away Link’s will to crack any more jokes, so he shuts up, instead trying to understand what the hell is going on in Lanayru.

“Why would the malice be any different here?” Sidon asks, concern audible in his voice. “Would it be linked to the fact that it was underground?”

Eidri thinks for a moment before gathering the guardians’ remains. “The real question would be if the malice has become this way everywhere ,” he begins, “other Sheikah researchers like us have left for Gerudo for the exact same problem as the ones you’re having right now. A messenger is supposed to deliver us some updates on their situation, and if they obtain the same result…”

“But why would the malice have changed?” Zelda asks, bringing her hands together in worry. “If anything, I would believe that it would be weaker without Ganon to fuel it.”

After the princess had spoken, there’s a silence that drags on, and the atmosphere of the room weighs onto Link’s shoulders as he remains completely speechless.

After a hum, Jemi finally speaks up. “Perhaps this is what we thought all this time,” she starts, muttering behind her hand. “Perhaps, in fact, the malice is what fueled Ganon and not the other way around.”

“What do you mean?”

“We had a theory that Calamity Ganon had created the malice to sustain himself , rather than as a means to attack,” Jemi explains, gesturing to the jars. “And maybe to defend himself as well. In that case, while it’s still unclear why it hasn’t been sealed off with him, maybe it’s simply stronger because it doesn’t need to support Ganon anymore. It’s acting on its own, invading every guardian it sees… well, at least that’s one possibility.”

“Did you find malice anywhere else around the domain?” Eidri asks, his gaze finding Sidon’s own.

Sidon’s chin raises up in contemplation, his mouth opening to breathe in some more of the sweltering air of the room. “No, but another shrine has been glowing red,” he states, “If this is just like what happened in the uplands, some malice might be nearby… if we dig, for example.”

“Then there’s no time to waste.” The Sheikah man breathes hurriedly, taking an excavating tool that seems much more suited for the task than the one the Zora used. “Take us to that shrine, and let’s find out.”

*

The air is always a bit cooler near the waterfalls, the grass damp enough to be rather uncomfortable for Link’s uncovered ankles. He’s hurried himself out of the domain along with Sidon and Zelda, and the group of four Sheikah, their small group soon gathering near the Dagah Keek shrine to gaze at its now constant red glow in near horror.

“Indeed, something is inside the shrine,” Eidri says as he runs a hand against the surface. “I can only imagine that the entire structure is plagued by malice, and it must’ve been the case for the shrine in the uplands as well.”

Thinking for a moment, he stares at the pedestal, biting at the inside of his mouth. “Master Link,” he speaks up once more, and the Hylian straightens himself as he hears his name. “If you had ventured inside one of these shrines, you would have perished without a doubt.”

There’s a shiver that crawls along the Hylian’s spine, his lips slightly ajar as if he were about to talk, but it’s not like he can anyway. He closes it, emitting a clicking sound as his teeth grind together.

Well, he’s not sure he would’ve done it either way. The shrines had nothing of interest in them after he’d completed the challenges, and he’s at least thankful that the monks inside have already left. The training guardians inside might be filled to the brim with this shit now, and he prays inwardly that they don’t know how to go back to the surface.

“There is a chance that some malice might be around here,” Zelda speaks up, suddenly extremely cautious of where she puts her feet on. Now that Link thinks about it, the ground feels almost soft under his feet - normally he would blame it on the humidity, but he’s not sure he can trust anything at this point.

“Our detector will do the job,” Clessie, the daughter, says as she takes out a small device that resembles the Sheikah slate, just much smaller and without a screen. “It’s the exact same technology as the Sheikah sensor from the slate, but it was made to detect unseen malice.”

As soon as she activates the mechanism, a faint signal already starts up. The beeping sound almost startles Link, his ears pressing back to avoid hearing any more of it.

Clessie holds out the detector, walking around the surroundings to find a place where the signal grows stronger. It takes only a few seconds as everyone watches, until she kneels at a precise place, and the sensor goes crazy.

“Think I found it,” she announces, causing her parents run to her with the excavating tool. It’s an elaborate object that they plant into the ground where the malice would supposedly be - and with a push on its switch, the blades start digging right into the dirt, and a sickening squelch indicates that they’ve found the exact right place.

Dirt along with malice is brought back up into a small glass container at the center of the tool. It seems to keep going as long as Clessie doesn’t stop it, and she doesn’t , trying to collect as much as she can.

Link watches the whole process, worry gnawing at his bones when a distressed sound can be heard from the Zora prince behind him.

You okay? Link asks him as he turns around, stepping closer in slight panic. Anything can cause this at this point, so he feels better asking - and he’s especially nervous when the color drains from Sidon’s face.

“...No,” Sidon stammers with a sort of strain in his voice. “There’s something in the air, it’s pressing down my lungs…”

Link looks back to where the malice is being collected, thinking for a moment that it might be the cause - what if it intoxicates the air now? Considering it’s already changing, it’s not a far off possibility, but Sidon seems to understand what’s on Link’s mind and is quick to dismiss it.

“That’s not it,” the prince continues, his gaze unfocused and looking anywhere he can. “It’s the same feeling that I experienced when the guardian attacked us.”

Right as he finishes speaking, another sound can be heard - the wild beeping of the Sheikah sensor on the slate strapped to Zelda’s belt.

At the Hylian’s gasp, Eidri is the first one to speak, although he keeps it only loud enough for the others around him to hear. “Everyone take out your shield, now,” he starts, bringing his own shield forward. “Stay calm and watch your surroundings,” he adds even more quietly this time - if a guardian is around, it could definitely hear them.

Link takes out the royal shield he’d found during one of his raids at an unfortunate moblin camp, covering his front and making sharp turns to try and find the source of Sidon’s anguish. It doesn’t make sense to him, however - the only way to access this place without climbing is through the domain, and even then, he doubts any guardian would be able to cross the narrow bridge.

Link places himself as close to Zelda and Sidon that he can despite the fact that they both have shields - after all, it’s better safe than dead and sorry. Everyone waits with bated breath for any sign of a guardian around, but unexpectedly, it comes as a ray of light from above.

It crashes into the grass, making a small crater as the vegetation starts to burn around it. But before Link can look to the source of the attack, a loud shriek of horror rings into his pointed ears.

When he turns around, his eyes are met with a gruesome sight; Eidri is standing still, utterly immobile, a giant hole blown into his head. The skin around is burned down so heavily that his flesh and skull are visible, and the cavity dug at the right side of his head now shows what remains of his brain. His mouth is hung open in shock, his remaining eye bloodshot and unblinking, as he falls onto his knees, then face first into the ground.

“Eidri!” His wife shouts, clinging to the false hope that the man would somehow still be alive. Link’s stomach is churning, an intense urge to throw up overcoming him; but when he sees the attacker, he has no choice but to be tougher than that.

A guardian skywatcher is appearing from above the waterfall, already picking out its new target. A red dot is focusing right on Sidon’s forehead this time, and it takes very little time for the Hylian to take out his ancient bow as well as an ancient arrow from his quiver. The bowstring along with the arrow tip shine in blue as he nocks it, taking aim, planning to take it down in one strike.

He releases the arrow, letting it hiss through the air, and it reaches its target in a millisecond - the skywatcher’s eye, its weakest point. The light breaches through its form as the propellers stop turning, letting it fall into the pond with a loud splash as it shatters from all sides.

But alas, he can’t sigh in relief; he turns around once more, finding the sight of Eidri on the ground, motionless, as his wife and daughter hold onto his dead body, sobbing in despair.

Zelda is brought to her knees by it all, her hands covering the front of her mouth as she bends down and vomits into the grass. Sidon stands still, eyes wide open, slitted pupils shaking in disbelief and utter shock.

“This cannot be happening,” the prince breathes, lips trembling with his words at a complete loss of what to do.

And Paya, who’s just as terrified as everyone is, finds the will to step away from the scene and over to the pond to get closer to the guardian’s shell.

Link lets out the loudest sound he can to catch her attention, startling the woman as her feet dip into the shallow water without fear of what may happen. Her head whips around to face the Hylian as he signs.

What the hell are you doing? He signs to her, but no reply ever comes. Instead she keeps going the way she’d intended, closing the distance between herself and the guardian skywatcher.

Link’s hand covers his own forehead in frustration as he runs to her, slowing down his steps when he sees her kneeling and, for some reason, pressing her ear against the dead machine.

Are you insane? Link signs, and the fear of offending her is completely gone at this point. How reckless can one be? Even he wouldn’t dare approach a skywatcher carcass filled with malice from so close!

“It’s a stutter...” she says, eyes wide open in astonishment, her voice barely loud enough to be heard over the falling water.

What? Link signs, swallowing harshly.

“It’s a stutter, but I can hear it,” the Sheikah woman explains, her hand finding itself against the guardian’s shell before running across it as if she were petting a large animal.

“There’s a voice inside.”

 

Chapter Text

 

Sidon realizes that there’s no worse silence than one broken by quiet weeping.

He had known it early in his life from when the domain would mourn Mipha’s death. He remembers so clearly standing at the Lanayru bay by his father’s side, keeping his mouth tightly shut so the sobs wouldn’t come out, surrounded by civilians who couldn’t help but let their tears flow whenever her name was pronounced despite the fact that most of them didn’t know her personally.

He’d like to force the image of the poor Eidri’s blown up head out of his mind, but it comes back incessantly, blocking rational thought as he announces the news to his father accompanied with Link, Zelda, Paya, and the two women that the deceased Sheikah man left behind. The two are holding onto each other, wiping at their tears and forcing themselves to keep quiet as if someone was going to throw them out of the room just to have some silence.

“This is getting worse by the day,” Dorephan utters mournfully, a worried frown darkening his wrinkled face. “We must do something. We cannot let our domain fall from these barbaric machines. Would it be possible to create adapted gear with the tools that you’ve brought here in order to fight them off?”

His question is addressed to the Sheikah researchers, but when Paya realizes that the despaired women are too shaken to reply, she decides to answer for them.

“We can make arrows and swords, Your Majesty.” Her gentle but timid voice comes, her fingers fidgeting with each other. Sidon notices that the grief isn’t quite visible on her face, but rather some kind of perplexity. “But if we need to do them for each soldier here, we’ll need a great amount of guardian parts…”

I can provide a bunch, Link signs to her, gaze serious and hands unflinching. I already fought a lot of guardians before Ganon fell, so I have a lot of parts I haven’t been using. This should be enough to at least make a few arrows for everyone.

Paya gives a little relieved sigh at his response, then directs her stare to the floor. “If that helps as well, it’s possible to damage guardians with normal arrows…” she brushes a long strand of hair away, tucking it behind her ear to distract herself from the anxiety. “But one would have to aim for the eye, to stun it and stop its movements to gain some time. It isn’t easily done-”

At the sound of a few steps entering the throne room, her mouth falls shut. Everyone turns around to meet the sight of Bazz, the guard captain, hiding someone’s silhouette behind himself.

“I apologize for interrupting you,” Bazz says, putting a hand to his chest as he kneels and bows his head. “Your Majesty, a Rito courier has an urgent message to relay to the Sheikah experts.”

As he moves to the side, a brown Rito lady appears, wearing the small blue scarf of the couriers. She has a rolled up paper in hand, her features showing subtle distress as she makes a few steps into the room.

She greets them with a salute of her wing, bowing her head as well. She unrolls the written letter, clearing her throat before pronouncing a single word.

“My friend Eidri,” she begins, reading the letter aloud, and those first few words are enough for Jemi and Clessie to choke back a sob. “We have arrived in the Gerudo region only a day before I write this letter to you. The women of the desert were worried about a few sights of what resembled guardians, according to their descriptions. I give you the confirmation that indeed, the creatures in question are guardians of the stalker type.”

Glances are exchanged in the room, and Sidon feels a cold sweat under his crested brow. Only a few seconds of silence pass while the woman takes her time to breathe, and she speaks up again.

“The women were able to destroy the two guardians that had made themselves known around Gerudo town. Curious as to why the machines would still be working despite the calamity’s fall, we decided to examine the guardian carcass as a whole.”

Everyone waits with bated breath, and even the two sorrowful Sheikah women are silent by now.

“Ganon’s malice was crawling inside of its entire body. But not the usual malice. It was, in fact, stronger , and somehow made the guardians more intelligent. We are going to stay in town for them, to try and understand why that is, and to prevent any incident from happening once more. One Gerudo has already lost her life to them; her name was Reeza, may Hylia rest her soul.”

Another victim, Sidon thinks to himself - when had life outside the cities become so dangerous?

“Please do let us know of your findings. I can only wish that it all doesn’t go any further than this, as worrying as it may be, but I hope you are all safe. Respectfully, Meyoh.”

None of them dares to speak up right away. This only further confirms the theory that the experts expressed earlier this day, and if that’s truly what’s going on in Hyrule now, they might be dealing that something seemingly worse than Ganon himself…

“Excuse me…” the Rito lady allows herself to speak, lowering the paper so everyone can see her downcast eyes. “I apologize for intruding, but I met up with one of my peers on my way here, and it seems that some guardians have appeared in Hebra as well. In the Kopeeki Drifts, to be exact. I haven’t seen them for myself, but the archers are still trying to take them down, or so I’ve heard.”

“We cannot let this go on any longer,” Zelda states, brow furrowing. “King Dorephan, I would like to call for every tribe leader in Hyrule to join us in a meeting at Hyrule Castle. We need to gather all the information we’ve collected, and to put together safety measures.”

Dorephan leans slightly forward from his throne, humming in contemplation. “Now, princess - while I believe it is the wisest course of action, would it truly be safe to move away from this place?”

“Do we really have a choice, father?” Sidon steps in, his tone sharp. “Isolating ourselves once again without cooperating with other tribes might put us in more danger - and we would do well to aid them too, if we can. I believe that we will be safe as long as we go by the water and have arrows and shields with us.”

Dorephan takes a few seconds to consider it, humming quietly. He shoots several glances around the other ones present, eventually letting out a deep, defeated sigh.

“May I have one moment with my son, please?” He utters, to which the prince tilts his head in confusion while the rest of them nod together as they step out of the throne room, leaving Sidon alone with the king for a few minutes.

“Father, what is this?” Sidon asks, turning to face him.

Dorephan’s gaze flickers to the door, making sure that no one’s stayed to listen. “I will rest much easier knowing that you are safe here in the domain,” he speaks up, almost guiltily. “Putting you in unnecessary danger is the last thing I want to do. I shall go to the castle while you remain here.”

Sidon’s eyes widen for an instant. “Father, it should be the contrary!” the prince begins after a sigh of exasperation when the king is done. “With all due respect, you rarely move from your throne these days. I know that your legs and fins are not as vigorous as they used to be… Why not let me-”

“I do not want to lose you like I lost Mipha,” Dorephan cuts in, one of his hands balling into a fist. “It is that simple. You’re all I have left, my son; can you understand that?”

Sidon bites at the inside of his cheek, his arms crossing as he thinks to himself for a few moments.

“Besides, what do you know about fighting guardians? I have fought one myself before, but you have not,” the king states, and while Sidon knows that he doesn’t mean to hurt, the reality does sting a bit. “I do not want to be irresponsible.”

“...I could ask Link to teach me,” the prince utters in response, almost as if he were thinking out loud. “What kind of king would I become if I did not know how to fight for my people? Do you not remember the countless monsters I’ve defeated to protect the domain? I am capable. And while I may not know how to properly fight guardians to this day, I will learn, and I will stop them.”

He breathes in after a pause, straightening himself and looking his father straight in the eyes.

“Because this is what Mipha would’ve done,” Sidon adds, swallowing the lump in his throat.

It takes Dorephan a few moments to think it over, to accept his son’s words. The throne room is silent until he decides to speak once more, sighing deeply.

“Are you certain that using the rivers to travel will be safe?” He asks, to which Sidon’s tail perks up. “You have my apologies, Sidon. I do believe in you, I just… I am worried, I cannot deny it.”

Sidon feels a hint of guilt in the back of his mind for going against his father’s will when all the king wishes for is the well-being of his son. He can understand it, but when a danger strikes it is his duty to help his people, and nothing can take that away from him.

“Swimming guardians do not exist, that is a fact,” Sidon affirms, “Yes, it will be dangerous - but monsters have crawled across Hyrule for the past hundred years. This land hasn’t been safe in a long time already. And… after all, one day, I will have to take matters in my own hands - won’t I?”

He does feel a bit regretful bringing up such a grim yet realistic thought. He remembers Mipha acting similarly in that way - even as a child, he had the knowledge that his sister could leave him behind. It is no use hiding from the truth any longer.

“Very well.” Dorephan breathes, leaning back against his throne and nodding his acceptance, although it’s too soon for him to smile. “You shall come with me, then. We will bring many guards with us, but we will go together.”

*

The world is a pitch black void around him, yet Link can still see himself as if he were a source of light. He takes in a few deep breaths, watching as his chest expands with every inhale, falling back with every slow exhale. Where is he, again?

He doesn’t recognize his surroundings, and truth be told, it almost feels like he’s floating. But impatient as he is, he still wants to get up - he tries to bend his arms to push himself on his elbows, but soon realizes that he can’t feel his arms.

There’s no sensation at the ends, not even his fingers - and when he looks to them, they’re nowhere to be seen.

A panicked sound leaves his mouth as he tries his hardest to move his arms, but to no avail; there’s nothing but an emptiness at his sides, and his breath hitching in his throat. He tries to lift his legs instead, to see them for himself, only to realize that they’re absent as well.

He can’t move. He’s stuck, lying in a place he doesn’t know, and he can’t move .

As he tries to call for help, no sound comes out of his mouth, but that shouldn’t surprise him. Still, it has his heart racing against his chest, pounding so strongly that it could give him nausea.

For what feels like hours, he waits, with intense shivers crawling across his skin. Swallowing feels harsh and painful, as if something were stuck there; and soon, something startles him back to full awareness.

A pair of hands is hovering above him, though they’re disembodied, belonging to nobody. The lithe fingers approach him delicately, something that he watches to forget the dread; but as soon as they place themselves on his abdomen, it feels like a thousand needles are piercing him.

His voice leaves him this time in a choked groan, his head craning back in a startled movement. The fingers don’t stop, however - they travel along his torso, something that would almost be sensual were it not for the traumatizing pain that comes with it. Link barely has any time to breathe in as he grits his teeth, trying to look down again.

He finds the sight of the two hands placed flat against him, feeling like a iron burn and drawing the air out of him. With a painful push of the thumbs, his stomach is pried open.

As he squirms in horror, the wound opens further, slowly, without a single blade to help. It’s as if he were made of fabric, so easy to rip and pull apart while he can do nothing but cry out.

Soon, he can see his own ribcage - and only a few seconds after, one of the hand plunges deep into his chest, fumbling as if he were a pouch, emitting the most disgusting sounds with it. Whimpering pitifully, his screams are abandoned to the shock. There’s tears pooling at the corners of his eyes, falling to the sides, wetting his temples and hair, and there’s a heinous taste of blood on his tongue. He lets his eyelids fall to at least suppress one of his senses, but he can’t help but open them back up abruptly when the hand pulls his heart directly out of his chest, squeezing it in front of his eyes.

His struggle only comes in the jerking of what remains of his body, the trembling of his pupils as droplets of his own blood fall to his face and blind his vision. The other hand is still inside his chest, squeezing at one of his lungs and lacerating it with its claws.

A muffled voice speaks to him as he tries to hide himself from the sight, trying to wash the blood away from his eyes. It shakes him out of it before despair can take hold of his throat, pronouncing his name loudly enough for it to reach his ears.

Link!” It says, and the Hylian clings to it, as if it were the last thing that could save him. His chest heaves as he fights off the nightmare, and soon, his eyes snap open.

He sits up on the bed, breathing heavily, a cold sweat overcoming his entire body. The room is unlit, but he recognizes Sidon’s bedroom - the cistern is in front of his eyes, empty, but its waters shaken as if something had just left it.

He feels a hand pressing against his chest with the other against his back. It contains him as he swallows back the horror, gaze traveling across the room until he meets the prince’s eyes.

Sidon sits at the edge of his bed, wide black pupils peering into the Hylian’s and watching his every movement. “Link, are you alright?” His voice comes as a soothing echo, his hands like healing bandages. “You were nearly screaming in your sleep! Were you having a nightmare?”

Link’s hand finds itself clinging to the prince’s back, his fingers sensing the thin layer of water still on his scales. Had he left his sleeping pool to wake him up?

Link’s other hand places itself above Sidon’s own as it rests against his chest, and with time, he can feel it.

His heart beats - it’s hurried and heavy, but it beats. Each thump resonates against the prince’s hand, and it seems like somehow, the gentle pressure that Sidon offers manages to slow down its frantic rhythm. His heart is here, right where it should be - he’s safe.

His teeth grit together so hard that a sharp jolt of pain runs through his jaw. He doesn’t find the will to reply to Sidon, but his fingers press into his scales, stabilizing himself in his hold. He looks to him then, eyelids twitching, and the prince knows.

“Oh, my friend...” he whispers, pulling him close, wrapping his arms around the Hylian’s exhausted form. “It’s alright. You are alright.”

Link rests his forehead against his chest, taking deep, long breaths, trying his hardest to forget how real the agony felt. It’ll likely be gone from his memories by dawn, but for now, he lets himself be cradled, until he’s too numb to remember.

*

The head nurse's nerves had been tense for days, her ability to sleep reduced and her thoughts crawling from place to place without finding any solution to it.

Felephun questions her sanity every now and then, and the fact that she has to work every day doesn't help in the slightest. While she tries to keep a certain composure and a smile as she greets her peers, her mind screams to get out.

And at night, while she's supposed to be going home, she makes a decision. She hasn't been able to rest ever since Eki's death, because frankly, it's the strangest thing she's ever witnessed in ages - and yet, she's unable to talk about it with anybody. But she wants to understand. Why was the man still moving when he was brought to the clinic, when he was injured so severely that he should've died much earlier?

