I have slightly modified some of the dialogue that appears in the actual game, Hyrule Warriors, in this chapter. Typically, I try to keep the dialogue that comes from the game verbatim, but yeah, just so you know, mild changes here. In part because the actual Hyrule Warriors Impa is a tad nicer than the Impa in this story.
It was like a glass wall had erected around where the dormant Death Mountain had once lain in Hyrule. The barrier flickered, separating the newly-created wasteland from a Hyrule of an age long-past.
"What is our objective once we go into this era?" Sheik asked.
Impa gave her a look. Sheik fought the urge to roll her eyes, the young queen caged inside her threatening to break free, "I know that we are going to seal off Cia's gate into this area so that she can cease to summon monsters from this time. What I meant was what is our strategy of doing that?"
"The gate that Cia has opened will likely be in Death Mountain itself, since the mountain was the fragment from this era that was erected here," Impa said, "As in our present day Hyrule, Death Mountain was inhabited by the Goron tribe in the era of the Hero of Time as well. The sage of fire, Darunia, dominates this realm. Our strategy will be to speak with him and see if he has noticed any disturbances on the mountain that might point us toward Cia's portal."
Sheik nodded. With that, Impa led the way stepping through the translucent film that barred present from past, disappearing behind it. Sheik followed.
The sight that lay before them on the other side of the wall stole Sheik's breath. Death Mountain, its ring of smoke at its top, had been visible from the Valley of Seers. However, now that Sheik stood in the era of the Hero of Time, she saw the surrounding landscape. The mountain itself quaked with life, huge boulders crashing down its sides. Sheik could look over her shoulder and see, not the barrier she and Impa had entered, but a quiet village. Beyond it lay the expanse of a huge green field. "Ah," Impa said.
Sheik turned to her, and Impa explained, "We're in Kakariko Village. I recognize this place; my ancestors are from here. That field is Hyrule Field, as it is in our day but older and wilder."
Sheik would've continued to admire the new world around her, but the mountain groaned as another boulder rolled down from its peak. "Come. We must find Darunia," Impa said.
"Where are all the villagers?" Sheik asked, looking over her shoulder at Kakariko as she and Impa walked. There were several houses and stores, even a windmill that turned lazily in the mountain breeze, but there were no people milling about.
"If this is the state of the mountain, then I assume they've evacuated," Impa said, "Death Mountain seems on the verge of an eruption. Cia's doing, no doubt."
Impa kept a brisk pace, but Sheik couldn't help but notice the slight limp to the general's gait. Impa bore it unflinchingly, but Sheik's throat tightened. Cia's curse on the altar. . .
"Please, let us walk a bit slower," Sheik said.
Impa eyed Sheik harshly, "Are you hurt? We've no time for any sort of delay! Hyrule's fate rests upon us sealing this portal as swiftly as possible."
"I'm not hurt but you are!" Sheik retorted.
Impa scowled and refocused her attention ahead. To Sheik's resentment, she didn't alter her pace at all. "You could've accompanied either Link or Lana, and yet you chose me. I'd like to know why," Impa said.
Sheik had no time to answer. A fairy, not so very unlike Proxi, darted in front of their faces. Sheik threw up a hand, temporarily blinded by the flash of light. "Hey! Listen! Princess Ruto is in trouble!" the fairy cried.
"The princess of the Zoras?" Impa asked. Sheik recalled such a name from the royal archives. Yes, Ruto had ben the sage of water from the era of the Hero of Time.
"She was abducted by the Gorons!" the fairy exclaimed, "Their leader, Darunia, used to be such a gentle soul. . . Someone named Zelda showed up and . . . he hasn't been the same since!"
"Zelda? Queen Zelda is here?"
Sheik detected a slight lift in Impa's voice. Despite all of her harsh talk earlier and explanations for why the queen must be dead, the Sheikah general was not against hoping.
Sheik, however, was utterly confused. As she was the only one who knew the true fate of Zelda, she knew that something wasn't right.
"Darunia would never capture Ruto. The two of them are both sages; they're allies," Impa said, "You must be mistaken."
"Let's go and see with our own eyes," Sheik suggested.
"I'm telling the truth!" the fairy insisted, "I saw the Zora princess myself! She sent me to find help!"
"We are on our way to Darunia. Can you show us the rest of the way there?" Impa asked.
The fairy bobbed up and down in the air excitedly, "Yes, yes, quickly! This way!"
The fairy flitted up the rocky path ahead, zipping up the incline of the mountain. The path curled around the mountain, becoming less traveled the higher it climbed. Kakariko became a small blot below, and Sheik could tell their fairy guide was impatient, slowing its pace to allow the two Sheikah time to properly climb the terrain. Sheik could hear Impa's labored breath ahead of her but said nothing.
Suddenly, the fairy gave a shriek of alarm. As the Sheikah rounded a corner on the mountain path, they were confronted with a barricade of angry Gorons. "It's villagers from Kakariko!" one Goron cried. Its tone of voice made it clear that this was not happy news.
"We're here to speak with Darunia," Impa said firmly, "Please grant us passage."
"Impossible! No one can pass through here!" one Goron captain shouted.
"They don't look willing to talk," Impa muttered, reaching for the giant's knife, "Wonderful."
"Are we to fight?" Sheik's eyes widened. The Gorons were always such a peaceful people. Images of Dakaro as he had rescued Sheik. . . Zelda. . . from the castle flashed through her mind.
