They reached the palace at the cusp of twilight.
Their pace had been fast but easy, leaving them time to stop at farm and field alike and question the people there to find if they had seen anything out of the ordinary. Farmers were quick to show them strange withered patches in their fields, places their herds would circle around, strange beasts they thought they had seen from the corners of their eyes at dusk or daybreak. One even claimed he had seen a shadowy dragon fly across the sky and to the east, coming from the great Gerudo Desert.
The reports were troubling, to say the least, and none of the four were surprised when Zelda met them on the steps of the palace, chivvying them inside without a word. “Bathe and come to my quarters to eat,” she told them shortly. “I’m sure we have much to talk about.”
“That we do,” said Vio, stopping her with a gentle touch on her forearm. “Have you slept since we have left?”
“Briefly,” she admitted. “There’s just too much work to be done to waste my time resting!”
“Make sure to take care of yourself,” said Vio, and the rest nodded in agreement.
They bathed as she had asked, splitting off into their usual groups; Blue tugging a tired Red into their own washroom with Shadow still in tow, while Vio, then Green, bathed in the other. Vio was grateful that Green made no overtures towards him, though he did see Green eyeing him when he emerged with only a towel wrapped around his waist, another drying his hair.
Once they all had dressed they trooped up to Zelda’s rooms, where she had laid out food and drinks. When they had eaten, servants cleared the mess away, and Zelda looked at them all in turn.
“Please, tell me what you found,” she said, and they did.
Green and Red told her of the overlarge gohmas lining the path to the library, and Blue explained what had happened with the poes. Vio took over when they reached the temple, explaining the words of power he had used to open the door, the Librarian, and all the knowledge they had seen within, as well as the battle with the Armogohma. Zelda examined the arm wraps he had been given with awe, and gasped when Blue hefted the Megaton Hammer onto the end of the table.
Finally, Green handed her the folded parchment he had taken from the library. “None of us could read it,” he said with a sheepish grin, “but Sheia seemed to think that you could.”
Zelda opened it up reverently, tracing a finger across the old illustrations. “Yes,” she said slowly, “I can read this. But it will require a lot more effort than usual—this is in the language of Twilight, one that I am not fluent in. The Armogohma sounded like a creature of Twilight as well, but…that can’t be.”
“Why not?” Red asked through a yawn.
“Because it would take a tremendous amount of energy to send a being of Twilight into our world, and I would have noticed. The only way it could have been done is if it was sent through the Mirror of Twilight, but again—I would have noticed if Ganon had broken any of the seals.”
Zelda folded the parchment, setting it in the middle of the table. “You know of the Land Wards and the Goddess Crystals, yes?” she asked.
“I know of them,” said Vio, “but not exactly what they are.” The others echoed his statement.
“Well.” Zelda sat back in her chair, folding her hands in her lap. “After the Twilight War, before the Twilight Queen returned to her realm, she and the Princess and the Hero went about the land, and between them wove enchantments that tied strings of magic between the Twilight and our world. That way, if Ganon attempted once more to make his way from the Twilight, we would know. Those strings are what we know as the Land Wards.”
Despite his tiredness, Vio was fascinated. “How did they anchor the magic so it would persist?”
Zelda smiled. “They tied the magic into our bloodlines, of course—that of the Twilight royalty, the Hylian royalty, and the heir of Courage. So if, and when, Ganon does appear, you will know as soon as I. Now,” she continued, “to power the wards and to strengthen the bonds holding Ganon in the Twilight, the three also created what we call the Goddess Crystals. These, as far as I know from what I have read, were also focal points for the Land Wards, strengthening them a thousand times over.”
“Were they just big crystals?” asked Blue. “How many were there?”
“Innumerable,” said Zelda. “The Princess sang them from the ground as the three travelled, the Queen would imbue them with magic, and the Hero would dedicate them to a goddess, depending on where they were. The Crystals of Farore are all in the south, the Crystals of Din to the east and north-east, and the Crystals of Nayru to the west and north-west. They scattered them across the land, hiding them for the most part. I believe they even placed some at the bottom of Lake Hylia.”
“So, uh,” Blue rubbed the back of his neck. “If someone were to hit one, would it be bad?”
“Blue.” Vio gave him a look. “Did you hit a Goddess Crystal in the Library?”
“I didn’t hit it!” Blue protested. “I just pinged it a little when I was exploring! It lit up and made a noise so I left it alone.”