No air came out of his lungs, yet there he was, struggling to stand up and walk, grabbing at whatever he could find. Felephun can still clearly recall the sight of Eki’s bloodshot, soulless eyes and his twitching fingers. She'd stood in that cursed room for what felt like hours, with Doctor Najon examining his every moves until, just like that, Eki fell.

And that was when he truly was considered dead. But the thought that there's more to it all can't seem to leave Felephun's mind. In order to clear off the storm in her head, she heads to the morgue where Eki's body still lays, waiting to be put in his final resting place.

She discreetly looks around as she opens the door, making sure that she's not followed. When she confirms that she's alone, she steps into the cold room, closing the door behind herself and staring at the drawers where several bodies are stored.

She knows exactly where Eki is. She'd come here several times already. With a hesitant hand, she reaches for the handle, pulling it towards her to reveal the tall Zora's remains.

Nothing seems out of place with him. He looks just like any kind of dead body, pale and cold - the only striking difference is his lack of a right arm after it was blown off by the guardian.

She stares for an instant, deep in thought, remembering what she saw. She hadn't gone through nursing school for nothing - to her, there was simply no way this man was able to move at the time he reached the clinic.

“Wait…” She whispers to herself as she analyzes the sight before him.

Something is strange.

On Eki's torso, a large, Y-shaped scar; something that wasn't here before. Someone performed an autopsy on him after his death.

But who requested such a thing, and who did it? And why wasn't she made aware of it? There's something truly wrong with the procedures on this case -

As her gaze moves from the scar to Eki's face, his left eye snaps open.

His round pupil is piercing through her as she freezes in place, the color draining from her face - the veins in his eye are completely black, and soon after his eyelids unexplainably opened, they close once again.

Felephun yelps as she gets away, nearly toppling against the wall in shock - she pushes the drawer back, concealing his body once more before she decides to hurry and leave.

Her breathing grows quicker as she makes her way out, struggling to turn the doorknob before leaving the morgue and darting up the stairs - and another silhouette comes in front of her, one not more reassuring than what she just saw.

“Felephun?” Doctor Najon's voice comes through the corridor, his sharp stare pinning her in place. “What are you doing here?”

The doctor who had taken care of Eki before his death. Najon, the head doctor of the clinic; he's everything she's ever wanted to be, but in this very moment, all that she can feel as she sees him is an intense, striking horror.

“No matter. I was searching for you,” he explains calmly, ignoring completely the way Felephun's chest expands in deep, panicked breaths. “It seems I've found out what exactly happened to our dear friend Eki.”

*

Numerous letters had been exchanged between Zelda and the other town leaders over the course of a week. During that time, the domain had remained in high surveillance and most people had hid into their homes. They hadn’t had any other instances of guardians appearing, nor had there been any victim to mourn, and Sidon thanks Hylia for that. Still, most were now aware that two people had lost their lives, and that was enough to induce a sense of unease into everybody’s mind.

It doesn’t surprise anyone when, in the letters, the leaders mention certain strange occurrences that they hadn’t been able to link a cause to. Thankfully, they all accept to meet up in the the dining room of the still recovering Hyrule Castle. Sidon believes it’s the best way to combat whatever is befalling them - to learn from the other races and their ways, and to share their own.

The trip to the castle might be dangerous, and Sidon is well-aware of that. He had asked Link to teach him how to parry guardian beams, although it’s difficult to train without any dummy that could resemble it. Besides, according to the Hylian, parrying, while extremely efficient, is a dangerous method. They had come to an agreement that for now, the best thing to do would be to simply attack with arrows and let Link go for the claws if he can get close enough. Reducing its movements might be a way to prevent any other disaster from happening.

When they depart, their numbers are rather high; Dorephan is ready to go accompanied with Sidon, Zelda, Link, and Paya who joins them to speak for the two other experts who are still shaken by the death of their family member. With them are a group of trained guardsmen who not only have sturdy shields, they have quivers full of ancient arrows to be prepared to fight. Bazz is here to lead the unit, rather convinced that things should go as smoothly as possible.

“We’re going to swim down Zora river, as far as it goes,” The guard captain begins, his tone full of authority as he speaks to the unit. “When we arrive there, we will carefully avoid the lizalfos camp. From there on we shall go around Mercay island, find our way to Hylia river and simply follow the current until we reach the Woodland stable. It will be night by the time we get there, so we will make a stop at their inn until morning comes.”

His explanations are clear enough for everyone, and while Zelda and Paya are a bit worried about having to sit on top of a Zora’s back to be able to be taken with them, they don’t really have a choice. It’s then decided that Zelda will go with Dorephan, Paya will go with Bazz, and Link will go with Sidon. The prince has already carried Link on his back before, so it doesn’t bother him in the slightest to have to do it again.

When they’ve all reached Ruto Lake, the Zoras plunge into it one by one. Sidon welcomes Link’s easy weight against his back as he follows the king.

Everything comes into place rather quickly, and they set off.

Even the descent down the Zora river is rather uneventful because the monsters have already fled the area, and Sidon is grateful for that. There’s no electric weapons to worry about at the very least, so he can only hope that the guardians haven’t made it their home yet, but it doesn’t seem to be the case. Rather, the path actually seems abandoned.

They continue on without much trouble, reaching the heavy currents of Hylia river. They let themselves be carried for the most part, carefully watching the surroundings for any sign of guardian activity, but nothing comes for the time being. Their trip is much calmer than they expected, and he can only hope that returning home will go as smoothly.

They reach the Woodland stable by twilight, and while the Hylians and the Sheikah will have to use the inn for rest there’s a pond nearby for the Zoras, especially to accommodate Dorephan’s large size. Sidon had never traveled with his father before, but he realizes now how impractical it must be most of the time. The king doesn’t seem to have any complaint, however.

Their dinner is mostly focused on the fish from Hylia river, while the three non-zoras eat the meals offered by the inn. They serve woodland’s specialty, goat meat and stamella shroom skewers; something that they all enjoy the best they can despite the circumstances.

When the night comes, something chilly adds itself to the air; despite this, the Zoras retreat to the pond to find rest while establishing a night watch. And while the waters are clear and inviting, Sidon finds himself sitting at the bank, feet dipping into the water without going any further than that.

Truth be told, he’s not sure his mind is in the right place to fall asleep. There’s still much that they have to do, and while he knows that everyone needs to rest for tomorrow’s meeting, he wonders how anyone can . His nights had been rather… agitated for the past week, following the death of one of the experts, and he knows Link must be having a difficult time as well. With a sigh, he pushes himself up, getting back to his feet.

“Tottika,” he speaks up, addressing the current night watch. “I am going to the inn for a moment, and I shall be back.”

“Yes, Your Highness,” the guardsman replies with a nod, quickly letting his eyes go back to scanning the surroundings. As soon as the prince is out of the pond, he notices that Link and Zelda are still sitting at the terrace, even after finishing their meal.

“Oh, Prince Sidon,” the princess pipes up when she sees him, “do you wish to sit with us for a moment?”

He gladly takes the invitation with a nod, sitting on one of the small stools, although it’s a bit unstable for him. “Are you not going to sleep?” He asks.

To this, Link responds with a strong shake of his head, a definitive No. Sidon understands, seeing how shaken he was the other night, even if he had never explained his nightmare to him.

“Just as Link does, I find it difficult to lie down when there is so much more to do...” Zelda says, slightly biting at her fingernails. “In any case, what can we do but wait until tomorrow?”

We sit here and wait for the guardians to burn us alive, Link signs, his words nearly venomous as he clicks his tongue.

“Now, Link,” Sidon steps in with a weak smile, his hands resting against his knees. “We cannot continue on our own, as impatient and worried as we may be. I’m sure we will benefit greatly from meeting up with everyone else.”

The Hylian seems to agree, but the frustration is still there, bubbling inside him, and Sidon can tell. It’s only a few seconds of silence before Link signs again.

I should’ve done something about this already .

Sidon and Zelda are both about to speak when in the corner of their eyes, someone exits the inn. The prince instantly recognizes Lady Paya as she looks for them, her worried expression growing all the more once she notices them sitting all together. The Sheikah woman makes a few clumsy steps forward to join them, standing rather awkwardly near their table as she bows.

“Forgive me for interrupting,” she says, voice trembling. “I might… have some information to share.”

Zelda’s eyes shoot up, her hand gesturing to another stool. “Please sit with us, Paya,” she says, waiting with bated breath for whatever she has to say. “Does someone at the stable know something?”

“Well, no, it’s- um,” Paya stammers, sitting herself down, her face suddenly flushing. “It’s a little more complicated than that, I’m afraid. It’s something I’ve found out while reading certain books I’ve found in Kakariko.”

She hesitates some more as she looks to each of them, but they all wait for her, pressuring her even more to speak.

“I suppose I should’ve brought this up before, but,” she begins, somewhat afraid. “In one of the books I found that recounts the story of the calamity, it mentions the possibility of the malice not being completely… mindless.”

The word has Zelda’s shoulders rising slightly. “What do you mean by this?” She asks hurriedly.

“There is a theory that a group of old researchers was studying-” Paya instantly picks up, tension rising in her throat when the princess’s undivided attention is focused on her. “Have you ever heard of the ancient spirits?”

While Sidon and Link both seem to wordlessly agree that they’re in no way familiar with such a thing, Zelda slowly nods. “The ancients spirits born from the souls of those who fought the Calamity ten thousand years ago, yes.”

Paya shows a brief smile at the realization that the princess is acknowledging her thoughts so far. “But the belief that they exist isn’t widespread. Believers of Hylia decide to ignore it, rather - I am not sure what my opinion is on the matter.”

Paya’s pointed ears droop slightly, her head sinking between her shoulders under the importance of Zelda’s presence. “Well, the theory is that… Calamity Ganon stole the ancient spirits before he resurged here, a hundred years ago. He took them to make them his, subjected them to a thousand of nightmares until corruption, and… it is said that this is how the malice was made.”

A silence hovers around them, and Zelda bites at her thumb nail for an instant. She doesn’t seem too convinced, but Sidon realizes that believing in something is better than having no single lead. At least, that’s how he wants to feel at the moment.

Why didn’t you tell us sooner? Link suddenly asks.

“I’m sorry, I couldn’t,” the woman replies, instantly defensive. “I already mentioned it to the Sheikah researchers from the village before, but they laughed in my face. To be honest, I pretended for a while that I was studying the Sheikah technology, but… I came here to find out the truth about the malice,” she states, seemingly very serious about what she believes.

The reactions she obtains are loaded with confusion and a slight disbelief. But it seems like her explanation doesn’t end there. After a deep breath, she tugs at her own tunic, slipping a hand inside and slowly taking out what seems to be a small, thick book.  

“These spirits are made of deceased people, so…” She starts, and Sidon instantly notices the way Zelda’s eyebrows shoot up. “I’ve started to study the language of the dead, Lairbuani.”

“Paya! Where did you get this?!” Zelda jumps, coming closer to her before the Sheikah instantly shoves the book back into her tunic, as a reflex in reaction of the princess trying to take it away from her. “This book shouldn’t exist any longer,” Zelda adds, “it should’ve been turned to ashes five centuries ago…”

The princess sits back against her chair, shock overcoming her as she rests her elbows on her knees.

“I’m sorry, it seems like it wasn’t…” Paya explains, her face red with embarrassment and stress. “I found it in the cellar of my grandmother’s mansion. My curiosity was stronger than I was, I’m so sorry…”

“There’s no need to apologize now,” Zelda huffs. “I’m more worried about why Impa kept it there.”

Wait, wait, Link starts signing with a frown, making wide gestures so that he’s noticed in the midst of the two women’s conversation. What book is this? What are you two talking about?

The princess pinches at the bridge of her nose, swallowing sharply as if bad memories had resurfaced. “Surely you know about the ancient Zonai tribe?”

A frown of confusion wrinkles Link’s brow. No, I don’t.

Sidon, however, is very familiar with that name. He would be shamed if he didn’t know who the Zonai were - after all, their tribe’s history has a strong connection to the Zora’s. But hearing such a word being brought up causes him to stay silent.

He supposes it’s what he was taught - to never speak of the Zonai tribe inside the domain. It was often said doing so would curse their water.

“The Zonai was a tribe living in the Faron jungle,” Zelda begins, looking at Link as if to gauge his reaction. “They had a different name, but biologically, they were almost identical to Zoras. The one difference is that they thrived in sea waters. But many of them decided to practice necromancy, five hundred years ago.”

Link is the only one who seems to know nothing about this story. No wonder… if he was taught such a thing before his one hundred year slumber, of course he would’ve forgotten all of it. Although, it’s almost certain that the Hylian even went so far as to visit the ruins of the Zonai city in Faron without knowing it.

“This book that Paya’s holding belonged to them. The language that it teaches is the one that they used when speaking to spirits and walking corpses,” Zelda explains before turning her attention back to Paya again. “Does that mean you’ve been communicating with the ancient spirits that have become the malice?”

Paya is once again brought into a sea of anxieties, but she answers nonetheless. “Not yet, not entirely…” she starts, averting her gaze from the others. “For now, I can only understand them.”

So that was the voice you heard inside the guardian skywatcher after Eidri was killed? Link asks, tilting his head. I got close too, but I didn’t hear anything.

Paya shakes her head, her eyelids closing in defeat. “Well, it isn’t something anyone can hear. Only certain people have the power to hear these spirits - most Zonais did… and it seems like I do as well.”

Zelda’s eyes have softened by now, even if there’s a thin veil of unease in front of them. She seems to accept what Paya has to say, only because from her perspective, it’s impossible that the Sheikah woman has malicious intentions.

“It should be safe to assume that Ganon had that ability too,” Sidon adds - he isn’t completely at peace with hearing about the Zonais now, considering what they’ve done and how much it involved his own people.

“Indeed...” Zelda answers with a nod. “Paya, thank you for sharing your knowledge. However, I must advise you to be extremely careful with your actions. Perhaps the corrupt spirits inside the guardians have things to say, and perhaps it will benefit us to hear them, but you must not go beyond this. A power this rare should not be used lightly…”

“Yes, Your Majesty,” Paya responds, bowing her head in thanks. “I promise to be extremely careful.”

She remains for a few minutes more, looking somewhat regretful of what she’d suggested, but Sidon chooses to not add anything onto it.

He hardly finds any sleep that night - while he finds the will to step away and to go back into the pond, his stomach pains him with a certain anxiety and something else he can’t quite place.

Link remains outside by the pond, sitting in the grass against a rock. And while the prince would want to ask why, he knows that the Hylian would rather sit uncomfortably than find himself alone at night when sleep often is more frightful than restful.

*

Vetli looks down onto Ruto Lake at her feet, her toeclaws digging into the ground as a way of fidgeting. Arms crossed against her knees, she takes a moment for herself while her friends remain a little further, discussing in whispered tones.

She only needs to watch her reflection illuminated by the luminous stone pillars to soon realize that she has company; Maror’s face appears behind her, and she whips her head around to greet him.

“Whoops, sorry I scared you!” the tattoo artist teases, handing her a packet that she curiously looks onto. Her sense of smell tells her that it’s prepared food - once again, Maror made too much.

“...Thanks,” she says, her voice quiet in the night air as she takes the packet in hand. “You know, you don’t have to do this.”

“What’s that? You know I’d rather die than throw food away,” the peach-scaled Zora replies, giving her a grin. “And I know you need it more than anyone else. You haven’t been eating.”

Vetli sighs to herself, opening her gift slightly to reveal what looks to be a fish pie.

She’ll admit it warms her heart, at least a little.

“I’m… really sorry about what happened to Eki,” Maror utters, averting his gaze from her. It lands on the water as well, watching the little bugs that glide at the surface. “He was a good guy. I hope he rests in peace.”

“Felephun told you?” Vetli suddenly asks, adding just the slightest venom to her words, her teeth showing as she pronounces her name.

Maror can’t help but sigh at that, leaning himself back. “No, it wasn’t her,” he says, “it was Link, actually. Seriously, why do you hate Felephun so much?”

“She’s a bitch , Maror, anyone can tell,” the violet Zora replies, this time not restraining herself. “And she’s using you.”

“Really now?” The other Zora asks, rolling his eyes. Crossing his arms, he wears an amused smile. “You know, I’m a grown man. I know how to take care of myself.”

“Says the one who dated the prince for a while until he got left behind once highness was done having fun,” Vetli shoots back, although she instantly regrets it once she sees how Maror’s eyes seem to fall into what resembles melancholy.

The silence makes her think that she’s probably too resentful to be talking to Maror right now in the first place. “That’s not what happened,” he finally replies, and he simply leaves it at that, like always.

“Right. I’m sorry,” the woman utters, letting go of the subject completely. She swallows back her stupid jealousy as she lowers her head, subtly inching herself closer to the man that she’d loved for much too long.

It gnaws at her, the way he pretends to be unaware. But the worst of it all is when Felephun makes herself known, showing up with Maror’s scent all over herself. The head nurse knows of Vetli’s feelings, and she knows exactly what she’s doing.

“I’m just worried about you,” Maror speaks up again, sitting back up, preparing himself to leave much to Vetli’s masked disappointment. “I know Eki was like a brother to you, and you internalize everything, so… if you ever need to talk about this, you know you can find me in the parlor, alright?”

Vetli lets out a quick sigh, her webbed hand waving at him when he stands up. “Noted,” she says, refusing to look at him once again. “Thanks again for the food.”

She wishes her answers weren’t so short and unfriendly - perhaps this is what she lacks, after all. She shrugs to herself as the peach Zora swims back up the waterfall, returning up to his home in the domain while Vetli remains, as always, hidden under its structure.

*

Sidon along with his father and his people depart for the castle at dawn, brushing certain thoughts aside to focus their full attention on their surroundings. The Hyrule fields are an open area where the large machines could crawl fairly easily - so more often than not, their eyes are moving left and right, their guard maintained to the point that some of them could even be seen as jumpy.

The trip to the castle doesn’t last very long; soon enough, they cross the still dilapidated castle town, surprisingly not encountering any guardian on the way aside from a few carcasses that they make sure to dismantle well enough so that they would be unusable, even by the malice. Sidon wants to believe it’ll help at least a little; he’ll cling to whatever hope shows at the horizon, at least for now.

Most of the castle is still in disrepair. Even the dining room, where the meeting is to be held, isn’t completely in shape, but with the castle being at equal distance from each town, it’s the best place they can use.

Zelda sits at the end of the table, with Link standing at her side, posture rigid and stare piercing through the entire room. Dorephan sits with Sidon at his side, and the prince takes some time to look at the other leaders around the table.

He’d met some of them before - Reede, chief of the Hylian village of Hateno, sits across the table, and the bearded man look as troubled as he looks tired. Lady Impa of Kakariko is there as well, and Paya has chosen to sit at her side for the meeting.

And then there’s those he’s never had the occasion of meeting - Lady Riju, the chieftainess of Gerudo town, the youngest of them all, yet she looks stern and focused. At her side stands Buliara, her protector. Kaneli, the elder of Rito village, looks like he’s much too old to even be outside his home; but, he came anyway, worried as ever as a saddened frown darkens his feathered features. And finally, there is Bludo, Boss of Goron city, just as intimidating as Sidon had heard.

“I thank you all for coming here today,” Zelda speaks up, and everyone remains silent, utterly respectful.

“Let us begin.”

Chapter Text

 

The meeting begins quickly as Princess Zelda is the first to speak up. All eyes are focused on her as she raises the volume of her voice, seeming confident but solemn.

“As you may have read in the letters we’ve all exchanged, certain parts of Hyrule have started to be attacked by the guardians once again,” she states, her brow furrowing. “I arrived in Zora’s domain after they lost their first civilian to a particularly violent guardian stalker. It has come out of the Sheikah analysis's that the malice that is… ‘possessing’ those guardians is much stronger than the one that we knew before Ganon fell.”

Her gaze goes downcast as she speaks, and she soon straightens herself with a sigh. “Before we start, I would like our expert Purah to explain as clearly as possible the reasons why the malice could act like it does today.”

The little Sheikah gets up, actually standing on her chair so everyone can see her. She clears her throat briefly, taking out some kind of notebook that she looks to every now and then. “Some of our experts who have traveled to Zora’s domain have further proof, after their experiments on miniature guardians, that the malice has gone through some kind of transformation after the Calamity was sealed. The only explanation we can give for now is that, as hypothesized in many records, the malice was there to sustain Ganon; and now that it isn’t sustaining anyone anymore, it’s retreating to whatever seems easiest to control - in this case, guardians stalkers or skywatchers.”

She peeks over the rim of her red glasses, looking to the princess across the room. “Your Majesty, will you allow me to ask for the detailed reports of each leader as to what they’ve seen so far?”

“Please go ahead,” Zelda replies, stiffening in her seat. Sidon notices right away that the Sheikah woman’s eyes direct themselves to King Dorephan, surely to ask him about the previous days’ events.

And so the king does, elaborating on the very movements of each guardians, aided by Sidon, considering that he was a direct witness. His reports come with the mention of the shrines glowing red, something that has certain leaders snapping their eyes wide open. Even Doctor Robbie, the guardian expert of Akkala, seems to be utterly baffled at what he hears. It’s when Dorephan finishes recounting the events that Purah nods, her face nearly buried in her little notebook as she takes notes quite rapidly. Then, with a gesture of her head, she awaits for Bludo’s testimony.

“Goron city itself isn’t accessible to guardians stalkers,” he begins, resting his humongous hands on the table. “You know, with the lava and all. As strong as they are now, I don’t think they can survive that still. So we haven’t been attacked at all so far, but the guys working at the mine did say that they saw some of those machines crawling around a little further down the mountain. We assumed it was normal, ‘cause we’ve always had two of these machines walking around the path and scaring travelers away… But they seem to be a tad more active than usual.”

“Thank you, thank you...” Purah utters quietly, almost to herself. She eyes at the Rito elder without uttering any request, but the man understands either way.

“They have not reached our village for now, but many are present in the mountains,” he begins, eyelids falling shut in contemplation. “I suppose it should not be too much of a problem, considering no one lives there, but it puts our couriers to a great disadvantage. They cannot use the mountains to travel anymore, and while our archers are very skilled, they have not managed to bring them all down. It seems like they keep coming back, whatever we do…”

“Excuse me,” Reede speaks up, suddenly standing up from his chair, shooting a glare at the princess. “It seems pointless to go on like this, doesn’t it? We’ve learned that the malice is back, and we’ve all probably heard enough to understand that. But I think a question that we’re collectively asking ourselves is why?