"They're not acting of their own accord," Impa said, "If Darunia truly has captured Ruto, then something is terribly amiss. We'll have to force our way through."
"It's true!" the fairy seconded, "You have to stop them! They'll destroy the mountain if they're left to their own devices!"
Reluctantly, Sheik readied the Goddess' Harp. She knew Impa, and she knew that the general did not delight in bloodshed. Perhaps there would be no killing. Perhaps they could make it through the masses by only stunning their foes and rushing past.
"One more step, and we'll flatten you with great, big boulders!" a Goron captain threatened, "If you want your precious village to endure, you'll heed my warning!"
"Kakariko!" Sheik breathed.
"Its fate now lies with us as well, it would seem," Impa said. Sheik saw anger flash in the general's eyes, "Follow me closely, Sheik. And do nothing foolish."
With that, Impa charged, swinging the giant's knife in quick, sharp strokes. Her blade flying through the air cleared a path before her, Gorons scrambling to get out of the way. "They defy Darunia!" a Goron voice cried, "Unleash the boulders! Stop them! Don't permit them to reach the chieftan!"
There was a great crashing sound, like thunderclaps cascading through the sky. But the source was not thunder. Sheik's heart leapt in her chest as she saw a steady stream of boulders tumbling their way. "Impa!" Sheik cried.
The fairy squeaked in fear, flying upward into the sky for cover.
"Dodge the boulders!" Impa commanded, clubbing a Goron who stood in her path over the head with the butt of her knife. Unconscious, her aggressor fell aside.
The order was easier said than done. Sheik had to scrabble up the side of the mountain, flattening herself on a ledge to keep from being steamrolled by the rocks. The Gorons might as well have been experiencing a light rain; they allowed the rocks to roll over their backs and lifted them and tossed them aside like they were toys. Frustration mounted within Sheik.
"More! More boulders!" a Goron cried, "They still stand!"
"We must find the source of the rocks and stop it!" Sheik shouted to Impa, "We'll never climb the mountain if this keeps up!"
Impa's eyes met her own and the general gave a quick nod of understanding. "I will veer east. You go west," she yelled, "Seek out the source."
Sheik was glad that Impa was heeding her advice, but the idea of splitting up unsettled her. The general's failing health haunted her mind once more. "No, I'll come with you!" Sheik insisted, leaping from her ledge.
Upon landing, she gave the harp a few quick strokes, sending the Gorons closing in around her flying. "I will accept no alternative," she added, narrowing her eyes at Impa.
Impa frowned, but there was no time to argue with Sheik. "This way!" she beckoned, taking the eastern path.
Surely enough, shortly up the path lay a small Goron keep, a fort with a large gate. The gate flung open, a torrent of more rocks tumbling forth from it. "There!" Impa cried, "We must seize control of that keep!"
This time, there was no mountain ledge to leap upon. Impa had thrown herself into a crevice in the mountain side, blending in as a Sheikah was meant to do. But Sheik was not a true Sheikah. And there were boulders hurtling her way.
"Sheik!" Impa cried out.
In that moment, Sheik could've sworn she heard terror in her mentor's voice.
Instinct took over. Sheik's fingers flew over the harp as the rocks raced toward her. A wave of energy burst from the instrument, slicing straight through the rock. Sheik shut her eyes, certain the debris would crush her. But the impact never came. When Sheik opened her eyes once more, there she stood, the bits of rock flying past as her fingers continued, of their own accord, to dance upon the strings.
Shocked faces of Gorons peered over the walls of the keep. A new voice broke out over the chaos of the falling rocks.
"Who dares attack the noble Gorons? Whoever you are, prepare to battle a Goron chieftan!"
Impa leapt free of her crevice, her knife ready. "Darunia!" she growled, "Come, Sheik! The keep! We have to put an end to this madness!"
The gate to the keep, still open from releasing the boulders, allowed Sheik and Impa easy access inside. It was a matter of moments before the two Sheikah had swept their Goron opposition aside, rendering them unconscious. A supply of boulders lay in a heap, ready to be used. Sheik was certain to close the gate, ending the barrage.
"Darunia. . . where is he?" Impa asked, "We must speak some sense into him!"
Outside, a river of rock continued to flow down the mountain. "There must be another keep," Sheik observed, "Let's investigate. Perhaps he awaits us there."
Evading the falling rocks, the Sheikah hurried westward. A second keep came into view, rock still pouring forth from its gate in an unending attempt to deter intruders.
"Kakariko will perish if this chaos doesn't end," Sheik said, "Though not all of these boulders are reaching them, I'm certain they'll begin to if this doesn't stop!"
"Then we must take this keep as well! This way!" Impa said.
However, Sheik caught sight of pain flashing across the general's face. The strain of their journey up the mountain was beginning to take its toll upon her; Sheik knew it. Nonetheless, Impa battered her way into the keep, knocking Gorons left and right with the giant's knife. Sheik hardly had to contribute with the Goddess' Harp; Impa had soon seized control of the West Keep and shut its gate, ending its assault down the mountain.
A roar of outrage sounded, just north of the keep. "Whuh?" Sheik's brow furrowed.
She and Impa climbed the walls of the keep, looking out past them. A Goron considerably larger than the others barreled toward them, rage plastered across his expression. "Is that. . . ?" Sheik asked.
