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WITH A MOUTH FULL OF NAILS, I SING TO YOU

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ask yourself, if i asked you straight off— i’m going to stuff you in this box now, would you rather be alive or dead? naturally, you’d prefer to be alive. life in a box is better than no life at all. i expect. you’d have a chance at least. you could lie there thinking well, at least i’m not dead! in a minute someone’s going to bang on the lid and tell me to come out.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The thing about time travel is, even if someone stands in front of you and tells you point-blank that there’s a way to bring your dead sister back to life, you’re probably not going to believe them.

“I don’t believe you,” says Sidon.

“Okay,” Teba says patiently, fluffing his feathers with an absent glide of his wing. “Try harder.”

Sidon stares at him. He tries harder, though he’s not sure what that entails and so doesn’t end up really doing anything. “I don’t get you.”

“Which part don’t you get?”

“I get to see Mipha again?”

Teba’s eyebrow twitches. “Let me put this as simply as I can, Prince,” he says, a little too loudly. The soldier stationed at the bottom of the staircase turns to look at them. “We’re going to go back to the point a hundred years ago at which the four champions were killed in their divine beasts. We’re going to save them. We’re going to make sure they defeat Ganon before he can send Hyrule into ruin. And then we’re going to leave.”

By now, they’ve caught everyone’s attention. It’s been a long time since a hundred years ago, but here in Zora’s Domain it still feels like the events of last Tuesday, to be recounted over salt tea and fish skewers, to be mourned over an empty coffin. Everyone’s staring at the big white bird with the angry eyebrows, a little curious, a little apprehensive. For what he’s worth, Teba is indifferent. This much will not faze him.

Sidon twiddles his thumbs behind his back, where Teba cannot see them and the guards at the bottom of the staircase can point and laugh all they want. To be honest, he heard nothing. His heart stopped when he heard ‘killed in their divine beasts’, at which point a watery monster punched its way into his skull and crushed his brain. The monster is nothing concrete, nothing crystal-clear, just what little Link has told him, bits and pieces of a history he was prevented from taking part in. It’s been several months since the kid dragged his beaten-up body halfway across Hyrule and kicked Ganon’s ass, though they’re still feeling the after-effects of that particular calamity today. Mipha’s statue still looms over their heads, a reminder of what it means to die alone and far away from home.

“So,” Sidon starts, hearing his voice echoing in his ears like metal slicing through air. “What you’re saying is, I get to see Mipha again.”

Teba looks like he wants to grab one of the guards’ spears and stab Sidon in the face, but for what he’s worth, he reigns it in. “Yes.”

“Okay.” He grins. “I’m in.”


::


He tried to fight a lynel when he was fifteen. The domain had been overrun with monsters who had arrived for the pre-party to Ganon’s return, including an outstanding number of wizzrobes, several moblins, and a tall, intimidating figure which spat electricity from its pink-tongued mouth and whose name he couldn’t recall. While his father, the king, and his sister, the princess, breezed through the area like a lightning strike, reclaiming keeps and stabbing moblins with silver teeth so their generals could forge a path ahead, Sidon reveled in the wonder of being left unsupervised at four a.m. in the morning. And then heard the familiar, haunting roar of a lynel. And then decided to go and say hi.

It was a mistake, of course. The lynel was so tall he couldn’t make out the gear on its back. Its face was all squished up, like a birthday cake that had been stepped on, and its horns were too big for its thick, blocky nose. This was funny for all of five seconds. Then the lynel extracted a bow from that unknowable space behind it and aimed the sharp end of an arrow at his face, and it became a problem.

“H-h-h-hi,” said Sidon, holding up his Kid Spear, which was strictly for Kid Use Only, and had the offensive capabilities of a stick.

“RHOOARHGHHGHH,” said the lynel.

He jabbed the Kid Spear at the lynel’s leg. The lynel spat at him, though probably unintentionally, as it seemed preoccupied with the arrow it was trying to send into his face. It was stuck. The big scary lynel’s bow was stuck.

Emboldened by the stupid scary lynel’s broken bow, Sidon decided to try again. “Please go away, Mr. Lynel,” he said in his best and most charming Kid Prince voice, twirling his Kid Spear like a sweet jellyfish skewer.