When Zelda doesn’t budge, Sidon looks to Link, and he can tell that the Hylian is trying his hardest to remain in place, without a word. But the resentment is still readable on his scowl.

“I ask myself the same question, Sir Reede,” Zelda replies, maintaining her calm composure despite his accusatory glance. “But unfortunately, we do not have enough information at the moment to explain why the malice is still there even after Ganon was sealed away. Our objective today is to find ways to defend ourselves and to combat it while we try to find the cause.”

Sidon doesn’t remember the chief of Hateno ever showing himself in such a light - the man puffs his chest slightly, balling his hands into fists.

“But you were the one who was supposed to seal it away!” Reede begins again, pointing at her with a judging finger. “You saw it yourself, didn’t you? So you must know what’s going on. And you’re pretending to be unaware so we can forget about the mistakes you’ve made again, right?”

Sidon’s heart wrenches at the thought that, despite everything that Link and Zelda have done, some still believe that it wasn’t enough. Is it never enough, for these people? The prince wants to speak up, but he’s soon stopped by his father’s hand against his shoulder.

Zelda seems to think to herself for a few seconds, her elbows resting on the table and her hands brought together under her chin. Link is standing still at her side, and the light in his eyes burns with a wrath Sidon had never witnessed on him.

“I understand why you are putting the blame on me, Sir Reede,” she begins, calm and patient, while she seems to wordlessly prevent her Hylian knight from slaughtering this man. “But to tell you the truth, even I do not know if it was my fault or not. Perhaps it was. And if that is the case, I will take full responsibility and find the way to destroy it myself.”

The older man falls silent at that, his expression still darkened by a glare in her direction.

“Once again, the purpose of this meeting is for us all to find ways to protect ourselves,” the princess continues, back leaning against her tall chair. “Whatever the cause may be, the consequences are that our people will suffer if we do not do anything. Now, Sir Reede, I would like you to sit back down and give us your report.”

“Right,” the man sits back down with a frustrated sigh, averting his gaze from her, although every single person in the room is now looking at him with unreadable expressions. “Nothing’s happened in the village yet. Fort Hateno has always been effective to protect us from the guardians, but the entrance is paved with their carcasses. It’s only a matter of time until these wake up and crawl to us.”

“We will have to do something about those,” Zelda utters, not lingering on the matter any longer, as surely the previous conversation must’ve rendered her impatient. “Impa?”

“Skywatchers have been roaming around the pillars of Levia a few days after Link came to request our aid,” the old Sheikah woman responds, “We have been working on means to protect the village as well as other regions; that is why I will send three of our experts towards each town. They will do whatever they must to ensure everyone’s safety.”

Paya discreetly lets out a sigh, preventing herself from talking about her findings again. Sidon isn’t sure it’s wise to keep it to themselves, but they’d promised they’d wait for at least a little while.

“The Gerudo desert is greatly affected by these new guardians,” Lady Riju speaks up at last, once Zelda looks at her. “Our town is surrounded by a vast and open land, so it is fairly easy for them to wander around. And considering the town is the only place that seems worth attacking, it goes without saying that they focus on us day and night. The town is still highly guarded, so we’ve opened our doors to whoever might still be in danger outside, even to voes, despite our traditions.”

Buliara seems to tense up for a moment, as she waits for the chieftainess to finish her explanations. Then, the tall Gerudo woman speaks up.

“Speaking of the dangers of the desert,” Riju’s guard begins, her stare focused directly in front of her. “I believe that Gerudo town is not a place for Lady Riju to safely live in anymore.”

It seems to go beyond what the chieftainess expected, if the way her head whips around is anything to go by.

“Buliara?!”

“As much as it pains me to ask this,” Buliara starts again, completely ignoring Riju’s attempt at catching her attention. “Would it be possible for anyone here to welcome her in your town, temporarily? As her guard, I will of course, come with her.”

Riju is absolutely bewildered, by the looks of it - she tries to keep a certain ‘acceptable’ behavior through it however, as she attempts to contest Buliara’s decision.

“I have to be here for my people, Buliara. I cannot allow myself to go in hiding when everyone else is struggling against our new enemy!” She says, and Buliara hardly even spares her a glance. The girl’s imploring gaze doesn’t seem to do anything to change the woman’s mind.

“Lady Riju, your mother gave me one task before she left - to keep you safe, no matter what,” she answers, determined. “And I am honest with you when I say that I cannot protect you properly as long as we remain in the middle of the desert. Our soldiers will protect Gerudo town while you are away, you may rest assured.”

“But I-” the young girl opens her mouth to speak up again, though she seems to be silenced by her own thoughts quickly enough. She stares through Buliara’s impassive face for a moment, until she gives up with a deep sigh.

“I understand.”

“I’d say Goron city is safe when it comes to guardians, but I’m not sure the little miss would survive the scorching heat,” Bludo says, showing his good intentions despite being unable to allow her in.

“Little miss?” Buliara hisses with a heavy frown, appalled at the way this man just addressed her leader.

“I believe Zora’s domain should be suited,” Sidon interrupts what could be the beginning of an unnecessary quarrel. He doesn’t discuss it with his father, something that has the king eyeing at him curiously.

“We are isolated in the middle of a lake, and our constructions are very sturdy,” the prince continues, looking to the Gerudo chieftainess with a compassionate smile, something she doesn’t seem too keen on returning for now. “Lady Riju should be safe in our palace.”

A few moments of silence drag on after Sidon’s explanations. Hearing the young girl talk reminded him of himself, in a way, of when his father had tried to insist that the prince was to remain safe in such difficult times. He supposes he can relate to how she must feel, but he doesn’t completely disagree with Buliara; Riju is only about fourteen years old, and if Sidon can trust his knowledge on non-zora aging, it means she’s only a young teenager. And she looks… quite frail, in addition to that.

“Yes, Sidon is right,” Dorephan adds, and thank Hylia he supports his decision. “Lady Riju may come with us to the domain as soon as she wishes.”

“You have my sincere thanks, King Dorephan,” Buliara says, bowing her head to him gratefully. Riju at her side is simply nodding, obviously faking a smile - Sidon knows how to recognize those - in reluctant acceptance of his offer.

After the leaders are done with their reports, it’s the Hylian champion who subtly moves. He catches Zelda’s attention with a few signed words, something that the Zora prince can’t quite see from where he sits. Zelda looks to her knight with a deadpan expression, nodding along before turning back to the others.

“The dragons of Hyrule seem to be highly vulnerable to malice, according to Link,” she translates for him, “there is something that can be done about that, isn’t there?”

Impa is the one nodding this time, her arms crossed. “We should not worry. The only ones that are able to protect the dragons are the spring keepers - they have enough strength to prevent the malice from ever reaching them.”

Right, the spring keepers - Sidon hadn’t heard those words in a long time. Everyone nods along, except Link, who cocks an eyebrow, as if he had no idea what Impa was talking about.

“Should they be warned? Perhaps the malice hasn’t reached their areas yet,” Zelda inquires, still focusing on Impa, who seems to be the most knowledgeable on these individuals.

“No need.” Impa’s withered voice comes once again. “Attempting to speak with them would be underestimating them. They’ve long understood what is currently happening, and are surely doing what they must to protect the dragons.”

The answer doesn’t seem to satisfy Link in the slightest, if the confusion on his features is anything to go by. Still, he decides to drop the matter, nodding a few times before standing behind once again.

“Now, Doctor Robbie,” Zelda starts again after the matter is done discussing, addressing the guardian expert of Akkala. “You may explain the guardian mechanisms and how to defeat them.”

“Alright,” the short, old man stands up, pointing a staff to the chalkboard that he’s brought with him. The two main types of guardians are drawn onto it, in an impressive amount of detail. “As you may know, guardians are self-controlled machines that were first constructed ten thousand years ago to protect Hyrule. When the Calamity struck, they turned against us, and here we are today.”

He lowers himself for a moment, taking out a glass container from under his table. Inside, there is a glowing blue liquid, something that he points to when he starts talking again.

“This material is called the Sihgane. It exists in many forms, including this one, which is simply a mass of melted guardian parts. It is what originally fueled the guardians, until the malice got a hold of them; it is also what makes the guardian weapons what they are. The glowing blades of the swords and the tips of ancient arrows are made of a solidified version of this material.”

It’s something that Sidon was completely unaware of, so he listens closely, ready to keep any information he learns into his head to make use of it later if needed.

“This can repel malice and guardian attacks, if given the properties of a shield, and it can destroy it if given the properties of a weapon. You may already know, but ancient weapons along with the master sword are the most effective against these machines. Of course, normal weapons can be used, but the task of destroying a guardian with one would be a lot more tedious.”

Robbie continues on with his explanations as everyone listens attentively. The one worry that Sidon has about this all is that it won’t be possible to make ancient gear for everyone; it’ll be even harder, he realizes, when the Sheikah man mentions the ancient armors . They certainly look very efficient, but there is no way everyone will be able to have one, Sidon is sure of it. He’ll have to think of another way for people to be able to protect themselves more easily.

As time goes on, the leaders speak up one after the other, deciding on the next measures to take. What comes out is that each town will be guarded at every hour of the day and the night by skilled guardsmen well-equipped to combat a guardian if one were to approach. Food supplies outside of towns will be gathered by guarded individuals as well. Civilians will be trained in first-aid, as well as basic defense and attack techniques. Rito couriers will be deployed in every region, so that messages can be transferred easily and rapidly between the leaders. And of course, as soon as anyone learns something of importance, they have to report it to their leader right away.

The meeting ends after three hours, and truth be told, it hadn’t been too kind on Sidon’s head, but he knows it was necessary.

It’s a bit after noon when they all depart once again for their homes, and the prince prays that everything will be fine on their way back - especially now that Lady Riju is with them, following with her eyes directed onto the ground.

*

Zelda supposes she doesn’t need to be in Zora’s domain for now, but there’s something that makes her want to go back there. Link is following as well, when the princess knows very well that his home is in Hateno, so it’s somewhat curious, but… perhaps he feels that he needs to be there for Mipha’s people. A fairly reasonable choice, and she doesn’t think he has the heart to go to his home village after what happened with Reede at the meeting.

But for now, she concentrates one last minute on what she’s going to say as she sits against Dorephan’s back in the river on the way home, looking back to Buliara, who’s clinging to the back of one of the Zora guards.

“Excuse me, um-” she tries to speak up, catching the attention of the woman behind her. “Buliara, I may have a favor to ask you.”

“What is it, princess?” She asks, her pointed ears perking up.

“I will understand if you refuse; you might be too busy for this, but… I do not wish to rely on Link anymore for my safety.” Zelda says somewhat timidly.

After a pause, Buliara tilts her head to the side, confused. “Are you asking me to protect you in his stead? Why?”

“Oh no, that’s not it!” The princess dismisses with waving, flustered hands, a red hue invading her cheeks. “No, what I want is to be able to fight for myself. Unfortunately, I do not know how to handle a sword or a bow, and my powers have faded since I’ve sealed Ganon away,” she adds with a sheepish smile, “and I have always admired the strength of the Gerudo women. That is why I wanted to ask if you could perhaps… teach me?”

She regrets asking the instant the question comes out of her mouth. It won’t be easy for Buliara to do so while protecting Riju, so what was she thinking?

“That would be an honor.” Buliara states humbly, hardly letting any expression pass her once again.

“Wha- really?”

“Yes, of course. I used to teach the art of swordsmanship to young women, and it would be an honor for me to teach the princess of Hyrule,” the older woman says, and this time, she lets a small smile tug at the corners of her lips. “Besides, I have always believed it to be better for rulers to know how to defend themselves without relying on a knight.”

Zelda thinks back on the request she’d made earlier, to push Riju away from her home to protect her. She’s contradicting herself.

“What about Lady Riju, then?” Zelda asks to her, and it doesn’t take long for Buliara to answer.

“Lady Riju is different,” she replies bluntly, her smile leaving her. “She is still much too young.”

Zelda would want to ask more questions, but judging by the woman’s briefness, she realizes that it’s better to leave it at that for now.

*

Going home to the domain is an immense relief after keeping his attention raised for so long. The sun is barely laying at the horizon when they arrive, and Sidon’s grown quite hungry over the course of their afternoon trip. He assumes that everyone must feel the same.

When he steps foot into the domain, he is greeted by none other than Laflat, who finally was allowed to leave the clinic. As Dorephan leaves them to meet with the council, their small group meets up with the Zora woman, their worry immensely eased now that she’s back on her feet - her left forefin is still missing, but Sidon doubts it’s possible to do anything about it anyway.

She looks tired, but for the most part, Laflat seems fine. As she greets the princess along with the newly arrived Riju and Buliara, Link leads them all to the Seabed Inn where he intends to cook for everyone.

Link doesn’t know if cooking had ever been his forte before his hundred-year slumber, because when he woke up, all that came out of his sad cooking pot was akin to a joke. Perhaps it was because he’d tried to spice up his mushroom sauté’s with dried lizards. Why had he even done that? Now that he thinks about it, sleeping for so long must’ve rendered him stupid for a while. He’s glad that he didn’t try to make anyone else eat this stuff, unlike someone who’d tried to make him eat a live frog before.

Well, frogs aren’t half bad, he supposes.

With time, he had learned to make decent meals for himself. Like rice balls, soups and even cakes; most of the time, he wouldn’t waste too much time and would just make what was necessary for his journey. But when he felt like treating himself, that was when the best came out.

And he had come to enjoy cooking for others as well. After such a long, stressful day, he can only hope that it’ll help in making everyone feel a little better. So as he borrows Kodah’s cooking pot, he chooses to make his crab risotto - but not the one with the bright-eyed crabs, those can be found right in Zora’s domain, but they taste as bland as a chuchu jelly (Yes, he’d tried to eat that too). This time he uses ironshell crabs that he’d gathered earlier, and rice from the shop just nearby.

When he comes back to the dining room, his friends are waiting, sitting in a circle and chatting together. Riju and Buliara were dragged along as well, so they sit a bit awkwardly in the circle, but Link hopes that’ll change soon.

He serves everyone, and they eat as if they hadn’t gotten anything in their stomach for years. It seems to be a success, and it gives Link a reason to be proud of himself for now. Riju and Buliara eat their share rather silently, while everyone tries to engage in short conversations.

“Smells nice in here,” a voice comes through the door, and Link turns around to notice his friend Maror standing there with his head poking inside. “Hey there,” he says with a wave of his hand, and the way Sidon seems to immediately tense up is something that doesn’t go unnoticed by Link.

You want some? The Hylian asks, handing a plate to him as the peach Zora ambles in, sitting down with a relieved sigh.

“Well, I can’t say no to that,” Maror replies, rolling his sore shoulders. “That looks delicious.”

Link serves him as well, letting him participate to whatever conversation may be going on, even if he doesn’t know some of them much more than that. It’s a rather joyous moment despite the circumstances, but Sidon has fallen rather silent now, which is quite unusual for his chatty self.

When he’s done with his meal, he gets up, putting the plate away. “My apologies everyone, it seems I have certain matters to attend to,” he utters without looking at them too much.

“Wait,” Laflat stops him gently, “Say, Sidon, will you allow me to help the Sheikah in their experiments? I want to participate in any way I can.”

Sidon thinks for a moment, eyes moving between her and Paya. But the Sheikah woman here being only an apprentice, he’s not sure she can make the decision herself.

“I suppose you could ask them, they work in the underground hall,” Sidon replies, rather hurried as he prepares himself to leave. “Thank you for the food, Link. It was delicious.”

As he steps out of the room, the Hylian can’t help but instantly notice that Maror’s gaze darkens for a split second, coming back to normal as if nothing had happened.

The Hylian quickly finishes up his plate, setting it aside as well. I have to go too, he signs hurriedly, under everyone’s confused stares. I’ll see you guys later, alright?

“Take care of yourself,” Zelda utters as he darts out the room, and he replies to that with a grateful nod. But he’s outside before he knows it, and his eyes scan the surroundings to search for Sidon.

Oddly enough, the prince isn’t as far as Link thought he’d be. He’s simply standing near the balcony, eyes directed to the distance, to Vah Ruta’s calm form once again.

Link catches his attention as he steps towards him, prompting him to leave his thoughts be for now. “Link,” he pronounces his name as the Hylian approaches, concern written in his eyes.

You alright? Link asks, tilting his head slightly as Sidon simply heaves a sigh.

“Yes, I simply, um…” the prince hesitates for a moment, pausing on his explanation. “I needed to step out. But is nothing you must worry about.”

Sorry then, Link signs with an apologetic smile, preparing himself to step away. I don’t want to bother you.

And suddenly, Sidon straightens himself, stuttering an answer before the Hylian can get too far. “N-no, your presence is very welcome, in fact,” he begins, a slight red hue spreading across his cheeks. “I am starting to understand that isolating myself is never a great choice, and after all, you are my friend,” Sidon affirms, putting a hand to his chest. “My most treasured friend.”

“Aw,” Link lets out a content sound, his hands placing themselves upon his own cheeks as he shakes his head. You’re making me blush , he signs then, something that has the prince letting out a puff of laughter.  

By the way , he starts again after a pause, giving him a coy smile. You wanted me to teach you how to parry, didn’t you? We have some time now, if you want to do this.

Something sparks in Sidon’s eyes as he reads Link’s words, his teeth gleaming into a grin. “What a wonderful idea, Link!” He exclaims, “indeed, I will feel much more peaceful knowing that I can protect others using this technique. Let me take my equipment from my quarters and I shall meet you in the sparring room, yes?”

The Hylian nods in response, watching him go as he makes his way to the room in question, bringing with him his royal bow along with a quiver of arrows.

*

When Sidon finds him in the sparring room, they’re not exactly alone - Zelda and Buliara came here to train together as well, with Riju watching as she sits against a wall. She looks to the women dolefully, knees bent towards her as she wraps a cloth around herself. Right, a Gerudo might not be entirely comfortable in the climate of Lanayru - Link wants to sign something, but the prince speaks before he even comes up with anything useful.

“Will a silver shield do?” Sidon asks as he shows him the piece of gear, and Link looks onto it with a hum. Silver weapons are the traditional ones that Zoras use, so he isn’t too surprised.

It’ll be fine for training, but in battle, you’ll definitely need something more… sturdy, Link replies, gesturing vaguely as something quickly comes to mind. You know what? A savage lynel shield would be good.

“Oh, um…” Sidon thinks for a moment, looking to his own shield as he presses his lips together. “How should I go about acquiring one of those?”

Link gives him a smile, preparing himself to step back and put some distance between them. I’ll get one for you, he signs, to which Sidon can’t help but grin excitedly at. When the Hylian is far enough, he signs once again, giving him the indications of what he’ll have to do.

I’m going to shoot arrows at you, he signs, gesturing to his quiver. Just keep your shield in front of yourself - and once my arrow is about to hit the silver, push your arm forward to accompany your shield, and it will throw the arrow back in my direction. It sounds easy like this, but it requires excellent timing, so… Are you ready?

“Yes!” Sidon affirms strongly, standing with the shield protecting his front. “Do not hesitate to go all out, my friend!”

At his show of motivation, Link smiles lightly. As he looks to his side, he notices that Buliara is teaching Zelda how to handle a silver sword, a fair weapon for a beginner.

He takes out his bow along with a first arrow, aiming for Sidon’s shield as he concentrates fully on his own situation. The bowstring creaks for an instant as he nocks the arrow, soon letting it fly through the wide room until it lands onto Sidon’s shield, bouncing back to the floor with a metallic sound.

“Ah,” Sidon’s eyes fall to it for a moment, slightly embarrassed. “I had no time to...”

It’s a reflex to develop, Link signs gently, readying another arrow, not even bothering to take out his own shield to protect himself yet because he knows that it’ll take a while for Sidon to learn this technique.

And they repeat this over and over - Link shoots his arrows incessantly, watching as the prince tries with determination to parry each one of them. It’s difficult to be fast enough on the first few tries, so the Hylian can’t blame him when the arrows land on the floor. They keep going like this until Sidon manages to throw back an arrow, although its trajectory is only of a meter or so.

Better, Link signs, stepping closer to him to take his arrows back; he might as well use them again, because his quiver is emptying rather quickly. You’re still a bit slow though, and you’re not throwing your arm forth strongly enough.

Sidon nods obediently, kneeling down to help Link picking his arrows back up. His hand wanders around the floor until he finds one, and the Hylian’s own hand inadvertently finds itself brushing the prince’s own.

“My apologies,” Sidon utters with a sheepish laugh, letting his friend pick up the arrow; and all that Link replies with is a small smile, his hand brushing a strand of hair past his pointed ear.

Let’s do this again, the Hylian signs, going back to his original position. Remember to grip the handle of your shield with more force, too. Seeing how strong the guardians are now, one might knock it out of your grasp rather easily, he adds, to which Sidon nods vigorously.

“Yes! Thank you, Link!” He replies, readying himself once again as his toeclaws click against the floor.

The Hylian goes back to shooting arrows, noticing a little improvement over time. Sidon’s reflexes grow slowly but surely, as he knocks the arrows back, each time a little further than previously. Of course there are a few times he misses them completely, which is of no surprise at the beginning.

Link’s main concern is that, if the prince misses a single guardian ray, it’s most likely over for him. Training against guardian scouts in a shrine would surely have made things far easier if anyone else other than Link were able to enter those places. Then again, some shrines are probably too dangerous to step foot into right now.

And he can’t produce a ray himself, so he’ll have to stick to arrows, really. If it ever comes to it, Link knows he’ll be the one parrying, because that’s one of the very few things he actually trusts himself with these days.

To be honest, he doesn’t remember much about how he’d learned this, because once again, it all happened a hundred years ago. It’ll always be somewhat strange to him that he never forgot how to fight despite everything else leaving his memories so easily.