"Darunia," Impa confirmed.
Sheik straightened her shoulders. She got a sense that this foe would be a greater challenge than the other opponents they had faced thus far, "We must stop his rampage, then."
"We need him to calm down so we can get some answers," Impa warned, "Try to harm him as little as possible. Mad as he may be at the moment, he is still an ally to Hyrule."
Sheik nodded. With that, Impa had already jumped outside the safety of the keep. Darunia sprang at the Sheikah, unfurling his body and swinging a great hammer. Impa, though she had begun on the offensive, quickly reverted to the defensive, each of her blows barely matching Darunia's as he flew at her with his weapon.
"Impa!" Sheik rushed to the general's aid, strumming the harp.
To Sheik's horror, the energy from the harp might as well have been ripples from a pond brushing against Darunia's skin. He didn't even acknowledge her attacks. Fear settled in Sheik's heart. Some dark power resided inside Darunia; she was sure of it. Everything about this battle felt unnatural.
"S-such strength!" Impa gasped, gritting her teeth as her knife met Darunia's hammer with a bang.
Seeing the harp's magic rendered ineffective, Sheik tried a different tactic. She drew her dagger and flew at the Goron. A sick sense of satisfaction filled her as the knife sliced through his rocky flesh. Darunia cried out with surprise and rage. Sheik instantly recalled Impa's command, guilt clouding her throat.
But the guilt was short-lived, for Darunia's attention was now on Sheik, the pest who had thwarted his mission. Sheik's heart raced, sweat pooling on her brow as she struggled to match each of Darunia's attacks. Impa hadn't been lying; his strength was impressive. Otherworldly.
There were two loud cries. The first that Sheik identified was Darunia, his eyes screwing shut and jaw dropping as he roared with pain once more. The second took Sheik a moment, but she finally realized it was Impa, crying out with exertion as she had brought down the giant's knife upon Darunia's back.
Unlike Sheik, the general had been careful not to draw blood. But the hit was forceful enough to make the Goron topple forward. Sheik's reflexes barely spared her from being squashed as she flung her body to one side.
For a moment, Darunia lay still, flat upon the ground. An audience of horrified Gorons closed in around the Sheikah, each watching with bated breath to see if their leader would rise once more.
"Not bad. . . I'll have to withdraw for now, but only so I can strike back twice as hard!" Darunia grunted.
He curled into a ball and swiftly rolled back up the mountain. "No!" Impa called, but too late.
The Goron chief had vanished.
"He got away!" Impa's voice betrayed her fury.
"Big Brother Darunia, we're on it!" a Goron captain cried, "We'll make these invaders pay for what they've done!"
"Sheik, we must make it up the mountain! We can't allow Darunia to keep on!" Impa shouted. Her eyes flicked left and right, watching the Gorons beginning to close in around her.
Sheik was still shaking from Darunia's attack. Impa, she saw, was nearly doubled over with pain. Defeating the sage had come with a price.
This battle had to end soon. Impa's life depended upon it.
Steadying herself, Sheik could only bring herself to nod. Her fingers trembled, but she made them dance across the harp's strings nonetheless. Numbly, she watched the Gorons fly aside at the flick of her hand. Slowly but surely, she and Impa began to creep up the mountain, creating a force field around themselves with Impa's wide swings of her blade and the waves of energy flowing out from Sheik's harp.
"Ah!" Impa cried out without warning, clutching at her side.
"Impa!" Sheik cried.
"I'm fine! Keep going!" Impa snapped.
She continued to swing the giant's knife, but her strokes seemed more wobbly, less focused. The full pain of her injuries seemed to have caught up with her.
Darunia's voice boomed down the mountain once more, "I feel my strength returning. . . Brothers, we're marching out again!"
The Goron chieftan once more rolled down the mountain. Sheik gasped, her fingers stilling over the harp, "He looks like he hasn't a scratch on him! Will there be no end to this battle?"
"The chief's room lies ahead!" Impa managed through her clenched teeth, "We must reach it! His base must be hiding his secret."
"Then we must penetrate it," Sheik resumed her playing, blasting Gorons aside as she attempted climbing the mountain higher.
"Go! I'll handle Darunia!" Impa called.
There was no time to object. Sheik moved as quickly as she could. The climb was difficult and slowed by the flood of Gorons that kept appearing to oppose her. There was only so much time to force her way forward while she was simultaneously playing the harp.
Reaching the top of Death Mountain brought only disappointment. Sheik could not keep from crying out upon finding Darunia had sealed off his chamber with boulders. She flew back down to where Impa was currently engaging the Goron chieftan in combat. Before she could reach the scene, Sheik watched, horrorstruck, as Darunia managed to get in a blow, pummeling Impa with his hammer and sending her body flying back from the impact.
"No!" Sheik cried.
She dropped to the side of her fallen mentor. "Sheik! Get away!" Impa hissed, her eyes clenched shut and teeth clenched in agony, "He's coming back! You're not safe!"
"I don't care!" Sheik protested.
"Get into his chambers! That's the only way this can end!" Impa sat upright then stood. She hunched over immediately, clutching her stomach.
"You can't keep fighting!" Sheik's voice rose in volume as hysteria clawed at her insides, threatening to break out, "We have to go back to Kakariko! Now!"