“RHOAHOARHAGHOGHHHH,” said the lynel, who sounded significantly angrier than before.

“I understand,” Sidon said politely, and then closed his eyes and sent a prayer to the goddess Hylia (the way he had been taught to since he was old enough to speak, the way every child in Hyrule knew that there was a place for them to go to after they left this world behind). He braced for impact, which he hoped would be of the violent sort, earth-shattering and brisk enough to break his bones and leave nothing breathing in its wake. He was fifteen, not five. This was Ganon’s era. Every living creature in Hyrule knew this, the way their ancestors woke up and knew which direction the sun would rise from. Not if, but when. When the Calamity strikes. When your people die. When the knight emerges from the woods with the sacred sword in his hand, and saves you all.

But none came. When he opened his eyes, and he did so reluctantly, adrenalin coursing through his veins like thunder, the world was pitch black. In place of the cool blue moon was his sister, her ceremonial gear glittering darkly, the Lightscale Trident glowing like a star in her right hand.

“Holy shit,” whispered Sidon the kid. Mipha stabbed the lynel in the face.

She hugged him when it was all over and they had put the moblins and the wizzrobes and the electric moblin (so that’s what it was! Terrifying) back to sleep. Their father was upset, but he was frequently upset at Sidon and so it didn’t bother him as much as it could have. Sidon was not Mipha. It was all right if he got things wrong, as long as his sister never did. Coincidentally, the Hylian princess had been in the area at the time of the attack, accompanied by a knight with blue eyes and a Sheikah warrior who looked like she would throw a knife at a fish for sport. It was a good thing Mipha had been at home, and not visiting one of the other tribes or hunting for crabs near Lurelin. It was a good thing she had intervened when she had, lest the pre-party become the real thing.

“Thank you,” said the Hylian princess, trying her best to smooth her brow and failing. She looked anxious, though she had only come to pass on her father’s word, though the word that she had brought was victory.

Mipha smiled at her with a face full of sun. “It is my pleasure.”


::


He wishes the egg could talk. If the egg could talk then Teba would have less reason to talk, and if Teba talked less then Sidon would have less of a raging headache, which which would make him less of an asshole, which would make their discussions go much more smoothly than the janky, sputtering mess they’ve been all week.

“As I was saying,” says Teba, continuing whatever train of thought he picked up on their way up to Goron City and then dumped unceremoniously by the side of the road. As he does this, Death Mountain spits a chunk of lava out of its steaming gaping top, which lands a few inches shy of his breastplate. He hops backwards without missing a beat and begins fanning himself with one wing.

Riju stops fiddling with the diamond circlet in her hands for long enough to give him a look of inquiry. “As you were saying?”

“I can’t wait to see Daruk.” Yunobo scratches his arm. It makes a sound like two large boulders grinding together. Riju drops the circlet.

“You’re only going to see him for a short while,” Teba comments over the sound of the egg blowing its top at Riju and Sidon plugging his ears with his fingers. “No point getting all worked up about it.”

“You’re just as worked up yourself,” Riju counters. Patricia barks. Teba flinches.

This is true. There are two things Teba won’t shut up about. In ascending order of importance, they are 1) when they should depart for the alternate timeline in which they will prevent their respective ancestors from getting their spirits trapped in giant mechanical monsters for a hundred years, and 2) how incredible Revali is. Because Revali was the most powerful Rito warrior that ever walked the land (or flew over it, or blasted bomb arrows at it, whatever). Revali singlehandedly invented an entire style of aerial combat which involves launching yourself into the air with an updraft that defies the laws of the universe and then setting your surroundings on fire. Revali killed god.

Teba looks like he wants to go back to his wife and kid in Rito village. Good for him. Not all of them have bodies to put in coffins. “I just want to meet him once,” he says quietly.

Yunobo laughs, and it sounds like two extra large boulders grinding together. “Me too, brother.” He picks up the diamond circlet from the floor and puts it on his head like some kind of weird hat. “I’m going to tell Daruk how great he is. And then I’m going to go home.”


::


One time when they were much, much younger, before he woke up one morning and Mipha was three times his height, one of the guards brought back some durians. The durians were misshapen and spiky and smelled intimidating, though Sidon wouldn’t go as far as to say that the smell was unpleasant. The guard had obtained them from a merchant in the Faron region. He hadn’t meant to purchase them, but they were the last of her stock and she said she could only head home once she had sold everything. He empathized with her.