Right, he’s a knight after all, so perhaps it’s in his blood. As unlikely as it sounds, Mipha’s diary had mentioned that he’d been learning swordsmanship since he was four years old.

That’s what he was shaped for, all his life.

He can remember how to fight, he had never let go of his instincts; but the one that taught him, apparently his father, who was he? And his mother?

Why can’t he remember anything about them?

“Link, are you alright?” Sidon asks suddenly, reminding Link of where he is, of what he’s doing. His thoughts are pushed aside in a panicked moment as he shakes his head around, realizing that his last few shots had been rather clumsy.

Sorry, he gives an apologetic nod, waving a hand in dismissal. I’m fine. You’re getting better, let’s do a few more.

The prince nods gently, though he can’t hide the concern flashing across his eyes for a split second. Link chooses to ignore it, instead nocking another arrow in his direction.

*

When the later hours of the night come, the sparring room closes, and Sidon leads Buliara and Riju to their guest rooms. The young girl seems just as melancholic as she was when she arrived, though she doesn’t seem to want to talk about it; Link had offered, but she’s rather reluctant to let anyone know about her feelings. Perhaps another time.

Link is in Sidon’s room once again, sitting up on the bed with the Sheikah slate resting in his lap. Zelda had given it to him in case he wanted to go anywhere in Hyrule to lend a hand, as she would most likely stay here a while to train with Buliara. He’s been looking at the map for quite some time now, while Sidon rests his elbows against the edge of his sleeping pool, perched there to watch him curiously.

“Is something troubling you, my friend?” The prince pipes up, the gold of his eyes nearly shining into the dim room.

Link lets out a small sigh, putting the slate against the mattress and abandoning it for a moment. There’s just… so much to do, all the time, he signs, clicking his tongue. All of Hyrule is in danger, and I don’t know where to start.

A saddened frown shows against Sidon’s features, and even in the dark, Link can see it. “Of course, you cannot be everywhere at once,” he replies, tail drooping against his back. “But it is important to get some rest, Link. You have barely slept last night.”

So you saw me near the pond , he replies, scratching at his cheek in embarrassment. I hope this didn’t seem weird to you.

“Why would it?” The Zora asks, tilting his head.

I wasn’t ready to sleep alone again - and I guess I needed to know that people were around, Link states, sighing deeply then. I sound like a child, this is awful.

Sidon thinks for a moment, legs kicking slightly in the scented water of his cistern to keep himself afloat. “How long have these nightmares been haunting you?”

Link’s eyes flicker to the prince, then back to the slate. Since I started remembering things, he replies, then ruffles a hand through his hair as he bites at the inside of his lip. I only have a few things in mind from the past, but they’re enough for my brain to misshape everything and create its own story.

“Link…” Sidon utters, unsure of what to say at the moment. The Hylian doesn’t blame him, because really, what is there to say? He should probably stop complaining before the prince gets tired of him forever.

It’s fine, I’ll be fine, Link says in hurried reassurance, once again taking hold of the Sheikah slate to set it back down on his lap and right below his eyes. There’s something I’ve been meaning to ask, though , he continues, changing the subject fully. You remember the other leaders mentioning the… ‘spring keepers’, right? What was that all about?

Sidon’s eyes snap wide open. “Really, Link - you don’t know?”

Link pouts in embarrassment, ears drooping down.  I really don’t. I forgot everything.

“Oh-” A blush creeps across Sidon’s cheeks at his own clumsiness. “Right. The people we call the spring keepers are individuals who were raised to obtain immense powers; they serve Hylia by protecting her dragons. Like you said, the dragons may be giant beasts, but they are highly vulnerable, so that is why the spring keepers remain at their side for all their life.”

Link nods along - it’s true, he’d never heard of such people. Weird, he signs with a hum. I saw the dragons up close, but I never saw those spring keepers.

“That is far from surprising,” Sidon replies with a titter, “the spring keepers never show themselves to anybody, and no one knows the names they’ve taken on. Even I have no idea what kind of people they are. Who knows, perhaps they could one day come out of hiding to aid us…”

Sidon is obviously daydreaming at this point; Link is still rather confused as to why these individuals never showed themselves to him, the ‘Hero of Hyrule’, but he supposes he’s only just some Hylian to them. Whatever.

I think I’ll go to Hateno village tomorrow, Link signs, changing the subject once more.

“Hateno village?” Sidon’s voice comes out of the darkness, questioning and a bit surprised. “I did not expect you to want to go there after what Sir Reede said to the princess at the meeting this morning.”

Well, these good-for-nothings will need help either way, Link signs with a lopsided smile, his shoulders rising in a shrug. We need to get rid of those guardian carcasses in front of their fort, or their village will be decimated in five minutes at most.

He pauses for a thoughtful second, looking down onto his fingers as he fidgets. After Sidon lets out a hum, Link decides to continue. And who knows, maybe I’ll remember something else. That’s where I used to live, after all.

“I see,” Sidon replies, his gaze soft as it looks to the Hylian’s form illuminated by the stones around. “Do take your time there, if you need. But I have one question… Will you do anything if you encounter Sir Reede while you are there?”

Link gives a mischievous grin, finally untying his ponytail as he prepares himself to go to sleep. I’ll kick his ass, he replies, and the gesture has Sidon letting out a bark of laughter.

“As well-deserved as I think it is, I do not believe quarreling would help much in our situation,” the prince replies with a smile still, leaning back into his pool. “We have to maintain good relationships with everyone, or it’ll be utter chaos.”

I know, Link replies, dismissing his earlier statement with a wave of his hand. I’m not great at diplomacy, but I’ll try my best for you.

“Thank you,” Sidon replies with a content sigh, further submerging himself in the water. “Do get enough rest if you are to leave tomorrow. I will be cheering you on from here, as always.”

Link nods to his words, a weak smile playing at the corner of his lips. Goodnight, Sidon, he signs, pulling the covers over himself and facing the wall as he buries his head into the fluffy pillow.

“Goodnight, Link.”



Chapter Text

 

***

 

Link can’t deny that he’s anxious - of course, it’d been a few months since he’d begun his journey alone after waking up in the shrine of resurrection, so venturing inside a divine beast on his own should be no problem, right?

Up until now, he had no idea what a divine beast really was; but as he’d watched Vah Ruta rising out of the water, making the reservoir lake dance with waves and waterfalls, he’d realized that it was much bigger than any living being in Hyrule.

Well, aside from Calamity Ganon, he supposes. 

His arrival in Zora’s domain had been half-excruciating, half-relieving. He can’t lie and say that walking there (because of course, his horse just couldn’t cross that trail) hadn’t been an absolute ordeal, and the fact that most elders of this place had expressed their wish for him to be dead certainly didn’t make things easier. 

What did make things easier were the acceptance from the Zora prince, the King, along with the younger generation of their people. Sidon had certainly been pushy when he’d nearly begged Link to come help them, but honestly, the Hylian hadn’t needed to hear much more than this to take his decision. As intimidating as this entire quest looked, Impa had made it very clear that he needed to free the four divine beasts in order to save Zelda.

And Ruta just happened to be the first one he’d reached. Perhaps because he’d soon met a bunch of Zoras along the way in desperate search for a Hylian savior. They led him there in very little time.

And yes, up until now, he’d mostly worked alone. So he’ll admit that having Sidon to help him weaken the divine beast as he clung to his back in the reservoir lake had been an immense relief.

It wasn’t just this though, and the Hylian knows that much. In fact, Sidon’s presence had chased away that deep loneliness that had been slowly rooting itself as the norm in Link’s soul. Between King Rhoam and Impa, all that had been said was that he was the Hero, that he needed to save Hyrule - he didn’t know that anyone would be willing to aid him.

So when the prince of the Zoras offered his help, Link felt that loneliness being tugged apart, leaving a space there for a warmth he didn’t remember ever knowing. As he climbed the waterfalls, shot at Vah Ruta and plunged back down over and over, he could hear Sidon’s encouraging words, and they reached him like nothing else ever had since he’d woken up.

It might be a stupid thing to say, but he had fun

When Vah Ruta had settled back down into the depths, Link had climbed onto Sidon’s back again, listening to him speak. 

“Best of luck.”

It’s a string of words that lingers in Link’s head as he steps into the cursed divine beast - and in that moment, he finds himself utterly alone again. 

At least, for a short while. Because then, the lost Zora princess’s voice comes to him - she comes as an echo, from nowhere but everywhere at once, guiding him through the machine with her words alone. 

And for an instant, hope flows back into the Hylian. An enthusiastic smile spreads across his lips as he ventures into the divine beast, taking in the sight of its intricate mechanisms, of the various lights glowing upon the walls; he can do this. That’s what he was reborn for, isn’t it? 

But as he steps through the beast, something catches his eye. A wide, empty room, where a large terminal rests; it seems a bit out of place, now that Link really looks at it. But what comes to him next is Mipha’s voice once again, trembling and hiccuping.

“I did not want you to see this...” she quietly says to him, and the Hylian approaches a certain pile on the water-covered floor. 

A pile of white… things , gathered here, in the center of this empty room.

Bones.

“I’m sorry, Link.”

The echo of her voice as she weeps falls into the room, swims through the shallow waters and makes pitiful ripples when Link realizes that this pile is exactly where the voice was coming from. 

The Hylian champion falls to his knees, defeated, lost . Had he expected anything else, somehow? Had he expected that, because he heard her voice, she would still be alive? Maybe. Maybe he had hoped for a miracle, for some kind of revelation that would’ve been completely improbable but real nonetheless.

But his hopes are crushed to the ground by the painful stomp of this grim reality. There’s no miracle in this. Only the fact that Mipha’s corpse has been lying here for a hundred years, waiting for someone to free her, even in death - and no one ever came.  

The Hylian grits his teeth, leaning his face into his hands. His eyes burn with uncontrollable tears, and he lets them overflow and spread against his gloves. 

The knot in his voice snaps, making way for a desperate cry that resonates through the walls of the place where the princess’s life was taken.

He still can’t truly remember her. But it seems like he doesn’t need that to know that, deep inside himself, it hurts. It hurts so deeply that he could rip his own heart out, squeeze it dry of its blood and throw it in the lake to let himself die at her side. 

But he has a mission to accomplish. 

So he keeps his eyes closed behind his fingers, choking back the tears. Even heroes need time, so for an hour or two, he chooses to sit in front of her remains, to allow himself to grieve - and during that time, Mipha remains utterly silent. 

***

Blue light reaches his eyes again after the split second that constitutes fast-traveling, his vision soon clearing up to find the sight of Hateno village.

It’s still dawn when Link arrives; the morning hues blend together in the sky before his eyes, early sun shining upon the small, peaceful village. Despite the current panic in everyone’s mind, this place hasn’t changed much - at least not yet . Most are already up and going about their business, and Link breathes in the air of his hometown.

He doesn’t want to blame the entire village for what Reede had said, but he can’t help but feel a little exasperated with his own people. Even if his house is still there waiting for him, he doubts he’ll stay longer than necessary. 

He makes his way down the path, finding it difficult to sincerely salute anyone he passes by. He may have business here, but there’s one thing he has to do before anything - and for that, he’ll have to meet up with Purah.

But on his way there, he just has to pass by Reede’s house. He had promised to Sidon that he wouldn’t make things worse than they already are, but… as long as physical violence isn’t involved, it should be fine, right? There are a few things that he has to tell the guy, and he can probably do it without smacking the hell out of him like he’d imagined himself doing a few times after the meeting in Hyrule castle. Probably .

So on purpose, he approaches the village chief’s house with an unblinking stare. He can hear the man raking his crops from here, and the Hylian doesn’t hesitate stepping slightly faster; because honestly, there’s a lot weighing on his mind, and he might be growing even more impatient than he already was. 

Reede notices him when he’s  only a few meters away, and the Hylian knight must be looking so furious that smoke could come out of his pointed ears - because the other man’s expression immediately shifts into something akin to defensive fear.

“Link,” he nearly growls, fingers clutching the handle of his tool. 

That’s me, the Hylian replies instantly, bitterness on his features and rancor in his eyes. How are things going in the village?

The chief obviously notices the sarcasm in Link’s gestures but surprisingly decides to ignore it. “...We are planning to go to Fort Hateno in about an hour to get rid of those guardian carcasses,” Reede replies, tongue nearly tied in wariness as Link cocks an eyebrow. “What are you doing here?”

You mean, what am I doing in my hometown? He asks with mirthless laughter. He’s actually asking him this ? The fucking nerve. Link takes a deep breath - he has to stay calm. He’d told Sidon he would.  

Whatever. I came here to help, he signs, giving a sort of shrug that basically said ‘isn’t it obvious?’ But that’s not what I wanted to tell you. 

Link pauses for a tense second, taking a step forward to close the distance between them. Who do you think you are, talking to Princess Zelda like you did?

“Link, I stand by what I said yesterday,” Reede replies instantly, shoulders stiffening; he may stand by what he says, but he’s obviously not ready to face the potential consequences. “Whatever was done to destroy the Calamity, it mustn’t have been done right. Now all of Hyrule is in danger! She is responsible!”

The fury that Link is nursing inside his heart might burst at some point, but right now it’s as if he were telling it to calm down, soothing it like he would an enraged, barking dog. So you think I’m responsible too, then? He asks nearly nonchalantly, placing a hand against his own hip as he tilts his head, waiting for an answer.

But of course, the older man doesn’t reply. Nothing comes out of his mouth; all that he does is tense even more, and honestly, Link can’t say he didn’t expect it. 

Look, he begins, his brow furrowing. You don’t know what you’re talking about. For the past hundred years, Princess Zelda has been locking herself up inside the castle, fighting Ganon and containing him so he wouldn’t come out. So he wouldn’t barge out of the castle and decimate everything in his path including your precious little town, he adds with a bite to his words, even if they’re silent. 

And yeah, all of Hyrule is in danger now, but in case you hadn’t noticed, it always had been all of Hyrule. You guys were just satisfied with being tucked away in Necluda safely while everyone else fought to help her and I, Link continues, placing his other hand against his chest. And now that the guardians are stronger and they might reach you, you’re throwing a fit. The princess has fought for the past hundred years - and what have you people been doing? 

Link’s hands return to his sides as he straightens up and glares at the coward before him. Nothing. Nothing at all. 

Again, no reply comes out of Reede’s mouth, but that shouldn’t be of any surprise to anyone. Link had spent enough time here to know that these people are utterly incapable, and that along with this, they don’t give a shit about anyone else but themselves. They hadn’t fought - and Link supposes he could forgive that if it weren’t for Reede’s idiotic accusation of Zelda who, for a hundred years, had done a million times the work these people should’ve been doing. 

And stop talking about ‘what should’ve been done against the calamity’ as if you knew anything about how this works. If it weren’t for her, you’d all be dead by now, Link continues, still containing his strong urge to give the man at least a punch. So have some respect. If I were you, next time I see the princess, I’d shut my mouth, he adds, preparing himself to leave.

Or at least apologize, if you can’t stay silent.

Reede’s jaw is obviously clenching, his mouth full of words that Link knows won’t come out. Whatever he says, the Hylian Champion knows that he’s wrong, so he’ll shut him down as many times as he needs.

“Why have you come to help us if you resent us so much?” He asks instead, shifting the subject as he goes back to raking.

Does Link resent them? Perhaps not all of them. Perhaps the thought had never reached him before, because he was so focused on his mission that he didn’t have room for much else. 

He isn’t sure of his answer just yet, so he replies what first comes to mind.

I just don’t want a ghost town weighing on my conscience, he signs, leaving it at that as he starts striding in the lab’s direction. 

*

Purah seems a little confused to see him in her lab; after all, he hadn’t come for a long time, which is rather surprising since this place was the only one in Hateno where he knew he could actually find help. 

“You know I already restored your Sheikah slate, right?” The woman asks, raising an eyebrow as she holds onto it. “The runes, the functionalities - it’s all there, and I don’t think there's anything else I can do.”

Link sighs as he sits onto his stool, his shoulders drooping in defeat. He’d expected such an answer, but he’s too desperate to leave it at that, honestly. 

Zelda told me she had vague memories of taking more pictures than there are in the album, he signs, pointing a finger to the slate. I don’t know shit about ancient technology, but isn’t there a way to dig deeper somehow? 

Purah pushes her glasses up against her nose, giving a quick sigh. “You think those can bring back more memories? Is that why you came here?”

Link gets up from his stool with an exasperated click of his tongue. Yes, he had come here to help the Hylians, but there’s still a lot on his mind concerning his memories. Moving forward when this is such an abundant source of frustration isn’t an easy task. He’d been doing this for so long that he’s already gotten his mind set on the idea that he’ll never remember anything else, but...

He supposes this could be his last attempt.

Thankfully, he came prepared - he takes out of his rucksack a small pouch full of rupees, throwing it onto the table in front of her as her round eyes follow its short trajectory.

I just want you to try, alright? He signs one more time, ruffling his hair. I’ll come pick it up tonight after I’m done with the guardians, but if you haven’t found anything by then, don’t worry about it.

Purah seems to think for a moment as she eyes at the pouch; normally her greedy self would pick it up to peek at the amount of rupees inside, but this time she doesn’t, perhaps out of trust or compassion.

“Leave it to me,” she replies with a smile and a peace sign to alleviate the mood, keeping the Sheikah slate with her as the Hylian ambles out of the lab. 

The following hour, him and a large group of Hylians of all ages and statuses ready themselves to leave the village, taking their horses and carts to transport the numerous guardian parts that they’ll find over there. Link follows without much of a word as the sun rises higher and it’s becoming rather difficult to bear - the Hylian hopes he’ll come back with a sun-kissed skin rather than a sunburn, but he’s rarely lucky when it comes to that.

They reach the fort in about a half hour, pulling up their sleeves as they prepare themselves to work. Link removes his champion’s tunic and leaves it somewhere nearby, adjusting his ponytail as he looks around the place.

Even if they remove those guardians, the fort is so dilapidated that it most likely won’t offer much protection, Link realizes. It’s been cobbled left and right, holes repaired with wooden poles to prevent any guardian from entering. It’s safe to assume that even carcasses with missing limbs could prove to be more dangerous than they seem if this new malice were to take control of them. 

Link approaches one of the dead machines, eyes carefully traveling around its form as his lips press together. There doesn’t seem to be anything haunting it, at the very least - it’s utterly empty, covered in climbing plants and moss that had grown over the years with parts of it buried beneath the earth. 

He takes out a shovel, arms ready to exert themselves for the next few hours as he digs. The townspeople do the same with the other guardians, and there’s quite a great number of them - it’ll take some time, but they’ll be safe from their attacks after this. 

At least, Link hopes they will. 

His shovel sinks into the hard dirt, his foot shoving itself against it to add some strength to his movements. Throwing it all behind himself, he slowly unearths the hidden guardian parts like one of its limbs that had been swallowed by the ground. 

Others might have a little more trouble, but dismantling them is rather easy with his master sword. There’s nothing he can really do about everyone else not having a master sword though. He shrugs to himself, hitting the glowing sword against the metal to cut the limb to pieces before taking the parts with himself to throwinto one of the carts.

It’s rather tedious, but it’s mindless enough to let him think about what else can be done, about how they can win this. But the events and circumstances are still vague - they have no idea why that malice is there, nor what it’s capable of doing. Will civilians have to go back to hiding like they’ve been doing for the past hundred years while the others continue to fight? This isn’t what Link has been fighting for. By bringing the Calamity down, he’d hoped for peace, for a Hyrule that would become a safe place to live in. For everyone to stop hiding, for the tribes to come together and embrace a world where monsters and guardians wouldn’t be part of their worries anymore. 

Nothing right now is telling of what the future will bring, and Link believes it’s what might be the most stressful about this all. And it does take some time to come to this conclusion, but after two years of knowing his goal, of knowing that Ganon was the one he had to defeat in the sanctum of the castle… now he doesn’t know where the goal is, and he’s utterly lost.

He catches himself every now and then sinking into thought, eyes fixated on a guardian that he’s stopped working to take apart because his arms suddenly felt useless. He’s not the hero anymore, because there’s no one to guide him in this, and he can’t guide anyone. 

Bitterness settles under his tongue, his fingers clutching at his shovel once again as he goes back to work. 

“Everyone hold on to your weapons!” One of the Hylian men says, hurrying back to the fort with panic written all over his body. His hands are trembling, skin glistening with sweat, and the shovel in his hands is covered in a splatter of fresh blood. “A pack of bokoblins is approaching the fort!”

Link’s reflexes catch him before anything can come to his mind. His master sword is already gripped onto, his shield ready to protect him from anything that could come at him. It could’ve been the terrible outcome of a guardian coming to attack them, but instead of this, it’s bokoblins?

It’s nothing that the Hylian champion hasn’t dealt with before, but why would the bokoblins attack on their own? Most monsters had realized by now that the blood moon wouldn’t bring them back to life any longer, that any attempt to fight would most likely result in their permanent death. They shouldn’t go out of their way to attack a group of armed Hylians, yet…

The ‘pack’ of bokoblins in question is actually made up of three of them, unarmed, and all of a red color, the weakest rank. One of them is already wounded at the side of its face, which would explain the blood on one of the men’s shovel. It’s a rather ugly injury, now that Link takes a more precise look at it; the slash goes across its eye, deep enough to crack the brow, but the creature seems more resilient than ever. It approaches the working Hylians with a guttural growl, scaring them enough that some have no choice but to run away.

Right, these people never get attacked where they live. They aren’t used to this. 

Link doesn’t need to think long for this - his survival instincts kick in as usual, pushing him forward to take on the pack himself. He dashes towards them with his master sword brandished, slicing through the air with a hiss until it hits one of the monsters right through the side of its body. 

This kind of blow, especially from the legendary sword, was usually more than enough to cut a red bokoblin in half and kill it on the spot. And somehow, it’s what the Hylian had feared subconsciously; even with blood gushing out of its injury, it still stands, only croaking slightly louder in response. In an act of vengeance, it takes advantage of Link’s stunned state to lunge its claws towards him, carving three deep slashes into the flesh of his shoulder.