Zelda laughed, patting Blue’s arm. “It’s fine,” she said in amusement. “If anything, you’ve helped to strengthen the Land Wards a little more. I’m not surprised you found one in there—the Old Library was also known as Nayru’s Sanctum before the Suppression War. It’s likely there are crystals in the other two goddess-touched places as well, Din’s Palace and Farore’s Arbor. But enough about that,” she said briskly, watching Red yawn and rub his eyes. “You’ve had a long day, and you’ll need rest, but before you sleep I’d like to bring you someplace.”
“Is it far?” asked Red. “I don’t want to walk much farther today…”
“It’s just behind the castle,” Zelda promised. “For now, head back to your rooms, rest a little longer. Vio, I need you to come with me. There’s someone I want you to meet, and something I need your help with.” She pushed her chair back from the table, palms flat on it as she rose.
The others followed her. Red and Blue left without question but Green hovered at the doorway, looking back. “Is there anything I can do to help?” he asked.
Zelda shook her head. “Thank you for offering, Green, but I will be fine with Vio. This is a matter of magic, not might.”
“Am I not mighty enough for you, Princess?” Vio asked, faux-hurt. Zelda just laughed, giving him a quick hug before taking his arm in hers to guide him out of the room. Green stepped aside to let them pass, but placed a hand on Vio’s other arm. He turned, tilting his head in silent question.
“Blue and I were going to go over our swords with a whetstone and some oil,” said Green with a shrug. “Would you like me to do yours while you’re away?”
“I would appreciate that, yes,” said Vio, unbuckling his sword belt. “Thank you for offering.” Green took it from him, his fingers brushing over Vio’s, and Vio suppressed a shiver.
“Be down by this room in an hour and a half, Green,” Zelda said, turning and tugging Vio with her. “You won’t need your swords or any equipment; where we’ll be going is one of the safest spots in Hyrule.”
As they walked, Zelda asked Vio to recount what had happened in the Library again, focusing on the gifts Sheia had given him and the knowledge he had learned. Vio gladly shared all that he had with her, pausing only when she pulled him to a halt in front of an ornate tapestry. “The person I want you to meet is very dear to me,” she told Vio as she lifted it, gesturing him into a dim, narrow tunnel. “She was my personal guard when I was young, but had to leave a few years ago because of an emergency in her home country.”
“Where is she from?” Vio asked. Before Zelda could answer, he came to the end of the tunnel, a flat sandstone wall.
“Oh, I didn’t think this through very well,” said Zelda ruefully. “Can you open that, Vio?”
“With magic?” Vio frowned, resting his forehead against it. “I can attempt to.” He placed his left hand against the wall, reaching down into the well of his magic. It was easier to draw the power forth this time, and he pulled until he could feel it crackling in his mouth. “A’trahq aljdari,” he murmured, breach the wall, and it split down the middle, pulling wider until he could step through.
“Effective enough,” said a voice from the other side, “but wordy. Open would have worked just as well.”
“Impa!” said Zelda in delight. “Oh, do hurry up, Vio, this tunnel is fairly cramped with two.”
Vio did as she asked, stepping to the side as soon as he was out. Zelda slipped through the opening, turning to close it with a touch of her gloved hand and a murmured word. “There!” she said happily. “Now I can introduce you. Impa, this is Vio of the Four Sword, Hero of Hyrule. Vio, this is Impa of the Sheikah.”
Impa was, to put it in a word, terrifying.
She loomed over the princess and himself, six-plus feet of lean muscle and hidden strength. Her hair was a steely grey, but her tanned skin was unmarred by wrinkles. Her eyes, a piercing burgundy, seemed to transfix him where he stood. She wore leggings and a sleeveless tunic the color of the desert sky, metal bracers on both forearms and upper arms, and a metal waistcoat embossed with the Sheikah’s Eye of Truth. A polearm taller than her was strapped to her back. When he met her gaze for the briefest of moments her lips quirked up.
“So,” she said in a voice lower than any woman’s he had heard before, “you are the one the Princess has been speaking of.”
“Yes,” said Vio. “At least, I believe so?” He glanced at Zelda, who nodded.
“Vio has the best grasp on his magic,” she said. “In time, I’m sure the other three can master it, but time is one of the things we lack right now. He’s most equipped to help us.”
“Then follow me,” said Impa, turning on her heel. “You have much to learn, and not long to do so.”
She led them down a dark and narrow passageway, passing several short wooden doors set deeply into the stone walls. Vio eyed them with curiosity—this was a part of the castle he had never thought existed—and when Impa stopped in front of one it took a moment to halt his steps.
Impa turned to face him, her expression stern. “You may not speak of this room to anyone, not even your compatriots, unless and until either the Princess gives you permission or you come across one of its like on your own,” she said.