At first they tried to open the durians with their hands, but this only produced several pricked fingers and left ominous and eerily substantial bloodstains everywhere, so someone brought out a spear, almost drove it through the table, and someone else brought out a carving knife. Halfway through the spectacle of watching one of the guards, who was thirty-seven and enjoyed collecting glowing stones as a hobby, attempt to de-spike an entire durian, the crowd parted abrutpyl.

“What are you all doing?” Mipha put her hand absently on Sidon’s head. He had been watching the ongoing debacle out of some kind of morbid curiosity, standing on tip-toes so he could peek over the top of the table, though now he had apparently been relegated to armrest.

“Trying to open this durian, your highness.”

Mipha laughed. His sister’s laugh was a delicate, heartrending affair, like trying to pull weeds from the bottom of a lake without breaking them at the stem. The weather at home was always more or less divine, but whenever Mipha laughed, Sidon swore it blasted a hole right through the clouds. If there were no clouds, then the hole appeared in the fabric of the sky instead. Mipha, at her brightest, was a walking catastrophe of sun.

Still chuckling a little, like she’d been made privy to a secret that none of them knew about, Mipha stepped up to the cutting board. “You have to do it like this,” she said cheerfully, digging her fingers into a seam in the durian’s shell like she’d been dealing with danger all her life.

Cue gasping. Cue the horrors of childbirth.

The durian was sweet. It was also a little goopy, but Sidon was no stranger to things which stuck to your fingers and refused to let go (he was one of those objects when it came to his sister, who he could rarely be found more than an arm’s length away from on any given day), so he felt for the little spiky fruit, and decided that he would make an effort to bring some back home when he went traveling himself in the future. While he examined the inside of the durian’s shell, which had been hollowed of fruit and had the texture of rough sandpaper, the guards crowded around Mipha and demanded that she share her secret to not getting stabbed to death by the fierce and terrifying durian. But either she didn’t know how to explain it to them, or they weren’t very good at listening, because she remained the only one capable of cracking open a durian with her bare hands for many, many years, up until she died while fighting a watery manifestation of Ganon inside the divine beast she had been told by the king of Hyrule to pilot to victory’s end. Then it was someone else’s turn to take over.


::


Painkillers for fish are a tricky affair. To begin with, charmingly little research has been conducted into the biology of the fish-person because the Zoras simply aren’t interested in how their bodies work, and while others have offered to do so in their place, among them several enthusiastic Sheikah researchers and one Hylian with a thing for huge glowing orbs, his people have never cared enough to give their consent. It’s a unique kind of apathy, one which stems from a place of privilege, or denial. They are, as a general statement of fact, very good at both.

“This will help.” Yunobo hands him a rock roast. Where did Yunobo get a rock roast from? Sidon frowns. They’re in the middle of the desert.

“Thanks,” Sidon says. Smiles. Kind of, like, holds the roast up to his mouth and gives it a sniff. It doesn’t smell half as good as durian. He puts it down.

It takes him several days to make sense of the convoluted sequence of events that Teba presented to him that day on the front door of the world he had rebuilt from scratch, surrounded by mystique and glamor and promising, in a breath of cold air, to bring his dead sister back to life. This makes it sound like he’s finished making sense of it all and will thus never be confused ever again, but if he’s to be entirely honest, he still doesn’t get it. He wants to. He’s scared to. He won’t look Teba in the eye.

“We should get going soon, don’t you think?” says Riju, who is twelve and somehow more put-together than all four of them combined. She pulls another book from the shelf and leaves it on the pile on the desk.

Yunobo shrugs loudly. “Doesn’t make a difference when we leave, does it? We could leave for Hyrule in twenty years, and we’d still end up at the same place.”