A groan of pain makes itself heard in the plain, and perhaps it’s what alerts the townspeople that something is extremely wrong. Link can hear that some of them are joining the fight, using either traveler swords or simple pitchforks to try and do some damage. A woman uses hers on one of the monsters, riddling its body with holes as she shouts some kind of battle cry, raising it up with all the force she has to throw its still living body away from all of them and gain some time. 

Link clutches at his wound for a moment, hissing when his dirt-covered fingers brush against the open flesh. He looks down onto his hand and, as always, the sight of his own blood sends a message of high danger into his brain that activates another response; something more violent that lurks inside his heart, something that brings him to kill his targets without remorse or restraint. 

He holds onto the hilt of his master sword, grunting as he bolts forward with his blade pointed right at the monster’s chest. If those are somehow sturdier than the ones he’s used to fighting, at least he knows that any sword through the heart is a one way trip to hell. The weapon plunges right through its chest, and the bokoblin cries out in pain as it grabs at the blade to somehow remove it from its body. But the Hylian’s grasp is stronger still - he shoves it deeper, his face only pinching slightly at the sound of skin and organs ripping and falling apart. 

The other Hylians somehow manage to keep the other two bokoblins away from him, bringing one of them to a gory demise by attacking in a group. Weapons pierce its every side as it shrieks in agony, limbs flailing for a few painful seconds before it falls still on a pool of its own blood. They move onto the last one as Link struggles with the one still skewered on the end of his sword - and when he catches a glimpse of its eyes, ice cold dread overcomes his entire body. 

He can’t describe it. It reflects a light red as the blood moon, an anger rooted deeper than in its pebble-sized brain; no, this is much older than that. Something that comes from the beginnings of time, an accusatory glare, an enraged spirit that nearly freezes the Hylian in place as the monster’s grip tightens and bloodies up its hands. And when Link comes back to his senses, he pulls the master sword out of its chest with a grunt from the pain and effort. Crimson falls over him in a gruesome rain while the bokoblin falls on its back, dead on the spot just as the last one remaining meets the same fate.

Link clutches at his shoulder once again, the pain feeling nearly dull in his current state, yet it’s still bleeding along his arm and chest. He covers it with a hand, his other one moving to take a look at his master sword.

The bokoblin’s heart is planted onto it, its beating completely stopped; Link had hardly realized that he had managed to rip it out of the monster’s chest, and the sight leaves him speechless, his unfocused eyes tracing the unknown, dark matter that drips from the heart. 

It’s… not blood. Link tries to analyze it, but the strange substance can’t be described as anything other than slimy and putrid. It tries to crawl around the blade in spreading veins, hissing at the contact, falling to dust little by little.

Nothing ever clings to the master sword. Be it blood, organs, anything , it never remains for long. As the blood drips away, the heart turns into a disgusting mush, then into smoke, until the blade is clean and shimmering once again.

Link turns around - the Hylians he was working with are still in a state of shock, swallowing dryly while running about to clean their own wounds. They stare at each other with dumbfounded eyes, and when some come to Link for answers, he has none .

*

By the end of the day, all of the nearby guardian carcasses are dealt with, completely brought to pieces in the carts as the townspeople make their way back to their village. Link’s shoulder is still aching, but at least someone had taken care of it, disinfecting and bandaging it like a nurse would. Perhaps they were a nurse, the Hylian is too preoccupied to remember, really. 

The only one that could really come up with a use for the guardian parts here might be Purah, so they bring the carts to her lab, as reluctant as some of these people are to approach it. But soon the carts are all settled up the hill and they walk back down, returning to their homes for a nice dinner and, hopefully, a quiet evening. 

But for Link, it’s almost as if getting his shoulder slashed took away his appetite. Even a homemade swift carrot stew wouldn’t reconcile him with the idea of food for now, but he supposes he’ll eat one hearty radish or two to accelerate his healing. 

More importantly, he still has to see the Sheikah woman who’s waiting for him in the lab. He steps in once again, saluting her with a nod as he approaches the table where the Sheikah slate rests.

It doesn’t seem like she’s found anything new, but he shouldn’t be surprised.

“Hey Link,” the woman says as she descends down the stairs with a strange device in hand, something that she quickly hides in the pocket of her tunic. “Thank you for the help with the guardians. I’ll let you go with a bag of guardian parts so you can take them to Zora’s domain… If that’s where you plan on returning, I mean.”

A weak smile plays at Link’s features - yes, Zora’s domain sounds good. There are people most likely waiting for him there, and truth be told, he enjoys the place. Thanks, he signs, looking down dolefully onto the slate. I don’t suppose you’ve found anything more on this?

“Well, um…” Purah stammers for a moment, her fingers fidgeting as if she’d suddenly lost her confidence. “To be honest, I didn’t believe it would work at all, but I did find something. Just...one picture, that’s all there was.”

Link’s eyes light up at her words, his heart suddenly filling itself up with a newfound hope. A new picture, perhaps a new memory? He takes the slate in hand, opening the album to find another picture added to the ones that were already there.

It’s not a landscape this time. It’s a group of people standing close to each other, smiles on their faces, cheeks pink with joy. It looks like it was taken in Hateno; and in this picture, he stands up proudly, looking at the camera with a hand on the shoulder of a young girl while two older people stand behind him - a man and a woman.

He looks at it for a moment, squinting to try and find any other detail he could’ve missed, but he’s too baffled to continue.

What’s this? He signs, pointing to the picture as he shows it to Purah. 

“That should be obvious,” she replies, a tinge of uneasiness creeping into the waves of her voice. “It’s you and your family, Link.” 

The words pull at the strings of his heart, painfully so. As the silence drags on, he looks to the picture again, finding the faces of a bunch of strangers staring at him without ever blinking. The young girl at his side has a wide grin, her blonde hair tied into short ponytails as she keeps her hands behind her back. 

And who is this? He asks, pointing to the little girl with insistence. 

“I… I don’t know,” Purah replies regretfully, her hands raising as she shrugs. “I didn’t know your family personally. She must’ve been your sister.”

He had a sister.

He had a sister, and he doesn’t even remember her name, or the fact that she existed at all. 

Thank you, Purah, Link signs after sliding the slate back into the slot against his hip, ready to go and call it a day. I owe you one.

“Wait!” The Sheikah stops him before he can reach the door, her tiny feet pattering on the wooden floor as she follows him. “I was able to make something else for you, actually...” she begins, taking the object she was hiding earlier out of her pocket. Link eyes it curiously, noticing some kind of long, flat rod with a few switches on it that resemble what he can see on the Sheikah slate.

“I call this a Sheikah remote,” Purah says, a bit out of breath. “This is for when you don’t have the Sheikah slate with you. I’m unable to make a double that works the same as the one you have right now, so with this… you can at least use the runes.”

The Hylian’s eyes travel across the item, absentmindedly pressing onto one of the switches; suddenly, his hands are tinted with the color of magnesis, allowing him to pull at any metallic object from a few meters away. 

“Everything’s here. The remote bombs, magnesis, stasis and cryonis, and you can even summon your divine beast,” Purah adds, giving a light push to rest her glasses higher up on her nose. “This should be useful to you in these times, I hope.”

Thank you, this is… Link hesitates as he looks around it, feeling it difficult to express his gratitude sincerely with how much weighs on his mind. This sounds like a lot of work. What can I give you in return?

“Nothing at all, Link,” she replies, and she looks much more serious than all the times he’d seen her before. “This is the least I can do to thank you for saving Hyrule.”

The Hylian gives a slow nod, saluting her as he makes his leave. It’s getting rather late, and he supposes a woman with the body of a child will get tired just as easily as a regular kid, so he doesn’t want to bother her any longer. He makes sure that all his belongings are with him when he walks down the hill, reaching Hateno village once again in its peaceful evening routine.

But instead of stopping anywhere, he keeps moving forward until he reaches the small wooden bridge that leads to his house. He’d paid for it, so he might as well sleep there for the night, even if finding himself alone once again leaves him with a tightening throat and a sudden urge to bite at his nails.

He steps into his home, locking the door behind himself as he scrambles in the dark to find his box of matches. He lights up the lanterns around him to illuminate his surroundings, discovering his house once again where no one is here to welcome him. 

With the night comes the chilly air, so he searches for his warm doublet inside his bag, wearing it on himself to relieve the shivers on his skin. With it he takes two big hearty radishes that he’d harvested on the way here, taking them with him to the table as he sits there, taking slow bites and chewing reluctantly through the mild sickness. 

He looks around once more. All that is here is the set of weapons he’d obtained after defeating each blight, the ones that once belonged to the champions a hundred years ago. His eyes land on the great eagle bow, and the sight of its blue frame reminds him of that asshole bird that talked down on him each time they’d meet.

Link remembers very little about Revali, aside from the fact that he seemed very bitter about the fact that the Hylian was the one supposed to fight Ganon directly. Not like he had a choice, though. He scoffs to himself as he remembers when he’d challenged him on top of Vah Medoh, and when they’d met in that exact place once again, long after his death. He hadn’t changed, not at all. 

Then on the side, the boulder breaker that belonged to Daruk. Once again, not much comes to mind when he sees it aside from the fact that Daruk had nearly shattered his spine with a friendly pat on the back. The guy was the embodiment of the brotherly Goron spirit, and deep down, knew that something was amiss; but like the others, he was brought down in his own divine beast.

His eyes then land onto Urbosa’s daybreaker and her scimitar of the seven. The Gerudo woman was nearly like an icon to him, and he knows she was the same for Zelda, at least from what he’d seen in his memories. Her strength in mind and compassion were the reasons why Link did start to believe that their fall was not to be blamed on anyone but Calamity Ganon.

At least, for a little while. 

He almost doesn’t want to let his eyes wander to the lightscale trident. Mipha’s weapon is the one that feels the most painful to look at, as beautiful and shimmery as it is. The Zora princess had never once blamed him for what happened, and was full of despair until he finally came to free her from waterblight Ganon’s grasp - or at least, her spirit. Because it was too late; he was too late for any of them, and now they're gone. 

Yet in his dreams, she puts all the blame on him and cries for the life she’d lost. 

Link’s stomach turns, and the pain in his shoulder shoots. He feels too ill to allow himself even one single bite more, so he puts the radishes aside, holding up his head with a hand. 

He hadn’t wanted this, but it’s stronger than him; Hhe takes the Sheikah slate out of its slot, bringing it in front of his eyes as the screen slowly lights up. It shows the last thing he’d opened up, being the new photo of his family that was apparently taken a hundred years ago. 

These pictures would usually bring back short memories. It’s why he’d been holding onto this hope so tightly, even if this endeavor was nothing but desperate. He lets his eyes bore into it, trying his hardest to put names on these faces, and it’s so intense that he nearly forgets to blink. 

Then, another realization comes creeping along his spine as his gaze traces the outlines of their faces - these people are all dead, whether they were killed by the Calamity or passed of old age. While he fell and was taken to the shrine of resurrection, perhaps they were still alive; and he only stops himself when the gruesome thought of his sister getting attacked by a monster reaches his mind. He closes his eyes, pressing the heels of his palms against his eyelids to force himself to think about his own pain, rather than whatever was going to show in his consciousness. 

What he feels the most in this instant is a type of shame that’s hard to describe, something that wants to punish him for not remembering. He’d felt the same way about the champions when he realized that nothing was left of them in his memories, but this comes back multiplied by ten, now that he knows that his family is watching him, begging that one day, he remembers.

But it’s too late, and the remaining memories are wiped away. Perhaps he could call it the same way Zoras call their own senses and instincts, but now he knows without a shred of doubt that, despite his many efforts, this is all there is.

He turns off the slate, letting it rest on the table as he walks up the stairs to get to his bedroom. He lies himself down onto his bed, face buried in the pillow for a few minutes.

And with time, he reaches a point where he can’t hold back the tears. They fall along his cheeks, wetting the pillowcase, as he cries himself to sleep. 

Chapter Text



***

The Zora princess’ funeral occurs in the late hours of a cold morning.

The sand feels almost harsh on Laflat’s feet as she stands, like everyone else, by the windy Lanayru bay. The clouds look heavy with rain, carrying an incoming thunderstorm that’s already begun to rumble far beyond the horizon. The sea laps gently at the coast, making the only sound that can be heard aside from the sorrowful weeping of the Zora people. 

Most of them do shed tears, even if they had never known her personally. Mipha was to be the queen of Zora’s domain, after all - everyone saw within her an absolute grace, unconditional kindness, perhaps even some sort of immortality that could’ve come with her healing powers.

But alas, it was not enough. Laflat may be young, but the events of that fateful day had been explained to her in enough details for her to understand that Lady Mipha was gone forever. And what she had come to learn as well was that she was still stuck inside Vah Ruta, and that it was impossible to get her out.

So for the solemn ceremony, there is no casket. Only prayers spoken by the priest, as King Dorephan and the very young Prince Sidon stand straight, staring into the horizon as if the princess was casting her soothing glance upon them. Laflat can’t help but shed a few tears too, her cheeks feeling warm, the hand of her mother trembling around her own. 

And Sidon who is a few years younger than her, is a child, still - yet he remains unmoving, his chest slightly puffed as he tries to keep his posture correct. The royal sash along with its decorative ropes that Mipha used to wear have been handed to him, and now, he wears them as the future king of Zora’s domain. 

When the time comes for them all to drop petals of blue nightshade flowers into the sea, Laflat cannot help but catch a quick glimpse of the Zora prince as he lets the waves reach his feet, his gaze falling to the water where Mipha’s spirit now rests. 

“I’m sorry,” Laflat gently whispers to him, in her own way of offering support. Is he hiding the way he feels? Had the king told him to keep his composure, despite how deeply he must be hurting?

“Laflat!” Her mother scolds quietly, taking her by the hand once again as she pulls her away from Sidon. “Leave the prince alone for now, will you? Let him have a moment with the sea.”

It was often said that if one listened closely, the sounds of the waves could carve a spirit’s whispers. As Laflat reluctantly steps away from her friend, her gaze compassionate while Sidon watches her go, she tries to hear the princess.

The waves continue their songs, and no words are heard; with it comes the true realization that Lady Mipha would never speak again. 

And through it all, Sidon simply stares at the foam that ebbs away. 

***

There’s a terrible taste in Sidon’s mouth as he stands in the funeral parlor, in front of the two caskets containing the victims that the guardians had taken. 

He may not have known Eki or Eidri well - the two never deserved to have such horror unleashed upon them. No one does. His father is in the room as well, thinking to himself as he looks to the two wooden coffins. Sidon breathes in, taking as much air as he can into his lungs, because it all reminds him of one thing; he’s someone who once again survived, while others lost their lives.

Does he feel guilty? Yes, very much so. Once again, it is something that he feels each second of each day, ever since Mipha had left them. The pain that had become dull with time is coming back in full force, and he supposes the most he can do for now is swallow it back.

“They have been waiting in the morgue for quite a while,” the mortician says, his gaze looking up from above his glasses. “What kind of ceremony would you need to organize for them?”

Dorephan hums for a moment, the weight of the decision seeming heavy to bear, yet he keeps it to himself. It’s nearly as if he didn’t want Sidon to feel any more than what already tears his heart apart at the moment. 

“For Eki, we should have been going to the bay as we usually do,” he begins, index finger on his chin. “But outside areas are much too dangerous to venture to in large groups. I believe that it is best if we hold a ceremony for the two of them here in the domain, and… cremate the bodies.” 

It’s heartbreaking, how the choice is made for them. Sidon wishes he could change this, but what can he do? He cannot take a group of Zoras outside, where more victims could be claimed. No, it’s enough - he’s had enough. 

“And now that Father Kapson has left to Akkala, we do not have a priest either,” the king continues, a hand on his brow as he realizes how complicated it all had become. “I suppose we will have to rely on our own prayers. But we have to do something, or these two men will never rest in peace.” 

Perhaps this is the worst fate that one could suffer, to stray as a ghost for eternity. A lump forms itself in Sidon’s throat as he remembers that his sister had wandered all alone for the past hundred years - however, he clears the thought away with a discreet cough, catching the attention of his father.

“Sidon, if you have matters to attend to, feel free to make your leave,” he says, looking upon his son with sympathy flickering across his eyes. “I shall take care of the rest, so do not worry.”

Truth be told, Sidon hadn’t planned anything specific in his morning aside from this, but the atmosphere of the room starts to grow nearly poisonous. So he nods quietly, excusing himself with a sharp turn of his back, his tail hitting against the back of his shoulder with the force. 

He walks out of the building, finding himself brushed by the warmth of a late morning sun. His feet patter in the water gently flowing on the marbled surface of the domain as he ambles about, taking sight of the beautiful region that surrounds them. 

All around the domain, guards have been sent to patrol day and night, their gazes piercing every inch of their surroundings in search for any sign of something suspicious, anything that could bring them answers. It had been like this for a few days, but after the meeting in Hyrule Castle the previous day, the security had been reinforced. The royal family is now using all the funds necessary to deploy sentries wherever they need to be, and while it’s somewhat reassuring, he can’t help but feel an overwhelming pressure upon his shoulders.

It’s his turn to protect the domain. His father is much too old to fight now, despite whatever he may have to say about the matter - Sidon has to take care of this, even if it means ruining himself, even if it means sharing Mipha’s fate. That’s the mindset she had back then, wasn’t it? 

He knows it, because he remembers her saying that one day, he might have to be the one to stand up and fight for his home. 

Taking in a deep breath, Sidon decides to put his mind somewhere else for at least a few seconds. Link may not be here at the moment, but he still needs to train, and he’ll do so everyday from now on. 

He steps into the palace, making his way to the sparring room. He’s saluted by a few guards as he walks by them, their eyes hopeful but stern - and it’s of no surprise to him that Zelda and Buliara are training together again. This time, the older woman teaches her to use a simple bow, aiming at a target against the wall. 

And once again, Lady Riju sits in the corner of the room, writing in a small book - perhaps some kind of diary?

Bothering her seems out of the question. He gives her a simple a salute as he passes by, something that she returns half-heartedly. 

He starts with a few warming up exercises, stretching to truly wake himself up from his rather restless night. There are many techniques he’d learned from his personal trainers, and according to Link, those would most certainly be of use when the time would come to slash down guardian claws. Once again, stunning them helps defeat them without letting them do any damage. He’s never tried it yet, so he can only hope it’ll truly work if it comes to it. 

But training in long-range combat might be a reasonable idea as well. He puts his sword back after a few long moments, feeling himself growing more and more energetic just by hearing Buliara’s encouragements from afar, even if they’re not quite thrown at him. 

He takes a full hour to himself to train in various ways, sometimes going back to the spear or the sword, whatever seems necessary in the moment. Once he feels himself growing out of breath, he decides to take a break, his eyes lighting up when he notices that one of the castle maids has brought them cups of tea.

“Thank you.” He can hear Riju speaking from afar, her blue lips smiling contentedly for the first time since she’s stepped foot outside of central Hyrule. Sidon supposes it wouldn’t hurt to stop and sit with her this time.

“May I sit?” He asks, gesturing to the spot in front of her with softness in his voice. Truth be told, he has yet to get to know her personality and temper, so he might need to be careful with his words. Then again, he always is. 

“Of course, this is your home after all,” the Gerudo chieftainess replies, holding up her teacup. The tea is still a bit steamy, so Sidon will wait a little more to drink his own. He sits in front of her politely, stealing a glance towards the two training women who seem to have no intention of stopping for now.

“I hope that you are enjoying the domain despite the circumstances that have brought you here,” he begins, looking back at her with a gaze that transforms his words into a question. 

“It is a beautiful place indeed,” Lady Riju replies, bringing the tea to her lips and taking a sip. “I have always wanted to visit, so I suppose this gives me an occasion.” 

Sidon can hardly be fooled when it comes to detecting other’s hidden emotions, though. The young lady has obviously been despondent for the past two days, and her eyes seem to lose themselves into some kind of melancholy when she sits alone. The prince hopes he’s not being rude when he decides to say, “I could not help but notice that you do not seem well.” He tilts his head at her. “Pardon me if this is too personal of a matter.”

Riju gives a little laugh, her gaze directing itself towards him. “You have good eyesight,” she replies, her lightly sardonic tone accompanying a roll of her eyes. 

Sidon’s face pinches a little at the sarcasm, but he can’t let something so small bother him. Her response is most likely justified. “Is there anything I could do to help?” He asks, gaze growing softer.

A sigh leaves her as she puts the cup down, hands resting on her knees for another pensive moment. “I’m afraid not,” she begins, shaking her head. “This has nothing to do with the living conditions here.” 

When Sidon realizes that she’s most likely not going to open up on her own, he gives her a compassionate look, tail swishing slightly against his back. He truly hopes he’s not being too pushy, but unfortunately, he knows what isolating oneself does to the soul; and if he can help in any way, he’ll be happy to. 

“I assume that it is because you have been taken away from your home?” He asks, quietly enough so that Buliara wouldn’t hear. She seems rather focused on training the princess, so he believes that it’s safe for now. 

Riju responds with a half-hearted smile, hand fidgeting with her long, fiery red braided hair for an instant. The short silence is all that Sidon needs to know that it’s exactly where her troubles lie, and he can’t help but feel a certain guilt; after all, he was the one to offer that she comes to Zora’s domain for the time being. 

“You seem to understand,” the Gerudo replies, averting her eyes from him. “As nice as this place is, this is not where I should be right now. My people in Gerudo are struggling, defending the town from the pack of guardians in the desert,” she quietly explains before letting out a defeated sigh. “Yet here I am, all the way across Hyrule where I cannot help or even support them.” 

Sidon listens to her words, unsurprised at this response. “And you wish you could protect them,” he says, though it’s more of a way to finish her sentence and perhaps discreetly voice his own troubles. He can understand the feeling; after all, it’s also his duty to protect his people, but the chieftainess was not as lucky as him. 

“Of course,” Riju replies, once again bending her knees towards her own body, as if subconsciously protecting herself. “But I’m starting to believe that Buliara was right, after all. She did train me to use the scimitar, but I’m not nearly as good as the warriors of my hometown. For an instant, I was naive enough to believe that my age didn’t matter as long as I was strong…” she adds, pausing as she bites at the inside of her cheek. “But there is a sort of barrier here, between me and these wishes. As valiant as I want to be, I am still too short, too inexperienced to survive against a single guardian.”