“Is it a secret?” asked Vio, brows furrowing.
“Not precisely,” said Zelda, laying her hand on his arm, “but neither should knowledge of it spread across the land. Come on.”
Impa opened the door and ushered them in.
The room beyond was large and hexagonal, each side close to fifteen feet in length. The walls were made of a warm, creamy sandstone, the floor of grey-flecked white marble. Flameless lanterns were mounted about halfway up each wall, cradled in intricate metal brackets. In the center of the room a Triforce was carved into the floor, inlaid in what appeared to be smoothed, faceted yellow agates. At the corners of the center downward-facing triangle were set fist-sized chunks of amber quartz. They caught the light, making them appear to glow.
“This is an altar to the Goddesses,” said Impa, descending the few steps leading into the room. “They are sprinkled across the land. Most are not this elaborate, but all will allow you to commune with the Goddesses in a more efficient manner than usual.”
Vio followed her, equal parts awed and unnerved. The moment he stepped onto the floor he could feel power humming in the air, setting his tired nerves alight. “This is incredible,” he breathed. “How long has this been here?”
“No one knows,” said Zelda, stepping inside and closing the door behind her. She stepped into the leftmost triangle, dropping to her knees and spreading her skirts neatly around her. “I was exploring the castle with Impa one day when I was young, and we happened upon this room.”
“Come, Vio,” said Impa, seating herself in the topmost triangle. “I am not the heir, nor do I hold Power, but it did once belong to the Sheikah, and so I am an acceptable substitute. Zelda is an heir of the Princess of Wisdom, and you are heir and holder of the Triforce of Courage. Seat yourself, and let us begin.”
“Begin what?” Vio asked as he stepped inside the bounds of his triangle and sat with his legs crossed. He felt the power tingling along his skin abate somewhat.
“Oh!” Zelda put a hand over her mouth, looking abashed. “I never mentioned, did I? Since you’ve been dealing with Twilight magic, Impa and I thought it best if the four of you carry charms of light with you from now on. They should protect you from harm, and give you warning if beasts of the Twilight come near.”
“And you needed me for this because?”
“Normally I could do this on my own,” said Impa. “But it is a good skill for the Princess to learn, and a good skill for you as well. Now,” she said, and her manner grew stern once more. “Place your hands on the crystal nearest you, and we shall begin.
Vio did so. The gem was cold underneath his hands, its sharp edges seeming to throb in his grip. “Empty your mind,” said Impa. “Clear your thoughts. Breathe as I do, when I do.” She breathed in and out, steady as a forge bellows. Vio and Zelda followed her lead.
With every breath he took, Vio’s mind cleared and his tiredness receded. He closed his eyes, stilling his thoughts, until he was empty, open, a vessel waiting to be filled.
“Now,” said Impa, her voice ringing deep and sonorous in Vio’s ears. “Zelda, begin. Vio, listen for now. Gather the rhythm of the magic in your heart and your hands.” And she began to hum, a low, buzzing metronome in the back of his mind.
Zelda’s voice split the air, curling light and effervescent, coiling around the nascent power waiting beyond the borders of the jeweled Triforce. Vio felt it snap to attention, thrumming to Impa’s voice, Zelda’s words. The lanterns brightened, the agates beneath them shimmering as if aflame.
en daʃeʋu nobe̞ ʃo̞ndʊ
tʏe ʃʊtʊ keuænu sale̞
en daʃeʋu nobe̞ dʊʃʊ
tʏe ʃʊtʊ nobe̞ dezu dotʃe̞
She sang, and it felt like the world sang with her. Vio curled his fingers tighter around his gem, noting with distant surprise that it was beginning to glow under his palms.
Now, said Impa, her voice ringing strident in Vio’s mind, for she never stopped her humming. Add your voice to ours, child, and shape the light around us into your hands.
How? Vio tried to ask. He opened his mouth, but the words refused to come out. I don’t know the words!
No, that was untrue. He knew them deep in his soul, deep in the part of him that belonged to earlier heirs of Courage. The melody ran soul-deep, entwined in earth and sky, heavens above and stone below and every living thing in the world knew it too, every living thing was singing along in its own way.
His own voice joined Zelda’s, half an octave lower.
They sang, and Impa hummed, and light flickered and danced around them until each of the crystals and the entirety of the gem-inlaid Triforce was glowing with blinding, breathtaking radiance. Vio closed his eyes but the light burned behind his lids, and in the light he thought he could see faces, three of them, warm and welcoming.
Then Impa stopped humming.