“But I want to save them,” Riju says earnestly. The pile behind her has been growing all afternoon, and will soon overtake her in height if she is not stopped. Mission preparation looks like archaeological excavation when you’re traveling backwards in time, and not forwards to some yet unknown destination. Ancient Sheikah records. Research journals. The writings of people who were obsessed with the events of a hundred years ago despite having no personal investment to speak of, and whose words carry with them a hint of reverence, even as they choreograph the funeral song of the old king. This is all that’s left of those ruins, aside from Link, who they’ve all quietly decided to keep uninformed of the current proceedings. Hyrule itself has been kept in the dark. No need for them to know about the maybes and the what-ifs and the could-have-beens. No need for more people to go crazy.

Sidon shuts the book in his hands with a thud. “But why?”

Riju’s eyes go wide. Drama queen. “Why what?”

Sidon opens his mouth, closes it, and opens it again. There’s a heat rash on the back of his neck which he can’t quite reach on his own. The elders had warned him about the desert, but the charm he received from Link has proven to be effective in all areas except for maintaining good skincare. He blinks dumbly at Riju, who has begun to flicker like the glassy surface of a pond. His eyes hurt.

“I mean, why do you.” His eyes hurt. His throat hurts. There’s something large and horrible stuck in his chest, and he can’t get it out. “Why do you want to save them?” There’s a durian in his rib cage. It must have lodged itself there when Teba glared at him like he was an idiot as he came face to face with the cruel reality of the universe, and it dawned on him like a dead body falling out of the sky that he would get to see Mipha one last time, and then he would have to come back. To a Hyrule without her. To the stupid stuck-up world that had to try again and again and again, coughing up blood and dragging itself through the dirt on bruised knees, before it could defeat the monster. “It’s not like they’ll come back to life,” he says, each word a silver knife in his mouth. “They’ll stay dead here. They’re already dead.”

Silence.

Riju has let everything go, including the diamond circlet, the topaz earrings, and three volumes sheathed in gold. Yunobo’s mouth is open so wide, you could stick your head inside and take a look around if you leaned in close enough. For the first time since he met him, Teba is at a loss for words. His chest rises and falls erratically, his hand on the bookshelf quivering, his eyebrows doing a little dance on his forehead. He’s sweating. Of course he is. They’re in the desert.

Riju, Hylia bless her soul, is the first to speak.

“It’s the spirit of things,” she says softly. She looks sadder than any twelve-year-old should ever have to look. But then and again, Sidon was barely old enough to hold a spear with both hands when his sister died and everything went to shit. Then and again, everything goes away eventually.

Sidon stares at her helplessly for a moment, gulping the humid air of the library like a fish out of water, then gives up and walks out of the room. He spends the rest of the afternoon blowing bubbles in the pool beside Kara Kara Bazaar while the other three continue their work, and then buys a durian from one of the vendors and hacks it open with his spear. You can’t crack open a durian with your bare hands, unless you’re Mipha, in which case you can do anything. It’s a good thing, then, that she’s gone.


::


When they were children and they got into trouble, his father would always scold Mipha far more harshly than Sidon. Mipha was the older sibling, after all. She should know better. This dynamic remained firmly established between them even as Mipha grew into her role as princess, future ruler, and eventually, champion. Of course, the reprimandings grew less stern, but Sidon had a penchant for winding up in places he wasn’t supposed to be in and Mipha had a penchant for being with him whenever this happened. He secretly resolved to pay her back when he got older and was finally able to stand up to his father, and therefore explain that most of the things they got into trouble for were his idea. He would be the one to weep at his father’s feet while his sister looked on with a horrified expression, and in that moment she would understand how much he loved her.

Then she died. You can’t tell the story of Mipha without this part. Mipha was a humble, kind girl, and then she died. Mipha could crack open a durian with her bare hands, and then she died. Mipha was the pride of their people, and then she died, and she died, and she died.

You can’t change the past with the wave of a hand. You’re not a bird. You’re not a fortune-teller. You’re a fish-person with an empty coffin for a sister, and in a few weeks’ time, you’re going to save her specter.


::


“...What if I brought her back with me?”

“Huh?”

“Hahajustkidding. No way I’d do that. Not a chance.”

“Um. Do you need painkillers?”

“Thanks, but they don’t work on me. I’m over a hundred years old, you see. Us Zoras, we’re different.”


::


The day before departure. They’re back at Zora’s domain. It’s raining. Teba is running through a checklist of items to bring with them which is so long, he has to hold it above his head to prevent it from touching the floor. Riju is feeding Patricia mandarin peels.