A tinge of pain plays at the prince’s heart as he remains silent for a few instants. It’s a strong belief of his that one should never give up if they want to achieve their goal, but can it really apply to such a young girl, and in these terrifying circumstances? It’s a bit conflicting, truly, but he does agree that it is a wiser decision for her to stay back. 

“That is reasonable,” Sidon eventually says, finally taking hold of his own cup of tea and bringing it to his lips. The taste of wildberry leaves tea is one he’d truly missed. 

But before he can say anything more, Riju speaks up again. “It doesn’t feel any less discouraging though,” she starts, raising her head up, “to be told indirectly that I am such a burden. Instead of helping my people, I would only bring them down. And Buliara could be helping in the town too, if she didn’t have to be here protecting me.”

Sidon can’t help but shake his head immediately, his forefins swishing left and right with the movement. “You are not a burden, far from it!” He begins, eyes sincere as she looks up at him once again with a cocked eyebrow. “The Gerudo believe in you as a chieftainess. They would rather know that you are safe than lose you in battle,” he adds, realizing once again that this might happen to him as well, whether he likes it or not. “Such a scenario would unleash pure despair upon any unified tribe, trust me. You are their treasure, and no matter the time, their thoughts are always with you.”

A short silence settles as the girl thinks on his words, her head slightly swaying to the side as she sits back, legs crossed against the marbled floor. “So you’re able to participate in the fight because...” she starts, pointing a finger at him. “You’re older and have much more training than I do. It should be obvious, but I cannot help but feel a little envious.”

Sidon offers a small smile, his chest a bit tighter than it was a few seconds before. “If it consoles you in any way, my father wishes I could stay in my room and wait until the storm passes. I suppose it is how people like us will be treated no matter what.”

Although, he can tell that Dorephan’s anguish comes from the fact that he had already lost a daughter. 

He shouldn’t be making light of his overprotectiveness. 

Riju rests her chin against her knuckles, her gaze scanning the room until it reaches Zelda and Buliara who are much too focused on their training to hear anything she’s saying. “Well, when Buliara has her mind set on something, it’s impossible to negotiate, no matter how hard I try to convince her that I can somehow be useful in Gerudo, even outside of combat. I suppose I have to admit defeat against her,” she adds, a smile tinted with begrudging acceptance upturning the corners of her lips. 

The prince thinks for a moment, unsure that the answer he has should be the one to be brought up. But his decision is quickly made as he shifts closer, so that the other women wouldn’t hear him. 

“Do not admit complete defeat,” he says with a smile, pumping his fist up like he does so often. “One day, you will surely be able to fight just as well as she does, perhaps you’ll be even stronger. So do not give up, alright?” 

It seems to be the kind of speech Riju needed to hear, because her smile grows a little more heartfelt by now. She lets out a content sigh, taking her cup once again. “Thank you for your encouragements, Prince Sidon,” she says as she takes another sip of her tea. 

“‘Sidon’ is fine,” he replies, putting a hand to his chest. 

“Then in this case, you may call me Riju,” she states, extending her hand for a handshake. Sidon gladly takes it, and her hand is small enough that she fits just between two of his fingers. It’s rather comical, he thinks to himself, but it doesn’t seem to bother her.

*

The following hour, Sidon finally brings himself to see how things are going in the underground laboratory. He walks through the corridor, somewhat nervous about what he’ll find, but he can only hope that it’ll bring a bit of progress. As he reaches the lantern-lit hall, he finds himself standing behind his friend Laflat, who seems to be in the middle of a task as she carries a jar of the blue material that makes the ancient weapons.

"Laflat!" he exclaims as he sees her, blinking as the red Zora practically jumps in surprise.

Whipping around to face the prince, Laflat shoots him a teasing glare as she nudges him with her elbow, careful with the fragile object in her hands. "Sidon, do not scare me like that!"

"Oh, my apologies." he chuckles, leaning down a bit to curiously gaze at the jar in her hands. "Have they finally allowed you to start working in the laboratory?"

“Yes,” she replies, holding up the object between her hands to allow him to have a closer look. “I am learning so much, Sidon; they’ve tasked me with writing the protective parchments!”

The prince’s tail perks up as his eyes widen in interest. “Protective parchments?” 

“Yes! Come with me, I’ll show them to you,” she hums, gesturing for him to follow. 

As Sidon enters the hall, the atmosphere almost instantly starts to weigh on him. Paya kneels in front of the tiny furnace that she’d showed them a few days before, only tearing her attention away from it for a second to greet the prince before she throws guardian parts into it - he could only guess that she’s building ancient weapons. And as Laflat sits down in front of her work desk, the prince can’t help but notice Jemi and Clessie sitting at theirs, working on repairing a miniature guardian scout for their experiments without a word passing between them. He can’t quite see their faces, but he knows that they must still be greatly affected by what happened to Eidri.

Before Laflat can open her mouth to speak, the two other women get up from their seats, turning around to face the door as they hold piles of tools into their arms. Their pace slows down when they come closer to the prince, gazes shooting up as he looks to them with compassion. 

“My friends, would you like to have some rest for the remaining hours of the day?” He asks, hoping that it will at least lift this weight off of their shoulders. Working in these conditions must not be easy. 

But they do what he had least expected. They stare at him for just a moment, and Sidon can almost instantly feel his throat tightening when he notices the bags under their reddened eyes. Then, they both look away, walking past him without a word as if he were simply in their way - all that displays on their faces is an expression of pure bitterness, something that he knows is directed at him

He watches them go with a slightly hung mouth as they step out of the hall, not bothering to spare a glance his way or anyone else for that matter. 

Once again, he understands. 

“It must be so difficult for them...” Laflat utters, her tone regretful. When Sidon doesn’t reply, she puts a hand against his arm, attempting to turn him away from the empty corridor. “Hey, Sidon, it’s not your fault,” she adds as the prince looks back to her. “They need time to process it. A lot of time.” 

The prince lets out a sigh, eyelids falling shut in defeat. “I know, Laflat - I simply wish that none of this had ever happened. They’ve only come here to help, yet they’ve lost someone they cherished in the blink of an eye…”

There’s a long pause as he thinks to himself, trying to find an idea of what he could do to somehow help, even if only a little. Laflat remains silent until he turns around, deciding to change the subject for now. “So, what about these parchments?” He asks with toned down curiosity.

“Yes, you see,” the woman begins, gesturing to the jar full of glowing blue liquid. “This ink right here is one of the many forms of the material called Sihgane. It can be used to write on parchments, and these parchments can be attached to buildings and other constructions for protection.” 

With careful movements, she takes out a quill, dipping it lightly into the ink and shaking off the excess. Then her hand travels to the parchment as she starts to write down as many signs she can fit on one piece of paper. 

“Are those Sheikah runes?” Sidon asks curiously, remembering the symbols he’d seen in some of his books. 

“Yes - we write them down onto each parchment, because they translate into protection spells and give the same reaction as any ancient shield,” she states as she keeps writing down. The runes, even on paper, glow brightly, almost as much as the shrines scattered across Hyrule. It’s incredible to him that such a material can be used as an ink…

An ink?

Something seems to pass the prince’s mind as he watches her scribble down onto the parchments. “Say, can this ink be used on the body?” He asks, carefully holding the jar closer to himself to examine it. The blue glow is bright and pure, almost like melted luminous stone.  

“You mean like a tattoo?” Laflat asks, her head tilting to the side and her single forefin dangling. “I have no idea…” 

The way her words are pronounced let him know that she’s indirectly asking the question to Paya, who most likely knows a lot more about the matter. And thankfully, the young woman hears her; she gets up and turns around, her fingers pinching at each other in nervousness.

“It’s possible, yes,” she speaks up timidly, looking up at Sidon. “Many ancient Sheikah warriors had runes tattooed across their bodies with this ink, and it would protect them without the need of ancient gear,” she adds with confidence, although her gaze is soon downcast when she realizes that it’s not as easy as it seems. “We would need someone with the right tools for something like this, though...”

“I know someone who may be able to help,” Sidon pipes up with a newfound hope, a small smile tugging at his lips. “I shall ask him-”

He finds himself interrupted by the sound of footsteps entering the hall; and unfortunately, he’s so on edge that it startles him. But it’s only Clessie, who’s come back from wherever she left to. She’s still holding onto that miniature guardian, although it seems like she’s brought some more materials from outside. 

And Sidon must be rather tactless these days, because he spends a few seconds more than necessary looking at her. He’s not sure what kind of look he has, perhaps once again compassionate - but the young Sheikah reacts almost instantly as she steps in.

“Never look at me and my mother like this again,” she begins, rancor filling her heart to the brim. “We don’t want your pity.” 

Sidon feels immediately uneasy, and truth be told, he wishes he could shrink so he didn’t have to be so naturally imposing, perhaps she wouldn’t have noticed his instinctive sympathy. “You have my apologies,” he begins, straightening himself. “I simply do not want you to put pressure on yourself.”

“And what else do you suggest?” Clessie asks, nearly baring her blunt teeth. “That we stop helping altogether, and leave you Zoras to deal with an ancient technology you know nothing about? Don’t make me laugh,” she adds, as Sidon can feel his blood running cold. 

He could start to believe that Eidri’s death was his fault, too. 

“We’re useless to you Zoras here if we don’t work, aren’t we?” Clessie continues with a bitter laugh. “So don’t pretend you’re fine with us taking time off. We know we’re only here to help .”

Laflat is the one to intervene next. “Clessie, Sidon was just trying to-”

“Forget it,” Clessie grumbles with a dismissive wave of her hand. “Look, we just lost my father. Maybe working until we’re too tired to continue is our only way to stop thinking about what we saw that day. ”

The tears seem to well up in her lower lids as she speaks, and through it all, Sidon stares solemnly, deciding that it’s not worth it to speak at the moment. 

But as the woman chokes back a sob, she stands up straight again, walking past him. “So just leave us be,” she orders, sitting back to her work desk as Sidon decides to look away this time. 

It’s not the first time that he’d heard that type of speech; even as the Zora prince, he still makes many mistakes that triggers the wrath of the older generation, no matter how good his intentions are. So it’s nearly of no surprise to him - and this time, he won’t insist any longer. 

The next time he opens his mouth, he turns again to Laflat, who looks completely awkward, apologetic that she wasn’t able to do anything to shut Clessie up.  

“Laflat, may I take one of these jars of ink with me?” He asks, to which the shorter Zora nods quickly. 

And when he has what he needs, he leaves the room without so much of a goodbye, hoping inwardly that these women will find peace, even if it means that they blame him in return. 

After a few minutes of striding across the domain with this curious jar in hand, he finally finds Maror’s tattoo parlor, standing in front of the door for a full minute as he thinks to himself. Now, he knows that if he doesn’t think carefully about his words, he could very well hurt another soul. So he takes some time, until he feels ready to ring the bell at the entrance. 

“Come in!” The artist’s voice comes out, and the prince immediately tenses up as he opens the door, tucking himself beneath it. As he closes it behind himself Maror’s shorter form shows up from the work room, ambling to the lobby.

“Welcome to-” he stops himself as soon as he notices the giant Zora in front of him, his smile faltering for just a moment as Sidon tries hard to not avert his eyes. “Oh. Hi there, Sid,” he utters, seemingly surprised that the prince would step foot in his parlor. “Can I help you?”

Sidon takes a deep breath, showing a weak smile as to not appear completely mortified. “Good afternoon, Maror,” he begins, tail perking up. “I have something to ask you.” 

“Alright,” the peach Zora agrees with a quick nod, gesturing to the door at his side. “Can this wait just a bit? I have a customer right now, but I’m almost done. You can wait for me in my break room if you want.” 

“Yes, thank you,” the prince replies, walking to the other door that once again is too small for him. Or rather, he is too big for it. He walks into the break room with a certain sense of uneasiness flowing slowly into him, his tail slightly curling inward in awkwardness.

The room is decorated with many paintings and drawings of all sorts, though flowers seems to be the most prominent theme. He’d known Maror for quite some time, but the man had done too many pieces for Sidon to have seen them all. He’d kept one design for a tattoo that he’d made for him, but the prince had never gotten it on his body - as a royal, these kinds of things were not commonly accepted, so he had to forget the idea. Still, he does admire the work, and he knows that his… friend might be of a great help. 

He sits onto one of the chairs, waiting as he rests the jar of ink on the table. He hasn’t come here in a while, so he doesn’t feel as comfortable as he’d like to, truth be told.

After a few long minutes, Maror finishes up with his current customer, walking to the break room to join Sidon as he closes the door behind himself. “Sorry for the wait, Sid,” he begins, his lip rings moving with his smile slightly as he speaks. “What did you want to ask?” 

The prince waits until he’s sitting down before speaking up, announcing words that even he can still hardly believe.. “You are surely aware that our people are in great danger of being attacked by these rampaging guardians,” he starts bluntly, his ulnar fins flattening at the thought. 

Maror’s smile wanes once again, and that alone is rare enough that it induces yet another level of discomfort within Sidon. “Yeah, of course,” the tattoo artist begins, resting his chin against his hand. “Everyone knows about it. I heard there was another victim too.” 

Sidon pushes the ink jar forward so that the shorter man can take a closer look. “I’ve come back from the laboratory with this ink,” he explains as he gestures to the glowing blue liquid inside. “According to the Sheikah, this can be used on the body for tattoos, and it offers a certain protection against guardian attacks.” 

Maror looks to the jar hesitantly, turning it around, his golden eyes reflecting the bright blue of the ink. There’s a silence hovering around them before he puts the jar down, swallowing sharply. “Yeah,” Maror says, and crosses his arms. “I’ve… heard of that.” 

Sidon is a bit confused at the sudden uncertainty in Maror’s voice, but he decides to speak again. “I feel nearly uneasy asking you this… but you are the only tattoo artist I know, and we need your help.” 

Truly, he doesn’t think he’d ever have to ask this from him, but he has to put everything and everyone on his side if he doesn’t want any other tragedy to happen again. 

Maror thinks for a few tense moments with his eyes focused on the prince the entire time, lips smiling once again when he’s done. “No need to be so tense, Sid,” he hums, beginning to wash away the doubt from his own face and resting a hand on the back of the prince’s tail, gently sliding it down. It has Sidon shivering for a split second as he looks back at him abruptly - and Maror instantly takes it as discomfort, so he quickly lets go. “When have I ever said no to something you’ve asked of me?” 

A pink hue invades the Zora prince’s cheeks, something that he tries to conceal as rapidly as possible. Goddesses, he knew having to ask his previous lover for help would throw him in disarray like this. Perhaps he should’ve just gone back home. 

“I’m sorry,” Sidon simply utters out of nowhere, honestly not sure what else to say, really. He’s already messed up once today, he’s not sure he wants to make another mistake. 

“Sorry for what?” Maror asks as he gets up from his seat, taking a pile of drawings into his hands and absentmindedly organizing them. “It’s in the past, Sid, and I know that certain rumors in the domain might have led you to think that I started hating you after we broke up,” he adds, and the word alone is enough for Sidon to feel a certain sourness in his throat. 

“But I don’t,” the peach Zora finishes, looking at him one more time. “I really don’t, you know. So don’t feel uneasy asking, we can still be friends after all.” 

The prince does feel a little relieved at those reassuring words. Things had been somewhat tense between them for a while now, so he’s glad that this is at least clarified. “Thank you,” Sidon says, shoulders dropping - he’s not sure he wants to elaborate on this any further. 

Because it would be justified for anyone to hate him, after what he’s done. 

“So… You want me to tattoo soldiers with this thing?” Maror finally asks, thankfully changing the subject as he points to the ink. 

“I am debating whether we should make it mandatory or not, but for now, you may do so to those who wish, even civilians,” Sidon explains, gaining back his composure. “Of course, the royal family will pay you for it, as this counts as military equipment.” 

Maror hums at the prince’s words, putting a hand against his own hip as he nods. “Sounds good to me - you know I love this domain with all my heart. I’ll do anything needed to protect it.”

“Your help is greatly appreciated, Maror,” the prince says as he gets up, preparing himself to walk out of Maror’s parlor as he doesn’t want to bother him any longer than necessary. “Please, do come to me if you require any more information.” 

With this, he makes his leave, sighing audibly now that this is out of the way. 

And Maror has to take some time to stare at this ink again - this glow… he’d never seen it before, but the stories are many. And some of these stories aren’t worth mentioning to anyone who wishes to be tattooed with this thing. He almost feels like he has to lean back on his chair to increase the distance between him and that jar, because… 

He never thought the Sihgane ink would find its way back to him in his lifetime. 

*

The head nurse is often on her guard when she goes out, even more so now that she approaches the funeral parlor. Felephun knocks against the door after the closing hours, a bag dangling from her shoulder.

The mortician inside opens the door only a centimeter, peering through it with distrustful eyes at the woman who gives yet another one of her soft smiles.

“I thought he was supposed to come,” he growls, opening the door a little more so she can see his face. “Why is it you ?”

“Are you not pleased to see me?” Felephun asks with a titter, her glossy lips pushing into a kissable shape. 

“No way in hell,” he hisses, gesturing for her to come into the room despite his acrimony. “But  not like I have a choice, anyway.”

Felephun gives a little sigh, her shoulders dropping as she rolls her eyes. “Ah, always so cold with everyone,” she begins as she enters the lobby, her long tail perking up. “I suppose that is fitting for someone with such a vocation, though.” 

“Don’t give me that shit,” the shorter Zora orders, baring his teeth. “Now, I want answers .” 

The nurse’s mood changes completely from one second to another. Her face is cold, eyes deep and dark as she clutches at the handle of her bag. Even the mortician is startled by such a change of atmosphere. “The hell’s wrong with you?” He asks, voice slightly trembling. 

“You do not want answers,” Felephun says.

“Yes, I do!” the mortician growls back, attempting not to cower beneath her intimidating gaze. “You’re here to tell me why in Hylia’s name I saw Eki’s dead body fucking walking around the room for a few seconds before he fell back down. That is what I want to know.” 

Felephun’s mood eases down and returns to something calmer. “But not everyone can have what they desire -  but fortunately for you, I came to give you something else.” 

The mortician sneers, ready to speak again before Felephun throws a pouch full of rupees on the table between them. He quickly grabs it, counting them with a dumbfounded yet euphoric look on his face. 

“Doctor Najon told me to hand this to you,” she explains, crossing her arms. “...in exchange for your silence.” 

The mortician finally shows his true colors as a pleased grin spreads across his face. Felephun can’t help but feel sick to her stomach. “Oh, so you two do know something,” he hums with an accusatory yet pleased tone in his voice, “but fine, I’ll drop it. Just don’t expect me to help you when it comes back to bite you in the ass. I’ll be on vacation in Lurelin forever with all this money!”

He lets out a laugh, attaching the pouch to his belt so that he doesn’t lose anything. “Now get out of here. Eki will be burned to ashes in a few days, so we won’t be bringing this up ever again.” 

“You truly are despicable...” Felephun mutters under her breath, trying to keep her composure. “Perhaps it should have been you under that guardian’s leg instead of Eki.” 

The mortician smiles again, careless and sick with greed. “Complain all you want doll, I’m not the one with blood-soaked secrets here,” he shoots back, making Felephun’s fist clench. 

There’s no way to reason with him. This man had always been rotten to the core, so she may as well give up. She decides to leave the funeral parlor by slamming the door, shuddering as if to shake off the filth that the mortician was radiating. 

Blood-soaked secrets. 

She wants to sigh in relief, because now at least the mortician is crossed off her list of problems. But there’s still so much to do. So much she has to destroy, and so much she has to protect. 

She walks towards the hospital again. 

*

“Tumbo?” 

Mei calls out the name of her son one more time, worry bleeding into her tone. The young Zora hasn’t shown himself for a few hours now, and in these times, it’s an even greater fear that plagues her and her husband. 

“Where could you be?” She mutters to herself, fingers closing on her palm, claws digging into her scales. 

She jumps slightly when Fronk, her husband, jumps out of one of the waterfalls, landing on the marbled floor with panic. His feet patter in the water as he darts to her, out of breath. 

“He’s not at the lake,” the man says frantically, swallowing his anxiety with an audible gulp. “I’ve looked everywhere, Mei. He must’ve ventured outside the domain!” 

The idea of it puts the woman into a state of near terror, her hands trembling. “This can’t be...” she says, voice quieted down. “There are guards all around the domain, they would’ve seen and prevented him from leaving!”

Fronk nods, though his gaze falls to the floor, teeth gritting. “He is a small child, he probably found a way,” he affirms, holding his dear wife by the shoulders. “Tell Keye to go to bed. I’ll go look for him.” 

“Darling, you can’t do that!” Mei exclaims as she tightly holds onto his wrists as if that would somehow keep him here. “It’s too dangerous outside, we should ask the guards for help!”

“I’m afraid I can’t wait for them to begin their search,” he says firmly, and her grip on his wrist tightens from anxiety. Fronk lets out a sigh, forcing himself out of her grasp as he cups her cheeks.

“Mei, look at me,” he utters, his golden gaze peering into her own. “I’ll be careful, I promise. I already relied on the Hylian champion’s help to get you back from Lake Hylia, now it’s my turn to be useful.” 

As the teal Zora shakes her head, teary-eyed and ready to speak up again, Fronk presses a kiss onto her lips before pulling away. 

“Trust me,” he says with a soft smile, stepping away and leaving her behind. “I’ll bring our son home safely.” 

“Okay...” Mei stammers in defeat, nodding vigorously as she watches him go. “Please darling, be careful.”

Fronk doesn’t waste any time moving forward, preparing himself to leave the domain in search of Tumbo. He knows that there’s a high chance his son is playing at the pond with his favorite frogs, and thankfully it isn’t too far from here, but it would require avoiding the gazes of the sentries. 

Before he even reaches the domain’s gate, he jumps into the lake below, to conceal himself beneath the surface. Now must begin a rather long swim to his destination, but if his son is ever in danger, he’ll do anything to find him first, even if that meant climbing up a cliff. 