The power gathered within the bounds of the Triforce hummed in his bones for a second more as if in indecision; then it sputtered, guttering out like a dying flame, and left Vio to crumple onto his side with a gasp. He was exhausted, as if he had run all the way to Ordon Village carrying a goat. His limbs shook hard enough that when he tried to prop himself up they spilled out from underneath him, leaving his face pressed to the cool marble. Zelda fared slightly better, dropping her hands from her crystal to brace herself on the floor, but she still seemed out of breath.
“Well done, Vio,” said Impa, appearing to be unaffected. “You performed much better than I had hoped. Look what you have wrought.”
Vio tilted his head to the side. In the center of the Triforce lay six irregular lumps of opaque crystal, shot through with milky-white streaks and smears. He could feel the power throbbing in each one from where he lay.
“Why…” he paused, swallowing drily. “Why am I so tired?”
“This is the first time you have worked such a large-scale spell, is it not?” Impa stood, dusting off her knees, then helped Zelda to her feet as well. “Your personal well of magic has been drained, and will need time to recover. That saps the strength from your bones and your mind. Do not attempt to cast any more spells before you have rested.”
“I do not think I will be able to ever cast another spell,” said Vio, closing his eyes. Zelda laughed softly, kneeling beside him and placing her palm on his cheek.
“You did well, Vio,” she said, quiet laughter in her voice. “I don’t think I would have been able to do as much after walking all the way back to the castle, nevertheless fighting an Armogohma beforehand! It’s no wonder you’re exhausted, but I have the solution for that. Can you sit up?”
“My head is spinning,” said Vio. After a moment’s consideration, he propped himself up on his elbow. The motion caused the world to swing dizzily in his vision, and he groaned and let himself drop to the floor. “Maybe a moment more.”
“Take all the time you need,” said Impa. “I will bind the crystals so you all may wear them as necklaces, but that will take time. Before that, though, I will help you to the tunnel, and Zelda will help you through.”
Zelda helped Vio lean against the wall before covering the secret passageway with the tapestry once more. He took the opportunity to catch his breath; Zelda, though she tried to hide it, was in little better shape than his own, and so he took it upon himself to lean on her as little as possible through the long tunnel. It had cost him much—his head was pounding and the ground would not stop moving.
“Come on, Vi,” Zelda said, and he felt her cool hand curve around the back of his neck. “Just a little further, alright?”
He made a grunted noise of assent—he could not be sure that he would not retch onto the floor if he opened his mouth. It was easier to walk when he could brace himself against the wall, though their pace was slowed because of his careful steps.
They rounded the curve where Zelda had told the others to meet them. To Vio’s relief they were already gathered—Red talking, as animated as ever, to both Shadow and Blue while Green leaned against the wall, lost in thought.
“Good, you’re here,” said Zelda as she and Vio drew closer. Pride made him take his hand off the wall and walk the last few paces unassisted, though it felt like the ground was heaving beneath him with each step. Green frowned and took a step nearer to him.
“What have you two been up to?” asked Red, looking less tired than when they had last seen him. “I took a nap while Blue and Green sharpened our Four Swords.”
“We worked some magic,” said Zelda with a smile. “The results of which, you will receive tomorrow morning. For now, follow me.” She swept along in front of them, beckoning them forth with a wave. First Red, then Blue followed, leaving Vio to grit his teeth and place one foot in front of the other as steadily as he could.
Green stayed by his side, oddly silent. Vio appreciated that more than he could explain, and allowed Green to brace him when he missed a step and swayed on his feet.
Zelda took them outside the castle walls, into a low, sloping tunnel. The ground was hard-packed earth, the walls smooth stone bricks. At the end of the tunnel was a dim, flickering light. The air grew heavy and moist as they descended.
They reached the end of the tunnel. The floor flattened out, turning to glossy white tile, while the walls of the tunnel swept outward and up, creating a natural dome. Someone had tiled the walls as well, and water coursed down them in thin shimmering curtains.
Deep in the center of the room stood four pillars, upon which burned warm golden flames. The flames lit up a deep, sunken pool, warm enough that they could see steam rising from it. The rest of the room was dim, barely bright enough to see the tiled path leading to the stairs bordering the pool.
“What is this place?” Red asked, fascinated.
“This is what was once known as a Great Fairy Fountain,” said Zelda. “Long ago, six Fairies had six Pools where they lived, dispensing advice to travelers and healing them of their wounds. They’ve long since left, but the water still has rejuvenating qualities.” As she spoke, she stripped off her gloves and laid them on the tile, then began to unlace the ties holding her overdress in place.
“Woah woah woah,” said Blue, holding up a hand. “What are you doing?”