“You know, Sidon.”

Sidon looks up from his mandarin. “Mm?”

Yunobo grins at him. “Daruk’s my idol,” he says proudly. He pumps his fists in the air like a kid at a fun fair in line for the big pirate ship ride. “They say he was the coolest Goron there ever was. Plus he had a beard. I think beards are awesome.”

“Great,” says Sidon, as enthusiastically as he can, because he genuinely wants to be happy for Yunobo who is finally going to meet his idol and has clearly dreamed about this moment for some time. He wants to be happy for all of them. He fucking wants to. This is a rescue mission, not the imprisonment Princess Zelda walked into in Hyrule castle, not the hundred-year nap Link took on the Great Plateau. This is a happy ending, even if it’s not theirs.

Daruk the idol. Urbosa the warrior. Revali the bird. Sidon pictures them in his head, the way Link described them to him once, his voice carrying across the water like beams of light.

“Mipha was—” 

He stops peeling the mandarin in his hands, his nails still embedded in the soft skin of it, the white-tinged flesh peeking out like a wound. Outside, the rain keeps falling. A river of tears from the sky.

Yunobo tilts his head to the side. “Mipha was?”

Mipha was the pride of their people. Mipha was the first person he wanted to live forever. Mipha was the only one he knew who could crack open a durian with her bare hands, like she was peeling open the heart of a monster, only to reveal that it had been something soft and scared all along. Mipha was a flesh-and-blood person. Mipha was the light of their world. Mipha is an empty coffin with a name inscribed on the lid, a house with the lights off, a memory drenched in ocean.

Yunobo prods his shoulder, though he barely feels a thing. “Mipha was?” he repeats kindly, herding him along to the end of the line, to the boat at the edge of the water.

Sidon puts the mandarin away. He stares long and hard at Yunobo, and hopes that his eyes will convey the wound his body no longer knows how to carry.

“Mipha was my sister.”

 

::

 

Let’s say you’ve been entrusted with the future of your kingdom. There’s a bad guy coming, and everyone’s scared to death, so you learn how to pilot this big robotic elephant which shoots turrets of water like a machine gun, and you get really good at it, and when the bad guy arrives on your new friend’s birthday suddenly you can’t do it anymore. You’re trapped inside the giant elephant. You’re bleeding out all over the floor. Your chest hurts like something awful, and your vision is beginning to blur. Sensing your despair, the monster closes in on you, wielding that big blue trident like fury. It holds the sky up over your head, and as it does so you close your eyes. You send a prayer to the goddess Hylia (the way you have been taught to since you were old enough to hold your little brother in your arms, the way every child in Hyrule knows that there is a place for them to go to after they leave this world behind). You brace for impact, which you hope will be the gentle sort, a slap to the wrist that’s conclusive enough to break your bones and leave nothing breathing in its wake. You’re twenty, not five. This is the end of all things as you know it. Every living creature in Hyrule knows this, the way their ancestors woke up one day and knew that this world would come to ruin. Not if, but when. When the Calamity strikes. When everyone you’ve ever loved dies. When you walk into the mouth of the elephant, and the elephant changes its mind, and decides to keep you in its belly forever.

None arrives. You open your eyes slowly, hesitantly, fear a living memory in your bones, but you are not faced with the stinging end of a trident. In its place is a boy almost three times your height, his eyes glittering darkly, the spear in his right hand shining like a star.

He is not your brother. But, Hylia bless you all, he is.

So what can you say, when the evil has been defeated and you are standing on the balcony of the castle, smiling up at him through tears while this big overgrown baby stares at you like you’re the answer to the universe, except:

We’ll definitely meet again, won’t we?

He flinches, but you don’t ask, and he doesn’t say why. He pulls you into an earth-shattering, bone-crushing hug. It’s a beautiful day to be alive, the sun shining like sin, Hyrule’s beaten but stubbornly breathing carcass laughing up at you from the fields below. He takes your hands in his. He’s shivering. He’s shaking from head to toe.

Of course, he says in the kindest, saddest voice you’ve ever heard, though he has only come to pass on someone else’s words, though the word he has brought is salvation. From now on, I’ll always be by your side.

 

 

 

 

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You smile at him with a face full of stars.