"That's not an option!" Impa thundered, "Get away! Leave him to me!"
"I can't get in! The way is barred!" Sheik blocked Impa's path, preventing her from returning to where Darunia patiently awaited her return, grinning maliciously, "This is madness!"
"You have to think of something," Impa growled.
"No!" Sheik screamed, "You think of something! I'll fight Darunia—you go try to break into his chambers!"
"Remember our discussion! Remember Hyrule's future! You cannot throw your life away!" Impa shoved Sheik aside, "Get out!"
With hot tears blurring her vision, Sheik ran back up the mountain, knowing there'd be no convincing Impa. Was Cia's curse really to claim one she loved so soon? How did Link fare? Was he suffering as well?
Banishing him from her thoughts, Sheik played the harp with new frenzy, maddeningly driving the Gorons aside as she resumed her climb. What was there to do? The only thing that could break through rock was. . .
At the top of the mountain, a new detail caught Sheik's attention. Sitting unused lay one last Goron keep, perhaps intended to serve as a last resort for an ambush.
Newly inspired, Sheik rushed toward it. If she could be quick, Impa's life might be spared.
A line of Goron defenses poured out from the Chief's Room, the door sealing once more behind them. Rather than rush to join their chieftan in his battle against Impa, the soldiers focused their attention on Sheik. Sheik narrowed her eyes, her fingers plucking the strings with new resolve. She would not be deterred.
"Don't get in my way," she growled.
From below, Darunia bellowed orders to the new line of infantry, "Brothers! Show them the strength of the Gorons!"
Sheik cast a quick glance over her shoulder as she continued to climb, eyes widening to see Impa gradually backing up, meeting Darunia's attacks blow for blow. Darunia's strikes with his hammer were intensifying, quickening in their delivery. Impa's defenses, on the other hand, were slowing. She was moving more clumsily, like she was disoriented. Sheik had to hurry.
With a cry of power, Sheik blew the last of the Gorons aside with the harp. Her fingers were beginning to ache from having to play so much and so rapidly, but the temporal pain was quickly forgotten as she reached the keep. Her heart soared within her to see a pile of boulders awaiting her in the corner of the abandoned keep.
There were two gates. One aimed down the mountain, able to provide a rockslide against intruders if needed. The other gate faced the Chief's Room: the source of all the rock from the heart of the mountain.
Sheik opened the second gate. Dragging her fingers across the strings of the harp one final time, she sent out a blast of energy that struck the boulders, prompting them forward.
Surely enough, several tumbled out of the gate, barreling straight for the sealed-off chamber. With a great smash, the door was broken to bits, allowing easy access into the Chief's Room.
From her position near the mountain's peak, Sheik heard Darunia's outburst of temper, "Aah! The premium rock sirloin I had hidden in my chambers! It's ruined!"
"Sheik, go!" Impa commanded, taking advantage of Darunia's distraction. The general came at him with a new fury, though Sheik could still see that she was weaker with each attack.
Not waiting for Impa to fall, Sheik rushed into the Chief's Room. Immediately something struck her as being. . . off. The room was well-lit by lamps, but still a darkness resided there. Sheik could feel it sliming over her skin; she could sense it. "The sorceress. . . " she murmured aloud to herself.
As if waiting for her to guess as much, three big poes immediately materialized in the room. Sheik's hand flew to the Goddess' Harp as she got into a battle stance.
The poes did not wait for her to be ready. They rushed at her immediately, their spindly arms outstretched. Sheik shut her eyes and centered her focus. She dragged her fingers across the strings, sending out a powerful blast of energy.
The poes flew back from the impact, but Sheik knew it would take more than a well-aimed blow to end them. One had already recovered, swinging its lantern and hurling a ball of purple energy at Sheik.
Impa's words came back to haunt Sheik:
"You are the only hope of Hyrule."
Impa was facing death even now. Sheik couldn't waste time, and she couldn't afford any mistakes in this battle. If she fell, Impa would fall too. Hyrule would fall. She couldn't have any missteps.
Sheik dodged the ball of energy, sending up dust as she slid across the floor of the cave. The other two poes tracked her with their yellow eyes, readying their own magical attacks for her. Sheik knew the Goddess' Harp would be less effective against the poes due to their own magical prowess. Her brain racing, she decided a physical attack might be more effective.
Stowing the harp, her hand fell to her thigh where her knife was securely fastened. Just as a ball of energy formed in the hand of the nearest poe, Sheik drew her knife and threw herself at her opponent.
Poes were tricky. They had physical bodies, but they could disappear at will. Praying she would be quick enough, Sheik slashed upward in a firm stroke.
She struck true. With a ghostly squeal, the poe evaporated, fading into oblivion. Sheik cried out, falling to the ground in pain as a ball of energy hit her from behind. It was like electricity searing through her veins; fire scorched down her back.
She blinked, seeing everything blearily as her eyes watered. She had to be more careful. . . she couldn't die. . . she couldn't let Impa down. . .
With her arms trembling slightly, Sheik stood once more, swiftly stepping aside to avoid another ball of energy hurtling at her. She felt like she might throw up, her nerves feeling singed from her wound, but still she leapt at one of the remaining poes. To her pleasure, the poe hadn't expected an attack. Using its surprise to her advantage, Sheik cried out as she swung her knife upward.
Another shriek. Another cloud of dust.
Only one poe remaining.