And that’s exactly what he has to do. He pushes himself into the water for now, hiding himself as the guards patrol, his tail tensing up. He goes past the waterfall, soon finding himself at the bottom of the cliff that is linked to the domain by its large bridge; if he’s careful, no one will see him from this distance. And from here on, all he has to do is dart to the pond only a few meters away.

After climbing, he hides himself behind pink coral bushes, crawling in the tall grass. He reaches the pond rather quickly, and he can notice a large amount of frogs there, but no Tumbo. 

He calls out his name one more time, looking around himself to see if he’s nearby, to no avail. And it’s getting rather dark; the sky is clouded, hiding the moon and removing one of his brightest light sources. He can only hope that the several luminous stones pillars along the path will be enough for him to detect him in the dark.

He keeps searching for a moment, soon arriving to a small gathering of trees where a few fireflies dance around. He steps closer as he notices a few bushes twitching, surely hiding something behind them.

“Tumbo?” He quietly calls out, crouching as he gets closer. “It’s dad, please come out. Don’t worry, you’re not in trouble - I’m just going to take you home.”

When no reply comes, a shiver crawls along his body. Another sound makes itself heard, behind him this time, like someone stepping on a branch - but when he turns around, there’s nothing either.

“Who’s there?” He asks, still distrustful of his surroundings, his hand touching the ground.

And before he can even realize what’s going on, something takes a hold of his hand, coiling around it like a snake; he only has time to let out a startled gasp before he’s completely blinded, his consciousness fading in the blink of an eye.

Chapter Text

 

The Zora library is one of the largest in all of Hyrule, so when Zelda finds herself wandering its maze-like bookshelves it takes her some time to find the information she’d been looking for. After all, if the Zoras were the most biologically close to the Zonai, wouldn’t they have more information on the ancient civilization than whatever books she may have read beforehand? 

But disappointment is all that she obtains instead. She already knew that they were located in the Faron jungle, and that the spirit deities they worshipped were much different from the Goddess Hylia. Some books do explain that they began to practice necromancy at some point in time - but for what reason, exactly? She’s spent hours in this library, but none of these books mention any actual motive for it. 

Just as she’s about to close the thickest book she could find, she hears a set of footsteps coming closer - she quickly tries to hide the subject of the books she was reading, but the person approaching ends up finding her sooner than she expected. “Paya?” 

“Ah- Your Majesty!” Paya exclaims, face reddening. “I’m sorry I bothered you! I- I shall come back some time later!” 

Before Paya can run away, Zelda stands back up and leaves the books to rest messily across the floor. “You aren’t bothering me at all,” she says with a hand on the Sheikah’s shoulder. “In fact, I would like to know why you came here.”

Paya’s shoulder is tense, and Zelda can even feel it in her fingertips. She takes her hand off, already feeling a bit guilty when Paya turns around with her pointed ears drooping in defeat, crimson eyes shifting between the princess and the books on the floor. “I assume… for the same reason as you did?”

Of course. It would be foolish to assume that Paya wouldn’t attempt to learn more about the Zonai when she already knows their language. Zelda knows that the other woman is already intimidated by her, so she smiles apologetically to reassure her. “I will spare you that waste of time. Truly, those books do not say much more than what everyone in Hyrule knows.”

“Oh.” Paya’s expression softens, and she almost even looks relieved. She bundles her hands together before timidly speaking up again. “Then… even the Zoras decided not to keep much information on them… I suppose I should have expected that.” 

Zelda thinks for a moment, leaving the following silence rather awkward, mostly for Paya. She looks like she wants to flee, but doesn’t dare to. 

“Actually, considering you found one of their books in the cellar of Lady Impa’s mansion - which is still baffling to me, by the way - you might know more than I do.” The princess tries her hardest to keep her expression gentle. “By any chance, would you know why exactly they decided to start practicing necromancy? The choice is already sinister in itself, but I cannot imagine that they did this without a reason behind it.” 

Paya’s eyes snap open, and they wander, as if she were searching through her memories. “The book I found didn’t truly specify this, but… many incantations mentioned Calamity Ganon in some way or another. Some words were hard to recognize, but I could faintly understand that they harbored a deep hatred for him.” 

Zelda swallows sharply at the mention of the Calamity, but tries not to show much of it. “Well, that is a surprise… so do you believe that they changed their ways in order to annihilate Ganon? Did they perhaps think that black magic was the solution?”

“I have no way to confirm it, but that is the only logical conclusion I could come to as well-” Paya nervously tucks a strand of hair behind her ear. “But necromancy involved many sacrifices of innocent lives, and I imagine that this is why Hyrule as a whole could not tolerate it.”

Zelda nods, putting a finger to her chin. “That does make sense, I suppose. Then… would it mean that this reason is never stated in history books because people would try to recreate their magic? To try and… destroy Ganon, as the Zonai meant to do?”

Only silence comes in response, but Paya’s expression says that these are questions she doesn’t truly have the answer to. She’s still very much nervous, tugging at her own collar to fidget. 

“I apologize for dragging you further into this,” Zelda utters, giving a slight bow. “And I wished to apologize to you as well for the way I reacted when you first spoke of the Zonai language. I suppose I’m just… worried about you.”

Paya’s eyes light up. “Worried? For what reason, Your Majesty?” 

“Well first, those methods were highly frowned upon,” Zelda says as she crosses her arms. “And second… I have heard of how dangerous they were. Can you be sure that they will not harm you in any way?” 

For some reason, Paya smiles - but it’s a sad smile, something that says that no, there’s no way to be certain that what she does is entirely safe for her. 

“I will do my best to use this power moderately,” Paya finally says, bending down to help Zelda with picking up the books scattered at her feet. “I want to keep helping you after all, no matter what.” 

*

Dawn comes after an excruciatingly long wait at the fountain for Mei, who still hasn’t seen her husband or her son again ever since he went to look for him. Keye is close by in the communal pool, just barely waking up, as the woman patiently looks into the distance for any movement. 

As she squints, she notices that one of the sentries is approaching the domain, accompanied by a tiny form that she recognizes instantly.

“Tumbo!” She yells out, bolting to the bridge to join him, the water splashing under her feet. The child looks just as exalted to see her as he frees himself from the guard’s hold and hurries towards her to throw himself in his mother’s arms.

“My baby, where were you this whole time?” She asks, spinning him around, relieved tears pooling up in her eyes. “It’s too dangerous to leave the domain!”

“I know, I’m sorry,” Tumbo replies as his head bends down both in apology and guilt. “I was looking for Maru, he disappeared yesterday night…” 

Mei thinks for a moment; right, his pet frog Maru. She wants to say that his own safety is much more important than some frog’s, but she knows very well that it will hurt his feelings. So instead, she plays along.

“Did you find him?” Mei asks with a little smile before putting him back down. 

“No,” the child says with a pout, his tiny hands balling into fists. “And I had to hide, because there was a monster around. I ran away when it wasn’t looking, and it didn’t see me.”

“Oh sweetheart,” Mei chuckles in relief, about to write everything off in favor of just being grateful that her son had come back at all - but then she comes to a realization that has her voice trembling in panic as she suddenly speaks up. “Wait, did you not meet up with your father?” 

“What?”

“Dad left the domain yesterday to look for you, and he still hasn’t come back,” she explains, placing her hands onto his shoulders as she kneels down. “You didn’t see him at all?” 

Tumbo’s eyes snap wide open, his face turning somehow paler than it already is as he looks to his mother’s distraught face.

“No, I came back on my own,” he answers. 

*

Link had thankfully finished his business in Hateno earlier than planned; it’s heartbreaking to admit, but he doesn’t like spending time in Hateno, at least not anymore now that he’s developed such tense relationships with the villagers and sleeps alone in his house every night. 

Zora’s domain sounds much more peaceful to him. But before he goes back, there’s something else he needs. So he fast-travels to Akkala, and heads to Robbie’s lab where the old man makes ancient weapons. The weather is, like always, rather agitated, so he’s grateful that all he has to do now is push the door open. 

The short Sheikah man turns around at the sound, slightly startled, but obviously relieved at the sight of the Hylian champion. “Link,” he begins, the eyes of his goggles moving left and right as they readjust. “I thought you were in Zora’s domain.” 

The Hylian nods, setting his bag to the side to relieve his sore shoulders. I’m just passing by because I’m lacking a good ancient weapon, he explains, and his eyes shift towards the furnace. He hopes he can get something good out of it this time. 

“I see,” Robbie hums, walking to the furnace himself. But as he walks, it seems like he notices something more - he moves his head forward as to look more closely, then pulls back with a sort of grimace. 

“Oh, Goddess Hylia.” Robbie gives a heavy sigh. “You’re covered in blood.”

Link has a moment of thought, then he remembers - right , he went to kill a Lynel just now, and completely forgot about all this blood staining his clothes. Looks like he’ll have to wash it all off before he heads back to the domain, because he sure as hell doesn’t want to explain what he did to anyone, especially not Sidon. 

To be fair, he might have to do it anyway. After all, the savage Lynel shield he got from that monster is one he meant to give to Sidon so he could protect himself against guardian rays. 

Just pretend you don’t see it, okay? Link signs after a dismissive wave of his hand. I’m just here for a weapon. 

Of course, Robbie isn’t one to tell Link what to do or not to do, so he easily drops the subject. Instead, he goes back to his furnace, interrupting its current work so that Link can get his weapon quicker. “But isn’t the master sword enough to put guardians down? It was meant to seal away the malice, after all.” 

The Hylian eyes the sword sheathed against his hip, his shoulders rolling in a shrug. It’s only good enough for a short while, he begins, reaching for the hilt as he pulls it out. The light of the sword has completely faded, and the blade is cracked in all places, like a useless piece of junk. Then it runs out of energy, and this happens. I have to wait until she feels like working again. So if that happens during battle, I’m fucked, he adds after he puts it back into its scabbard. 

“Alright,” the other man utters, seeming rather impressed by the sight of the legendary sword looking so battered. “Well, have you tried the ancient bladesaw? It’s a double-handed weapon, and it’s surely a lot heavier than the master sword, but the damage it does to guardians is greater. You can cut off a guardian’s limb in a single strike with this, but you have to be pretty close.”

Link smiles in return with a slow nod, taking little time to consider the idea. Sounds perfect, just what I like, he replies as he moves back to his bag where most of his supplies are. How much do you need? 

“Just some guardian parts and a thousand rupees, as usual,” Robbie answers bluntly.

Right, these weapons are always ridiculously expensive to make, but luckily he came prepared once again. He takes out the materials that he’d gotten in Hateno fort, gathering enough rupees to meet the amount requested as he settles it all on the table. Then, he takes out another sum, and more guardian parts as the Sheikah’s gaze shoots up at him.

I’m also going to need some more arrows, Link explains, to which the other man nods. 

They wait a moment as the parts are settled into the furnace, ready to make an entirely new weapon. Link leans himself against the wall in the meantime, crossing his arms together and nearly dozing off every few seconds - Goddesses, he really needs to rest after this awful journey in Hateno. He’s sure he’ll sleep like a baby the moment he goes to lie down. 

After a few minutes the weapon finally comes out of the furnace. Link takes it with enthusiasm, and lifts it to feel its weight; heavier than the master sword, but not as heavy as a royal claymore, which is a fine compromise to him. Like all guardian weapons it looks non-threatening at first glance, but once it detects his fingerprints on the hilt the blade suddenly pops out and has the Hylian yelping in surprise.

The blade is unlike anything he’s ever seen; it’s surrounding the body of the weapon, dented, spinning on itself without Link needing to do any kind of movement. He watches it for a few moments, confused, careful to not hover it near anything of value because the damage it deals must be phenomenal

And if he were to use it on a live monster, he doesn’t even want to imagine the results. 

Once he’s done, he puts it away, strapping it against his back. After some time, a quiver of ancient arrows come out of the furnace as well. Thanks, Link signs, putting all his gear together. 

“How are things in Zora’s domain?” Robbie suddenly interrupts him as he’s about to leave. Truth be told, the Hylian has no idea what happened during the past few days while he was away since the Zora haven’t communicated with Hateno at all so far, but he truly hopes everything is fine over there. 

He sighs as he puts the bag around his shoulder again to prepare himself to leave. They’re trying to find ways to protect themselves, mostly, he begins, shoulders drooping. Everyone’s a little panicked, they can’t even hunt for food like they always do and have to take whatever’s in the lake below. But they’re optimistic for the most part. 

“I see...” Robbie sighs. “Please don’t forget to tell me if you find out anything about the guardians or the malice. Any piece of information can help these days.”

The Hylian thinks back to what Paya had told them about the malice holding a certain consciousness - he doesn’t really want to believe that it’s true, but he has no proof that it isn’t either.  

For now, he’ll stay quiet. He doesn’t want to betray her trust. 

*

The next time Link fast-travels, he finds himself standing in front of the Ne’ez Yohma shrine, in the center of the domain. As soon as his eyes open again and that his sight is rid of this blinding blue light, he darts out, putting his sheikah slate back into its slot. 

“Link! There you are!” The voice of the prince comes to him, and the Hylian stops running instantly. Link turns around to see Sidon again, giving him a relieved smile, and he walks back to him with a little wave of his hand in greeting. 

Sidon puts a friendly hand to his shoulder, kneeling to somewhat reduce the size difference. “I’m glad to see that you are well,” he says fondly, though the way his friend flinches at the touch doesn’t go unnoticed. Sidon quickly takes away his hand, looking under it to notice the stitching showing on Link’s shoulder. 

“My friend, were you hurt?” He asks, fingers lightly brushing the skin around his wound. The prince may not have healing powers, but Link finds that the touch is still soothing, in its own special way. 

It’s nothing, the Hylian signs, gently dismissing his friend’s concern and pulling his collar back over his wound. I just… encountered a few particularly violent bokoblins back there, but I’ve seen worse.

He wants to remain vague, because he’s not so sure that he wants Sidon to know about the pathetic states he’s found himself in before. Broken bones all over, bleeding under the shade of a tree while he waited for the hearty elixirs to take effect… besides, what kind of hero remains incapacitated for a day after eating the wrong type of mushrooms? Getting his shoulder clawed open is a lot less embarrassing to talk about. 

“I see...” Sidon speaks up again, his features painted with concern still. “Did they hurt you anywhere else?”

The Hylian can’t help but smile at the fact that Sidon seems to care way more than he should about a small injury. No, I’m alright, he answers hurriedly, then grabs at the shield strapped against his back to present it to the prince. 

“Wha-” Sidon pulls away slightly, eyes wide in front of the impressive gear. “Link, is this… a savage Lynel shield?”

To this, Link nods vigorously, pushing the shield further towards his friend. 

“For me?” Sidon asks, and it’s clear that he’s exalted, even if he tries to be somewhat polite about it. To confirm this, Link nods again, then places the large shield into Sidon’s arms. “Link, I do not know how to thank you, I…” 

He sighs at the relief of being able to sign again without this thing taking up all of the space between his own arms. I told you I’d get you one, he begins, but then decides to quickly push away this subject instead. Once again, he doesn’t want to explain what danger he had put himself in to obtain it. By the way, I took care of the guardian carcasses in Hateno, so they should be fine for a while… I think. 

“That is great to hear,” Sidon replies, his tone now relieved. “While you were away, I’ve made a certain discovery, but I’m afraid I do not have much time to explain it right now. We will be holding a ceremony for Eki and Eidri here in about an hour,” he adds, and Link can tell that it aches to say so. “Will I see you then?”

Link nods quietly, thankful that he got back to Zora’s domain in time for this. Of course. I’ll just make a stop to the hospital to get these stitches removed, and I’ll be back.

Sidon smiles in response before they part the next second - and while he’s not sure where Sidon is heading, Link knows for a fact that the tiny wires in his shoulder are starting to bother him. So he lightly jogs to the hospital, bordering on a run as he goes up to the doors and opens one just to find himself face to face with the head nurse, who seems a little startled and even takes one step back as he enters.

Sorry, the Hylian says, his feet now immobile as Felephun stares through him. I came here to… get my stitches removed, he adds, gesturing to his shoulder. 

“Did you make an appointment?” The woman asks, frowning slightly without moving her eyes towards the wound. 

...No, he replies bluntly as he shakes his head. Sorry. I just got here. But they really do bother me…  

Felephun gives a click of her tongue, her arms crossing in contemplation for a short moment before speaking up again. “I see...” she replies, reluctantly accepting as she turns around and gestures for him to follow. “Come with me then. I’ll tend to you myself, it shouldn’t take very long.” 

Link bites at the inside of his lip, stifling a witty retort and keeping it to himself. He remembers the way this woman had argued with Vetli a few days before, over Eki’s death; the time was certainly awkward, and unfortunately, it does make him slightly wary of her. 

They enter the consultation room within a few minutes, and Link sits himself down with a sigh. Without a word, the head nurse takes out her tweezers, sitting at his side to pull up the tiny knots. She cuts through the stitches carefully, her gaze fully concentrated as she tugs at the string, letting it slip out of his skin. She repeats the process with the two other cuts, taking little time to stop between each one.

He was kind of expecting her to ask what happened, but she doesn’t - he supposes it’ll save him the trouble of having to describe his attack again. 

But then something shows up in the corner of his vision; the tall silhouette of another Zora through the door. When Link notices the brown color of his scales, as well as his freckled face, he quickly recognizes Najon, the head doctor of the hospital. 

“If it isn’t the Hylian champion!” Najon utters with a gleeful smile, and Link notices the way Felephun’s shoulders tense up for a split second. “I did not expect to see you here.” 

“I’m done,” Felephun simply says when the stitches are completely removed, and she gathers her tools to leave the room, ignoring Najon’s stare while she walks by him. 

A short silence follows, something that Link attempts to analyze but then quickly remembers that he’s terrible at this. So instead, he simply shrugs off what Najon said, then gets up from his seat. 

“Bokoblin scratches…” Najon sucks in a breath through his teeth as he mimics a pained expression. “They seem deep, too. These monsters are quite savage, aren’t they?”

Link laughs dryly, remembering just how violent those were compared to the other bokoblins he’s had to deal with in the past. He’s still rather puzzled about that event, but he’d rather not remember the feeling of these claws ripping into his flesh at the moment. He simply nods along to Najon’s words, then the doctor bends down slightly. 

“But how could someone like you…” Najon stops speaking for an instant, eyeing the injury again and squinting slightly. “...be wounded by such a low-ranked monster?”

Najon begins to reach towards the wound, and the Hylian tenses up as he sees the claws moving so close to his skin - his breathing stops before Najon moves his hand away, instead picking up a speck of dirt that was stuck on his tunic. 

I don’t know, Link signs, slightly unsettled. I guess it was just an instant of inattention on my part. Happens to the best of us. 

“Of course, of course,” Najon muses, pulling away and putting his hands behind his back. “I certainly hope I won’t have to see you here again anytime soon, then. Oh, and by the way… do not mind Felephun’s sulky mood. She’s just been a little tense these past few days.”

Link wasn’t expecting any sort of warmth from her either way, but he nods quickly, deciding that he has better things to do. After saluting the doctor he takes his leave, hurrying out of the hospital to attend the ceremony for Eidri and Eki. 

On the way there, something feels off - like someone is watching him, perhaps. 

*

Maror is a bit shaken by the end of the funeral, but he doesn’t allow himself to show it. Others must feel much worse after having someone stolen from their lives, and he’s not sure he can do anything else but go back to his parlor.

But still, there’s one person he’s worried about, and he can’t help but ask. He steps slowly towards Vetli, who had retreated to the balcony further away from the crowd.

“Hey,” he begins, stepping closer and leaning against the barrier like she does. “How are you feeling, Vetli?” 

The violet Zora sighs, her headfin looking like it flares just slightly. “...Fine. Thanks for checking up on me,” she replies as she looks down the lake with a defeated sigh. 

Maror thinks back on the speech that Tova, Vetli’s second-in-command, wrote for Eki. The short grey Zora had spoken of the immortality of Eki’s soul, of how grateful all the Lake Zoras were for being brought together by his efforts. “Tova’s eulogy to Eki was really touching,” Maror says, crossing his arms and relaxing. “Did you write that together?”

Vetli shakes her head, her forefins swishing from side to side. “How could I come up with something like this? Tova handles all this stuff by himself. Doesn’t look like it moved people much more than Jemi’s own speech about her husband, anyway.”  

Maror’s tail droops behind his back - whenever Vetli starts saying nonsense like this, he knows it usually means that she’s holding a lot of negative emotions in. 

“Forget what I just said. This doesn’t mean anything,” Vetli mutters as she rubs at her temples. 

“...You sure you don’t wanna talk about any of this?” The tattoo artist asks, tilting his head to look at her face. “You know we’re friends. It’s not good to bottle up emotions like you always do.” 

Vetli frowns slightly, though it’s not directed at him, but more at her general attitude. “I appreciate it Maror,” she replies, turning to him, her voice growing weaker by the second. “I just… don’t have the words right now. I’m sorry.”

The peach Zora’s expression saddens. He knows that it takes a lot for the woman to even utter that type of apology, so he’s not going to persist.

“Don’t be sorry,” he replies, a hand patting against her back. “Losing someone you knew for so long isn't an easy thing to process. If you ever do need to bring it up, even if it's only way later… just know that I'm here.”

Vetli is about to give the tiniest of a smile, but once again, the warmth on her cheeks prevents her from doing anything remotely expressive. But before she can allow herself to say anything, she can suddenly feel a presence hovering nearby, making her slowly turn around just to see a timid red Zora awkwardly standing behind her with her hands bundled together. The chief secretary who had lost her forefin in the guardian’s attack - Laflat, if Vetli remembers correctly. 

“Y-you have my sincere condolences for your friend Eki,” Laflat stutters, giving a bow as if she were apologizing for surviving the attack while Eki didn't. Vetli wouldn't go as far as to believe that it's the other woman's fault, of course - but her irritation comes from another place. 

She blinks slowly and accepts the words. But she still can't prevent her thoughts from slipping out of her mouth. “I appreciate it,” she quickly utters before taking a deep sigh. “Well. I don't think any of us wanted a big ceremony like this; Eki wouldn't have wanted any of this either.”