“Zelda!” Red added, scandalized. “You can’t just strip in front of us!”
Zelda sighed deeply, and Vio could see her rolling her eyes. “I have an underslip on, Blue,” she said, patience thin. “You can’t expect me to soak in the spring with all of my clothes on.”
“Well, no, but—“
“But nothing! You’ve seen me in far less clothing when we played when we were younger!” She slipped off the overdress, then reached into slits in the underdress, fiddling with ties. The greater parts of her voluminous skirts dropped to the floor and she stepped out of them. “Besides, you four are the most trustworthy people I know. None of you will do anything untoward, am I correct?”
Blue muttered an assent.
“Good. Now help me with the ties on my back.”
Red, in the meantime, had stripped to his undershorts, leaving hat, clothes, and boots in a messy pile where he stood. “Last one in’s a rotten cucco!” he said, dashing up the tiled stairs. Zelda laughed, and Blue made a grumpy noise, stripping off his own clothes and folding them neatly before following Red’s lead.
That left Vio where he stood, leaning against the wall, reluctant to even raise his arms as nausea swirled in his gut. Green stepped in front of him, and Vio could see the concern on his face even in the dim light. “Do you need a hand?” Green asked, voice quiet.
Vio opened his mouth, swallowed to clear his throat, and said, “I believe that would be wise. Thank you.”
“It’s fine,” said Green. His hands were deft, flitting from belt to hat to boots, helping Vio shimmy his tunic off over his head. His hands lingered briefly at the ties against Vio’s collarbone, and Vio flushed at the sweep of skin against skin as his shirt parted. Green’s hands moved further down, but before he could reach the ties of Vio’s leggings Vio stopped him.
“I will be able to manage from here,” he said, heat rising further in his cheeks. Green’s mouth opened in a slight ‘o’ as he looked up from where he had been focused.
The sound of splashing jolted them apart, and both turned to look at the source. Red had climbed to the top of the stairs and cannonballed into the spring, a laughing Zelda following him while Blue splashed at them both from below. Vio sucked in a breath, shifting back on his heels to step away and continue undressing, but before he could Green cupped his face.
His hands were so cool, Vio thought, before Green’s lips were on his. He kissed Vio softly, sweetly, and Vio trembled in his grasp—whether it was from exhaustion or nerves, he could not tell.
Green broke the kiss, pressing their foreheads together and closing his eyes. “Am I making you nervous?” he asked in little more than a whisper. Vio couldn’t find the strength to do more than nod, and Green smiled ruefully in the half-light. “I’m sorry. I got scared for a moment, seeing you so pale and fragile like that.”
“I am not fragile,” Vio muttered, tilting his head so his face pressed against the cool walls.
“I know, I’m sorry. You just… you looked like spun glass, like someone had taken you and used you up, emptied you out, and I didn’t like it.” Green pressed his lips to Vio’s cheek, his temple. “Will you be okay?”
“Yes,” said Vio, not moving. “Zelda said that soaking in the spring would go a long way toward reviving my strength and recovering my magic.”
“Alright,” said Green, moving back far enough to start peeling off his clothing. Vio took off his leggings in silence, setting them with the rest of his clothing, and waited for Green to finish before he walked towards the spring.
Stepping into the water was like stepping into a warm bath. The stairs continued downward from the edge of the pool until the water was roughly chest-deep. Vio sat on the third step down, leaning back so the water covered his shoulders and neck, his head half-submerged. He could feel his hair drifting in the water currents.
The sounds of Red, Blue, and Zelda horsing around were muffled, almost otherworldly. The ripples they were making splashed up against the stairs in soft, rhythmic waves. He closed his eyes, intending just to rest for a moment.
“Hold your head up a moment,” said Green from beside him. Vio made a grumpy noise, reluctant to move. “Vio, come on, or you’ll slip down the stairs and drown to death, and then where will we be?”
“Nowhere,” he muttered, raising his head from the water and propping himself up on his elbows.
Green slipped onto the stair behind him and sat, his legs bracketing Vio’s torso. “Exactly,” he said, hands cool on Vio’s bare shoulders. “Lean back—see, I’ve got you. I won’t let you fall.” He carded his fingers through Vio’s hair. “Rest your eyes for a bit. I’ll wake you when it’s time to go.”
Vio narrowed his eyes to bare slits. Through the shimmer of steam rising from the water, the three bodies at the far end of the spring looked ethereal, lacking substance, as if they might turn to steam themselves and float away into the sky. His mind turned, unbidden, to the faces he’d seen in the light as he sang.
With an unformed question in his mind, he allowed his eyes to close.