There were great, thunderous footsteps outside of the Chief's Room. "Hey! What's going on in here?" Darunia boomed.
If Darunia was here. . . where was Impa?
Refusing to let panic overtake her, Sheik focused on the last poe. She had to defeat it and swiftly. She was no match for it and Darunia combined, especially with Darunia's everlasting energy supply.
There was already a purple glow forming in the poe's lantern as Sheik hurried toward it. It would be a race against time of who was ready to attack first. Sheik raised her knife. The poe raised its lantern.
The last scream was different than the others. It echoed throughout the room with an air of finality as the poe convulsed before vanishing.
At last Sheik's exhaustion caught up with her. The effect of her wound left her feeling light-headed, and she fell to her knees where the poe had disappeared.
She had to get up. Darunia would be upon her in moments. She had to move. . .
"Whoa, I feel kinda strange. . . " Darunia mumbled. From the instability of his voice, it sounded to Sheik like he might be sick himself.
The ground shook as Darunia collapsed, groaning in pain. When he sat upright, shaking his head, a volley of explanations poured out from him, "Huh? We surrender! We give up! I didn't realize what we were doing! Forgive us! Someone was twisting our minds!"
"Would you mind kindly releasing Princess Ruto?" Sheik grit her teeth as she stood. She needed rest. She needed to find Impa.
"Oh! Yeah! Of course! Man, I feel terrible for everything we've been doing. . . " Darunia shuffled toward the back of the room. What Sheik had assumed to be a wall proved to be a boulder. Darunia heaved it aside as easily as if it had been a curtain. A female Zora ran out from behind it.
"Well, that was a terrible experience," she exclaimed, "I am Ruto, princess of the Zoras!"
She surveyed the room, her chin upturned as she did so. Sheik was instantly reminded of Oreni from the way the princess frowned as she took in her surroundings. If her temperament proved to be anything like Oreni's, then Sheik was in no mood to put up with it.
"Ruto! A thousand apologies—" Darunia stammered.
Ruto silenced him with a raised hand. She looked at Sheik, studying her rescuer with narrowed eyes, "You want to know who caused this? I'll explain, but not until we leave this filthy mountain. . . "
Darunia had abandoned his battle with Impa when he had sensed Sheik nearing his energy supply: the dark enchantments of the three big poes.
When Sheik found the general, she was in poor shape, bleeding through her armor on one side. "It's fine," Impa insisted, "It's not the worst I've suffered in battle."
The fairy that had alerted Sheik and Impa to the danger of Death Mountain flitted nearby uncertainly. Sheik swallowed. Only she knew that this battle was unlike other ones. Impa's body would not recover as it always had, even if there were potions to aid her. The curse was Sheik's dark secret, and it would be the death of her and all who got close to her.
At least Impa permitted Sheik to support her weight as she slung one of the general's arms over her shoulder. "We need to get Ruto off of the mountain," Sheik explained, helping Impa walk and ignoring the pain that still flared in her own back, "We'll see to our injuries in Kakariko."
"Kakariko?" Ruto's tone of distaste made Sheik want to slap the princess.
Sheik had no tolerance for an attitude.
"Well, we can't go too far!" Ruto continued, "The source of your troubles is in my beloved home, the Water Temple."
"We'll help, but the general needs medical attention first," Sheik said, "So we go to Kakariko."
"What do you mean? What is in the Water Temple?" Impa asked Ruto.
"Princess Zelda is there with teems of monsters," Ruto said, "I don't know what's come over her!"
"The princess Zelda of this age or the queen Zelda of our age?" Sheik prompted.
Ruto arched her brow, "How am I to know? I wasn't up close and personal when she threw me out of my own home. All I know is that she's Zelda."
"Either way it doesn't make sense," Impa grumbled, "There is something larger at play here; something foul."
Sheik silently agreed. She spent the night raiding Kakariko's deserted potion shop to try to find something to ease Impa's discomfort. At least with the village emptied, there was no competition to find places to sleep.
A few red potions remained on the shelves, which Sheik gladly confiscated as she returned to the others. Darunia, motivated by his guilt at his actions, volunteered to join the Sheikah and the Zora princess in their journey to free the water temple. The fairy, who introduced herself as Navi, accompanied them as well. The fairy's bouncy personality reminded Sheik of Proxi. Which reminded her of Link. Which left an aching feeling in her chest that she forced herself to shove aside.
But the questions still tormented her. Was Link alright? Was he, like Impa, dying even yet? Was there anything to be done even if he was?
In the abandoned home that the small group had claimed, Impa pulled Sheik aside and spoke in a low voice, "If Queen Zelda is possessed, then we must free her."
Sheik could do nothing but nod. How was she to object and say this Zelda couldn't be Zelda at all?
Impa went on, "I suspect the portal we seek must be in the Water Temple. If there are teems of monsters there and it is guarded by Zelda herself, then that leaves me to assume the Black Sorceress must be involved in some way. I originally thought it might be on Death Mountain when that fairy alerted us to the disturbances among the Gorons, but I now think that all might have been a diversion."
Once more, Sheik nodded numbly.
A flicker of hope danced in Impa's eyes, ". . . I daren't hope lest I be disappointed. Yet it seems she may live even yet, in spite of all odds. If we can break her of this spell she's beneath, Hyrule shall be saved."