Her tone has a bit of an accusatory bite to it - she isn't sure if Laflat had anything to do with the preparation of this ceremony, but it's somewhat of a way to let the domain as a whole know that this should've been much different. 

Laflat immediately tenses up at her subtly sharp words, her shoulders raising slightly. “Was he not your friend? Do you not think he deserved to be honored this way?” She asks with a tilted head and a confounded stare, and Vetli can't help but scoff. 

The frustration mounts within her, but because Maror is still nearby, she tries her hardest to remain as calm as she can, her words still carrying their bitterness despite it. 

“Who are you to say that?” She asks, feeling her headfin flaring above her head, taking away the shadow it was casting over the side of her face. “You didn't even know him. If you domain Zoras hadn't been there with us the day he was killed, none of you would've cared about his disappearance -” 

“Vetli!” Maror says sharply to stop her, and while she does, the fire at the tip of Vetli's lips  and the storm brewing inside her chest is still clearly there.

Laflat is silent for a moment, staring at the other with defeated eyes. Her shoulders slump as she tries to find the right thing to say, to no avail. 

But she also doesn't try to deny any of Vetli's words. 

“All we did was pretend it was alright with us,” Vetli reaffirms with a quiet voice, averting her eyes. “Tova would've never let us attend without saying a word, so he made a short speech so we wouldn't look worse than we already do. But like the rest of us, he knows very well that Eki wouldn't have wanted his death to be talked about by the people who had rejected him all his life.”

With another hiss, she continues. “But of course, no one asked us what we thought beforehand. No one ever does.” 

The words seem to strike Laflat like a bolt of lighting, something unexpected, but still a reminder that the peace between the two communities is far from being attained. While Maror waits for the hurricane that is Vetli's temper to ease, Laflat seems to realize that something was truly wrong and hypocritical in the events that just took place. 

“... I'm very sorry,” the red Zora finally says, “I'm truly, terribly sorry.” 

When Vetli feels the heaviness of her apology, her soul feels somewhat appeased. There's nothing left for Laflat to say; the red Zora is already scurrying away like a dog with its tail between its legs, making herself forgotten.

But even if Vetli finally said what was weighing on her, nothing changes. Eki is still gone. 

And the Lake Zoras are still, no matter what, the rotten misfits whose opinions hardly matter. 

*

“When did you last see him?” 

Bazz asks this to the woman who sits in front of him, his quill dipped into ink as he readies himself to write his report. Mei fidgets in her seat, palms on her knees, claws digging into her own scales. 

“Well, right when he left the domain to look for our son Tumbo,” the teal Zora replies, and the pink skin under Bazz’s crested brow furrows. “It was around nine at night yesterday.” 

The guard captain stops writing for a moment. His stare moves up to watch her, soon leaning back against his seat in his office. “Let me try to make sense of this,” he begins, setting his pen aside and bringing his hands together under his chin. “You let him get out instead of reporting Tumbo’s disappearance to the authorities?” 

The woman instantly tenses up, her hands balling into fists as they slam against the desk. 

“I know it was a mistake!” She responds, averting her gaze from his. “But all these procedures take so long, and he didn’t want to waste any more time… I told him to stay, but I wasn’t able to change his mind.” 

Bazz thinks for a moment, letting the silence drag on. Sure, the disappearance of one of theirs is a matter of great importance and something they must take care of as soon as possible, but on top of everything else…

“Mei, you of all Zoras know that this is not how things should go,” Bazz sighs after uttering her name - it’s been a while since he’s done so, since Mei had left the royal guard while she awaited her twin children in pregnancy. “You were still working with us no longer than fifteen years ago.” 

“Are you blaming me?” Mei suddenly asks, to which Bazz can’t help but sigh. 

“I am not ,” he firmly replies, putting a hand to his brow. “But there is a reason why it is forbidden to leave the domain for the time being. Tumbo is lucky he came back alive, you know this, right?” 

He knows that these types of words usually strike a painful chord. Mei remains silent for the time being, apparently agreeing without a word.

“Alright...” the black Zora starts again, taking his pen in hand to write down what she’d said. “Now, do you know if there is any reason why Fronk would want to stay outside the domain?” He asks, and Mei tilts her head in confusion. 

“No, of course not!” She answers, her eyes traveling across the room before returning to her own hands. “He’s my darling, the father of my children - he loves us all very much, and he loves this domain too.”

As she speaks, the volume of her voice lowers until it’s nothing but a quiet whisper. “Hylia, I couldn’t bear it if something happened to him…” 

Bazz finishes up his writing, rolling the paper in his hands once he’s done. “Thank you for your help, Mei,” he says, deciding that reassuring her is still his job, after all. “We’re going to send a unit to look for him outside. But promise me one thing - you must not, under any circumstances, leave the domain until we say it is safe to do so. And in return, I promise that we’ll find him. Understood?”

Mei swallows sharply, her tongue tied around more words she decides not to utter, and she crosses her fingers under the table.

“I promise, Captain Bazz.”

*

Link decides that it’s better if he takes Sidon and Zelda with him to the research hall, in case anything happens. They enter silently as Paya and Laflat greet them, but once again, Jemi and Clessie barely spare them a glance as they pass by.

Link approaches Paya who works at the furnace, gathering ancient arrows and putting them into cases. It must be a pretty boring job , the Hylian thinks to himself as she looks up at him. 

Can I talk to you for a second? He asks the crouching Sheikah woman, earning him a slightly confused nod as she gets up. Patting the dust off her pants, she follows him into the corridor, far away enough so that others wouldn’t hear.

“...What is it, Link?” She asks, her hands tensing up as her fingers curl around themselves. 

Link rethinks his idea for a second, choosing to continue on. I’ve been thinking about what you told us the other day about the malice, he signs, something that has her expression changing quickly into a frown. I have a feeling that it’s better to share your thoughts, at least with the other Sheikah experts. 

Paya is instantly defensive, shaking her head slowly as she nervously bites at her bottom lip. “You don’t understand, Link,” she replies, her eyes downcast. “They are the last people that will believe me. They trust their own knowledge deeply, and anything I could add will sound absurd to them.” 

The Hylian can understand why; truth be told, even he isn’t entirely sure about this theory of the ancient spirits, but at this point they have nothing else to work off of. And to be honest, he’s starting to believe that he has to cling to any scrap of hope, even something as far fetched as this. Do we really have a choice, though? He asks, his throat feeling tight. Won’t you feel guilty if other victims are claimed while you just keep this knowledge to yourself? 

He doesn’t mean to be cruel by making such a grim speculation, but in these times, it’s difficult to think about any other outcome.

“It’s easier said than done,” Paya utters as her hand rubs against her own arm in hesitation. “No one can truly support me. I’m the only one who really believes in this, because I seem to be the only one who can hear the guardians speaking.” 

He’d never seen her so disheartened. 

But what else is there to believe? He asks, insisting on the matter, because he knows he can’t let this go. As of now, we know nothing about the origin of the malice. I don’t know why, but I think even a theory could lead us somewhere, anywhere, until we’re in the right direction. 

There’s a pause as the woman casts a sideways glance, her eyes meeting the sight of the two other Sheikah. 

You came here to find out the truth, right? Link asks, his gestures sharp. How else do you intend to do this?

Paya takes a deep breath and rubs at her temples as soon as he’s done signing. “Alright...” she answers, the skin of her brow wrinkling in apprehension. “But please, stay here to watch. You’ll see that they won’t accept this so easily.” 

Reluctantly, Paya walks back to the hall with her Hylian friend following close behind her. Judging by the way she almost instantly loses her optimism, Link can somewhat make the deduction that she might have already mentioned this theory to them before, only to be shut down. 

Link had mentioned to Sidon and Zelda that he was going to try and convince Paya to speak - so they know exactly what they’re doing here, waiting in a corner of the room, their stares fixated onto the Sheikah woman as she enters the research hall once again. She clears her throat and catches the attention of Jemi and Clessie; the two quickly turn around, their puffy, tear-soaked eyes piercing through her. 

“If I may bother you for a moment,” Paya speaks up as she brings her hands together and straightens herself. “I feel it’s important that I bring up the theory I’ve read about once again. I am entirely convinced that the ancient spirits are trapped in the malice around us, as they have been for the past hundred years.”

Jemi instantly scowls, her head rising from between her shoulders like a snake preparing itself to bite. “And I’m going to ask you the same question as before,” she begins, obviously overcome with bitterness. “Why would the spirits want to hurt us? They were protectors of Hyrule.” 

Paya prevents herself from stepping back and decides to stand up for herself, for once in her life. “Have you ever read about this? These spirits are corrupted. They don’t know what they’re doing,” she insists, her hands falling to her sides. “Millenia of pain and nightmares have been inflicted upon them by Ganon himself, and they’ve turned to him for guidance, because they have nothing else left. Please, let’s give this theory a chance. We have no other lead.” 

Before Jemi can snap, Clessie cuts in with a tilt of her head. “And why are you so sure that it’s true? It sounds like any story a cult would make up for rupees, and you’re just going to blindly follow it?” 

“Because I can hear them!” Paya affirms, gesturing around the room. “In the guardians, in the jars, everywhere they are trapped in. They’re constantly whispering, to themselves or somebody else, I’m not sure - but I can assure you that these spirits inhabit each particle of the malice!”

A heavy silence settles in. Link is determined to find the solution to all this, but he’ll let Paya speak for now. She knows what she’s talking about. 

But the next one to make her voice known isn’t her; no, it’s Clessie, who stands up with a deep sigh, moving across the room to retrieve what seems to be a small cage. Inside, a miniature guardian is unmoving, perhaps dormant, and she shoves it brutally against Paya’s chest. It punches the air out of her lungs for a moment as she holds it, preventing it from falling to the floor. 

“We injected malice in this one, but broke its eye so it wouldn’t shoot light at us while we studied it,” Clessie explains in a strangely calm voice. “If you claim that you can hear it, tell us what it’s saying right now.” 

Paya looks between the other woman and the cage for a moment, closing the distance between her pointed ear and the little machine inside the cage. She seems to channel a great amount of concentration to hear it, and it does take a few seconds before her eyes snap wide open.

‘Where’ ...” She begins, her voice hitching and slightly startled when its head turns around. “It keeps repeating ‘where’ , as if it’s wondering where it is right now - wait, no,” she interrupts herself, listening with undivided attention. 

‘Where are you?’ ...” 

But before she can try to listen for more of these ancient words, something inside Jemi seems to break. She stands up from her chair, striding over to Paya with venom in her words. 

“I’ve had enough of your shit, Paya!” She shouts, snatching the cage away from her to put a stop to this. Her teeth grind together in uncontrollable fury, fingers clutching around the small handle. “Do you really think that knowing my husband was murdered by an ancient spirit is going to make me feel any better? Do you think this is going to stop me from destroying it when i have the chance?”

She wants to step closer to the younger woman, looking like she might even hit her in some way, but Sidon quickly places his arm before Paya to separate the two and offer her protection.

“You…” Jemi stops instantly, glowering at the tall prince in response. It’s with his own stare that Sidon warns her that this time, he might not let things slide so easily. 

“Jemi...” Paya speaks up again as she lowers Sidon’s arm, those gloomy eyes growing determined with every word. “I’m not trying to make you feel better or worse... all I want is the truth, and while I understand your grief, the reality may not be what you want to hear and there is nothing we can do to change it.”

Jemi steps back with her hand still around the ring, carrying the cage and lifting it in front of the younger woman’s eyes. “Fine,” she starts, her watery eyes darting to the small guardian. “I’ll believe you when I see that it’s actually understanding what you say, if you’re the only one who can communicate with it.”

Paya swallows dryly, feeling a cold sweat against her brow. She’d learned enough Zonai to understand what the malice said, but she’d never actually spoken to it before, so she’s completely unsure of the results such an attempt will bring. 

She lowers herself for a moment, looking to the disoriented guardian with a nearly compassionate gaze. Slightly opening her mouth into a whisper, she begins, in the language of the dead. 

‘Who are you looking for?’

At the sound of her voice the small machine instantly turns around, making her jump back in surprise before it emits a hair-rising shriek that has everyone bringing their hands to their ears. Its limbs flail around for a moment as it crawls around the cage, slamming against the bars in a desperate attempt to release itself. 

Jemi lets go of the cage in fright, and the clang of the metal resonates in the wide hall to the point of being uncomfortable. 

“Neutralize it! Hurry!” Jemi shouts, to which Clessie takes out the small, glowing blue staff that had already been used before, violently shoving it under one of the guardian’s legs. Its shrieking grows even louder, shaky and sounding like a cry of pain. It only lasts a few seconds until its movements stops, and the scream is reduced to a hiss that grows quieter by the second until it’s completely silent. 

Link knows that it’s just a robot, yet he can’t help but feel queasy at the mistreatment. 

“It was asking me to let it out...” Paya speaks up, her eyes fixated onto the cage, trying to not breathe in the smoke that emanates from the machine. 

We are not doing that, Link signs after catching her attention, shaking his head. This thing looked even more dangerous after it heard you. What did you even say? 

Paya loses her composure for a moment, stammering. “I just asked who it was looking for...” she responds, and Link knows that she’s unable to explain why it elicited such a strong reaction. 

The Hylian turns to the startled princess, a questioning gaze directed at her. What should we do? 

She gathers her thoughts, seeming highly troubled by what she saw - especially since the two other Sheikah women who originally didn’t trust Paya in the slightest now appeared to be just as dumbfounded as everyone else crammed into the room. “With this knowledge in mind, we may be able to learn much more about the malice,” Zelda finally answers. “But we will have to capture as much of it as we can find… and interrogate it.”

From where Link stands, he doesn’t fail to notice the way Paya’s pointed ears droop down in defeat. 

*

Link is incredibly thankful once the later hours of the day come, as all he wants right now is to get some rest. His limbs are still sore from all the work he’s done back in Hateno, so before he goes to bed, he makes a concoction of his that always helps in soothing minor pains. 

The night is calm, but the chill in the air is a bit less comfortable - luckily, Sidon closes the window and curtains before he takes the plate that a guard had brought him. While Link drinks up his own ‘dessert’, the prince sits at his side on the bed, preparing himself to eat his beautifully prepared honey crepe. 

They still manage to find the ingredients for this? Link asks out of curiosity, especially wondering how anyone can be motivated enough to go and find some honeycombs in the malice-infested wild. 

“They are mostly imported from other regions,” Sidon replies, cutting a piece and bringing it to his mouth, soon closing his eyes contentedly at the taste. “I usually do not eat much sugar at night, but our fish provisions are starting to grow limited. It seems that my main meal was not quite enough to fill my stomach.” 

He stops himself for a moment, staring at the Hylian and his bowl. “Did you not want any?” 

I’m fine, I ate too much for lunch, Link replies, waving a hand. He’ll admit that he hasn’t felt the sweetness of honey in a while, and he does kind of miss it - but it’s true that Sidon hadn’t eaten much for dinner, and he doesn’t want to take it away from him.

But something seems to pass the prince as he eats, a feeling that has his eyes growing glum. It’s a bit strange to have a moment like this with Sidon, when he’s not being his extravagant, overly-positive self, and he can’t tell for now if it’s a good thing or not. The Hylian is a bit concerned that his own frustration might be rubbing off on him, actually. 

Many things seem to have happened during my absence, Link signs again, suddenly remembering. You said you made a discovery while I was away in Hateno. What was that about? 

“Oh, right,” Sidon’s head raises, searching in the back of his mind. “Well it is not my discovery, but I learned that the Sihgane ink that the Sheikah use for their parchments could be used on the body as well, for tattoos. It’s apparently protective, so I gave it to our tattoo artist.” 

Maror? Link asks, eyes snapping open. That’s interesting. I never heard of something like this before. 

“...It is. You happen to know him personally, do you not?” Sidon replies, a curious gaze fixated on the Hylian before him as his tone grows somewhat more timid. 

Yeah, we’ve been buddies for a while, Link signs with a nod, I guess that gives me an excuse to actually get a tattoo now. 

Sidon stays silent after this, giving a small nod of his own. It takes him a few more bites to finish his dessert, his tail flicking in contentedness once he’s done.

Anything else happen? Link asks, looking up at him with a slightly worried expression. 

“Well, there was something else...” the prince pipes up, his face suddenly pinching and his lips parting to reveal gritted teeth, though it only lasts a second before he conceals it behind a neutral expression. “I’m sure that you have noticed the harshness with which Jemi and Clessie react to my presence.” 

I saw, Link responds, tilting his head. What’s up with that? 

“I suppose that the compassion I tried to give was utterly unnecessary and unwanted,” the prince states, eyelids falling in a slow blink. “Of course, they took it as pity, and now seem to feel rancorous towards me.” 

Link cocks an eyebrow and stares in disbelief for a second, something that has the prince nodding in agreement. “Ugh...” Link sighs, pointed ears perked up and head sinking between his shoulders. I guess I can understand how they’re feeling, but it still pisses me off that they’re lashing out at you when you only had good intentions. You don’t deserve this, Link adds, a bit regretful about his next comment the second he makes it. 

You went through the same hell, after all.  

Sidon shakes his head slowly, forefins slightly swishing left and right. “I do not believe it matters whether I deserved it or not,” he utters, his tone growing resigned. “It was tactless of me, and I shall learn from it.” 

Link’s stare focuses on him for a moment, on the facial expression that remains solemn. With a certain empathy growing in the back of his mind, he decides to shift to sit closer to him, inch by inch until their knees are nearly touching. He peers at the prince’s features, searching for a twitch of his lips, anything that would indicate Sidon’s discomfort, but the tall Zora is quick to eye him with confusion instead.

You don’t have to be so formal with me, you know, Link signs, trying his hardest to make his smile a reassuring one. I know that you’re probably trying to keep a calm image, but you need to know that I don’t care about any of that. You can be honest about how you feel.

The prince seems to hesitate for a second, and Link wonders if Sidon had ever allowed himself to display any raw emotion in front of anyone. Even to the Hylian, everything Sidon does and says seems like it was polished for hours beforehand until it became a little diamond for everyone to appreciate. As for himself, he remembers reading Zelda’s diary, recalling how it mentioned that he used to be the same, in a way; never displaying what he felt, because he had to bear the burdens of being a knight with honor and nothing else. Nowadays though, he feels more like rough flint. 

“I appreciate your concern,” Sidon replies with a weak smile, his posture relaxing. “Yes, if I must be honest, it did sting a bit. I am trying to not take it personally, as I am sure that they would have reacted this way with anyone else. I only wish that we could go past our differences and stop the unnecessary quarreling, so we could join our forces for good,” he adds with a defeated sigh, his tail drooping against his back. 

Link gives a sarcastic smile as he scoffs to himself. It’s always been like this, he begins, looking up at the prince that towers over him even when both of them are sitting. Unfortunately, it’ll be difficult for everyone in Hyrule to get along. 

Sidon can’t help but let out a sheepish laugh at that. “I do feel like we, as Zoras, have little room to speak, considering we have isolated ourselves between the Lanayru cliffs for so long,” he explains, to which Link just silently agrees with a shrug. “We are the race that is often considered the most hostile, seeing the resentment that our elders used to hold for not only Hylians, but other races as well.” 

He pauses for a moment, lips pressing together to form a thin line. “I hope I can change this, in some way.”

People really do make strange assumptions, Link signs with a pensive hum. I can tell you with certainty that the people of Hateno are a million times more bitchy. 

Sidon’s voice comes out in a laughter at Link’s choice of wording, and the Hylian is at least grateful that this talk is somehow making Sidon smile. “This makes me wonder how you managed to spend even a few days there - by the way, how did that go?”

Link’s shoulders roll again, his eyebrows raising when he remembers. It was tense, but I tried to go past that. I just helped moving the guardian carcasses and kill the remaining monsters around the village, as you can see , he adds before gesturing to the healed wound on his shoulder with an ironically graceful movement of his hand. Aside from that, it was pretty uneventful. 

The color drains from the prince’s face for a moment, but it doesn’t seem to be in reaction to what his friend had said. “I see...” he begins, voice somewhat weakened. “Link, you must forgive me, I am feeling rather ill at the moment,” he states bashfully, hands settling on the mattress. “It is rather difficult for me to stabilize myself in the water when I am like this.”

At that, the Hylian Champion quickly shifts up onto his knees, about to back away. Do you need to use your bed? I can go back to my room if you want, he asks, to which Sidon seems to worry.

“Well, I know that you have trouble sleeping alone, so you may stay here if you’d like,” he says, rubbing a hand against the back of his neck. “If you are alright with… the idea of us sharing a bed, of course.” 

I don’t mind at all, Link replies with a smile, sitting back down. It’s your home. Are you alright though? Do you need me to get a doctor to come here?

Sidon sighs contentedly, slowly lying down onto the bed without pulling the covers over himself. “No, that won’t be necessary,” he replies with a small smile, settling his tail on the pillow. “Thank you, Link.” 

The Hylian nods to this, and it doesn’t seem to take long for Sidon to fall asleep. Link looks at him for a moment, smiling to himself at how peaceful he looks like this, and he hopes that soon, he can look like this again while awake. 

Link is rather tired himself, so he gets under the covers while also leaving an acceptable distance between the two of them. For a few long minutes he just stares at the ceiling, realizing that it’s a bit difficult to sleep when his mind is set on something else.

He takes the Sheikah slate from the nightstand and activates it, mindful of not waking Sidon up with its glow. With a hint of hesitation in the back of his head, he opens up the album, finding once again the picture of what he thinks used to be his family.

He looks at it again, tracing every physical trait of each person pictured here, realizing that he resembles his mother more than his father. The little girl at the center smiles at him brightly, and a vision instantly invades Link’s senses - the person who was apparently his sister getting caught in a guardian’s claw, and he nearly gags at what comes next. He couldn’t even recount it if he wanted to. 

He can only hope such a sight doesn’t come to invade his nightmares. 

He places the Sheikah slate back onto the nightstand, pulling the blanket over his face to shroud himself in total darkness.