Sheik felt like her organs were caving in on themselves, like she was dissolving and fading away like dust on the wind. How could she bear this torture of carrying a truth she could never reveal?
"This topic makes you uncomfortable," Impa's eyes narrowed, "Why?"
The words sat there, clumped together in Sheik's throat. She knew she would have to select her answer carefully. "I. . . do not think this Zelda is the true Zelda," Sheik finally said.
"Well, obviously she is not acting of her own free will," Impa said, "But, you believe her. . . not to be Zelda at all?"
"Yes," Sheik said.
Impa studied Sheik for a moment before saying, "Well, we shall soon see. I advise we eat and rest for now."
Sheik's eyes fell to Impa's side. The area was heavily bandaged, but Sheik knew the dark truth. The wound would not heal. Even with the aid of the red potions Sheik had stolen. And if Sheik couldn't figure something out quickly, then the general would perish before her eyes.
Ruto had proved of some use by luring some fish to the edge of the Zora River. She and Darunia had gone to it while Impa and Sheik had settled into the house. Perhaps they'd gone together to make amends for Darunia's behavior. Sheik had more pressing matters to deal with, so she didn't spare it much thought.
When Impa retired to her bedroll for the night, Sheik watched the Zora princess and Goron chieftan speak in low voices. Her exhaustion, both physical and emotional, ignited a spark of anger within her. Darunia, Ruto. . . they were supposed to be sages! They themselves had witnessed the princess of their age disguise herself as a Sheikah—did it not occur to them now that a similar event might be occurring? Why could nobody see the truth? Why could Impa and Link not be saved?
If Ruto was as stupid as Oreni, Sheik bitterly realized there was no hope.
Sheik sighed and lay down. It was useless to get upset. Why should Darunia or Ruto suspect anything was amiss? As far as they knew, she and Impa were travelers from a different age. Their business did not concern the sages, save for the fact that it could be Queen Zelda of the present who currently wreaked havoc upon their way of life. Why would Darunia and Ruto waste time speculating on Sheik's identity when their own people suffered?
Shutting her eyes and racking her brain for ways to expose herself, Sheik lay down. The warmth of Navi's tiny body settled down beside her, the thrumming of the fairy like a tiny heartbeat to anchor Sheik in her despair.
Navi departed that morning, causing a small part of Sheik to shrivel at her departure. The memory of Proxi had been inescapable, and Sheik had clung to anything that reminded her of simpler times. Times when Impa and Link's lives weren't dangling on a precipice.
The Water Temple was reached the next day and, as surely as Ruto had claimed, was crawling with monsters. Quite strangely, the Water Temple was not, in fact, submerged in water. Instead, it stood in a drained pit, fully visible on dry land. Though Sheik had not visited Oreni's realm in her current age, she knew that this could not be right.
Perhaps most horrifying of all was the monsters' commander. Sheik's mouth dropped to see herself, her true, queenly self, smirking in the distance, surrounded by troops of stalfos.
Like magic, the queen's voice echoed over the hordes of monsters so that her opponents could clearly hear her threats. "Hm. Invaders. Someone destroy them for me," Zelda said smugly.
"The queen!" Impa's brow rose, "We must intervene—her life depends on us acting with the utmost caution. The fate of Hyrule rests on us sparing her life but freeing her of this strange enchantment she is beneath."
Sheik, of course, longed to say that the queen was not even the queen at all. But she bit her lip.
"This is it," Darunia grunted, preparing his hammer, "Time to free this temple and get to the bottom of this."
"Glad you're finally seeing things my way," Ruto tilted her chin upward. Sheik resisted the temptation to roll her eyes.
"We'll never get through if we all just barrel in there," Sheik said, "We should split up and attack in several areas to weaken this maniac's defenses."
What Sheik really meant was that she and Impa should attack separately from Darunia and Ruto. Impa nodded in agreement, but her interpretation of Sheik's suggestion was quite different. "A good idea," the general seconded, "Sheik, you and Ruto find a way to break into the temple and locate the portal. Darunia and I will draw the queen's defenses away."
"General!" Sheik exclaimed, "Would it not be wiser if you and I worked together and the sages also were a team? We're each more familiar with—"
"No," Impa cut in harshly.
She did not wait to hear any further objections, for she drew the giant's knife and stalked forward. Sheik balled her fists. She was not about to watch a suicide take place.
Like much of Sheik's life recently, however, the Sheikah was not permitted a choice. "He-ey there! Help me!" Ruto cried.
Sheik whirled around to see the Zora princess cowering as stalfos rushed toward her, their hands open and ready to tear her to bits.
"Princess Ruto is the only one who knows how to get into the temple. Keep her safe!" Impa shouted, throwing herself at the hordes of monsters with Darunia following behind.
Rolling her eyes, Sheik knew she couldn't follow Impa. If the Zora princess died, there'd be no way to infiltrate the temple, reveal this strange imposter, and cut off Cia's power.
Sheik's body, to her alarm, objected as she charged toward the stalfos surrounding Ruto. She could feel her muscles straining, a soreness spreading throughout her. If she was so tense from battle, she could only imagine what Impa must feel like.
In spite of her pain, Sheik was able to strum the harp enough to send all of Ruto's attackers flying. The Zora princess gawped at her, clearly not expecting such power from a musical instrument. "That harp—" Ruto said, "You. . . remind me of. . . well. . . Sheik. Sheik from my own era."
Sheik's eyes widened. Was her salvation truly about to come at the hands of a conceited Zora princess?
But Ruto's wonderment was broken as the angry grunts of stalfos filled the air. Ruto looked away from Sheik and at her beloved Water Temple. "Let us go into the Water Temple," Ruto said, "And put an end to this disaster Zelda has brought upon us."
Annoyance flickered within Sheik. "This isn't even Zelda at all!" Sheik snapped, "She's an imposter!"
Ruto cocked her head and, for a moment, Sheik feared she'd said too much. Had she disturbed Cia's curse?
To her relief, she continued to draw breath; she wasn't going to fall to the ground dead yet. Ruto said, "If what you say is true, then we could always use the Lens of Truth. . . A hero left it in the temple some time ago! It always reveals what is true."
Newly inspired, Ruto flew ahead, a cyclone of water forming around her as rushed at the temple. "I'll go underwater and find the Lens of Truth. We can meet back up later," she shouted.
"What? No! The general told us to stay together!" Sheik argued.
But it was useless. Ruto had set her mind to something, and, much like her descendent, Oreni, seemed incapable of hearing reason. Sheik didn't want to think about what would happen if Impa saw the Zora princess in the temple unaccompanied. Sheik would probably be dismissed from the mission. And then what? How would she save Impa and Link and herself and Hyrule?
There was no option but to chase after Ruto. Feeling like a common dog given to obeying its master's orders, Sheik stormed after the princess. To Sheik's surprise, Ruto proved herself not completely inept in battle. The Zora princess had magical abilities, and Sheik couldn't help but be impressed as Ruto put them to use. Ruto forged a path for herself through the hordes of stalfos, summoning impressive typhoons of water from around her to cast them aside. Sheik could barely keep up. Her fingers (and body, for that matter) ached from the battle yesterday, and she felt like the energy blasting out from the Goddess' Harp was weaker than usual.
As Sheik found herself moving slowly, she soon lost sight of Ruto altogether. Cursing to herself and checking to see that Impa and Darunia were occupied in the distance, she tried to guess which passage of the elaborate temple Ruto had taken. Before she could select a path, a voice—Zelda's voice, but all wrong at the same time—echoed throughout the area, "I have captured your ally! If you want her to remain safe, lay down your weapons!"
Sheik clenched her jaw, forcing her way onward all the more passionately. Damsels in distress, curses working against time. . . was this what the hero of Hyrule dealt with on a daily basis?
"Oh, my goodness! I require some aid!" Ruto squealed, her voice resounding throughout the temple.
As Sheik darted through the labyrinth of a temple, desperately trying to track the Zora's shrill voice, she heard heavy footsteps thumping behind her. A quick glance over her shoulder confirmed that Darunia and Impa had joined her. If Impa was disappointed to see Sheik without Ruto, the general did not comment on it.
Then again, there wasn't much time for comments. Just as Sheik reached a large chamber teeming with stalfos, she noted the shut gates beyond it. Her gut told her that beyond those gates she would find Ruto. Impa's instincts must've guided her similarly. She turned to Darunia, saying "Come! We must find the lock switches that open those gates!"
"You got it, general!" Darunia said.
Impa gave Sheik a quick glance, as if to see if she'd be alright left to the room by herself. Sheik nodded wordlessly. She knew what was expected of her: Ruto was still her responsibility, so it was on Sheik's shoulders if to rescue her. Beyond the expectation, Sheik saw more in Impa's eyes. Suffering. Anguish. Impa disguised it well, hid it behind the mask of solemnity that she always wore, but Sheik knew the general well enough to see through it.
Impa was dying.
Sheik swallowed as the general ran alongside Darunia, her pace ever so slightly more lagged than the Goron's.
Sheik was thrown back into battle by charging stalfos closing in around her, their arms outstretched for her throat. She used the harp to splinter their bones into pieces. She used her knife to serrate them herself. Whatever suited her fancy in that moment, whatever provided a better distraction from the pain she'd brought onto those she cared about, she used.
In the midst of the violence, there was a great slamming and rumbling sound. For a moment, Sheik was confused. But then it occurred to her—Darunia's magic hammer. Smashing something.
The gates flung open, water pouring out from behind them, and suddenly all was clear. The lock switch had been eliminated.
A Ruto who looked far too gleeful for having just been in imminent danger darted out from behind the gates. Sheik found herself becoming annoyed again. "Finally, I can get out of here!" Ruto exclaimed.
Sheik noted that the Zora carried some object with her, something Sheik did not recognize. It looked like a large magnifying glass, but there was no mistaking the large symbol of the Sheikah clan engraved upon it. Following Sheik's gaze and then noting the stalfos swarming in from all sides, Ruto thrust the item forward. "I'm. . . getting tired. . . I'll leave the rest to you. Good luck!" she said.
Sheik blinked, shocked, and watched as Ruto fled the temple. If there wasn't a battle currently raging on, Sheik would've screamed at her. A Zora princess—the leader of her people—a deserter?
Sheik transferred her rage from one princess to another: the imposturous Zelda still awaited her beyond the newly opened gates. Sheik now recognized the object Ruto had recovered, images from ancient texts in the royal library came back to her. The Lens of Truth.
Sheik lifted it to her eye and nearly fell backwards. Ahead lay the chamber from which Ruto had just fled. What had first looked like a solid wall, now behind the Lens of Truth was revealed to be a long, dark tunnel. Trusting her instincts, Sheik ran toward it.
The tunnel led into a huge chamber, an eerie light flooding the space. Sheik soon saw the source: a huge mirror, looking not unlike the Gate of Souls, glowed against the wall. Sheik was sure that it must be the portal they were seeking it.
She was even more sure when she saw Zelda, in her very likeness when Sheik had once been queen, step out from the shadows, stalfos flanking her on each side.
"I have no idea how you broke my spell. . . But no matter. You leave me no recourse. . . " Zelda, or whoever the villain may be, said. Her voice made Sheik's head spin. She sounded exactly like the queen, except for a foreboding undertone beneath her words.
The false queen cast her hands upward and cried, "My loyal servant, King Dodongo! Come forth! Burn these fools to the bone!"
Impa and Darunia turned around, hearing a strange crackling sound. Crashing through the ceiling of the temple fell a huge, lizardlike beast. It had two horns on its huge head, and when it reared its face forward, fire gushed from its mouth.
"Oh perfect!" Darunia muttered, "I've seen this sucker before—we're in for a roughhousing!"
Impa didn't want to acknowledge it, but there was a horrible pain racking through her body. Her insides felt like they were on fire. She narrowed her eyes, frowning and trying to fight against the strange sensation within her.
She knew she'd taken a beating yesterday, but she was capable. A battle-worn and decorated warrior. She'd spent years tempering her body for war. The skirmish had been nothing she'd not dealt with before, so why did she suffer now?
"General?" a hint of uncertainty laced Darunia's deep voice.
"Yes! We need to attack!" Impa grunted.
The Goron chieftan barreled toward the creature with a spirited battle roar. Impa forced herself forward as well. Taking care to dodge the flames, she swung the giant's knife, trying to land a hit and cripple the monster. Darunia had adopted a similar strategy, slamming the magic hammer around and trying to crush the monster to oblivion.
Impa bent back, evading a kick from the dragonlike beast. But then—something she did not account for. All at once, the pain within her soared, blurring her vision and ringing in her ears.
Perhaps she should have heeded Sheik's warning. Perhaps she had put herself beneath too much strain.
As she evaded the kick and fell victim to the searing pain, the monster spun around. Its massive tail was a force Impa had not predicted. It sent her flying, slamming against the wall of the chamber.
"General!" Darunia exclaimed, hurrying to where she lay on the ground. Everything came in and out of focus for Impa. Her side, which ought to have healed from the red potion Sheik had brought her yesterday, still felt as if it was splitting.
What was happening? What was wrong with her?
"I regret to say I need help," she muttered.
Sheik did not see King Dodongo but she heard him. In the chambers behind her, she felt a terrible, beastly roar echo through the tunnel, creaking in the hollows of her bones. From the sound, Sheik knew this monster must be huge.
Her attention, however, was still captivated by her imposter.
She had to get rid of this Queen Zelda; that was her priority. If she could vanquish this enemy, then perhaps its summoned monsters would fall with it.
Sheik drew her dagger and ran at Zelda, ready to reveal whoever had stolen her face and her authority.
Zelda drew a rapier that looked much like the one Sheik had lost upon fleeing the castle. The sight of it distracted Sheik, but only for a moment. Zelda leered at her as their metal met. Then another distraction.
An outcry of pain from Impa, sounding down the tunnel.
Sheik couldn't help it. The instinct was just too natural.
Her eyes whipped over her shoulder, seeking out the source of the cry.
Zelda took advantage of the distraction, and Sheik cried out as Zelda brought an elbow to her face, breaking the contact of their blades and forcing Sheik to the floor.
Sheik clapped a hand over her nose, feeling the blood spurt out from it.
The queen grinned down at her. It was a predatory smile, the kind a moblin might wear before it bludgeoned its victim to death.
Sheik barely rolled away in time to avoid being sliced in two.
"General! General Impa, do you hear me?"
Darunia's voice sounded so distant, but Impa could feel the warmth of his breath puffing against her face. Something was all wrong. Specifically, something was all wrong with her.
Settling into her stomach like a stone came the truth: she and Darunia could not win this battle.
As her consciousness flickered, she realized Darunia was cradling her close. She could feel his rock hands holding her frame. Since when was she ever a delicate thing to be cherished—a wounded sparrow?
She brought shame to her very people.
A faraway voice thrummed in her ears. The sound compelled Darunia's hands to loosen around her.
"There is no victory unless I help. It's just a little, fire-breathing lizard. I can handle it!"
"Ruto's voice," Impa blearily thought to herself. The Zora princess. . . had returned?
"Go!" Impa croaked, hoping Darunia would not object.
She only needed a moment. . . one moment to stand to her feet again. . . then she would join in the battle. In the mean time, she was certain that Ruto could not handle King Dodongo alone. If Darunia could not abandon Impa to aid Ruto, then Ruto's reappearance would be for nothing.
Darunia, thankfully, obliged. "Don't you move, general," he grunted, propping Impa against the temple walls.
Impa was not one to take commands from anyone else. She eased herself to her feet, flinching. Through fogged eyes, she saw Ruto and Darunia come at the monstrosity, Ruto wielding a typhoon of water and Darunia's hammer lost in a flurry of movement.
But was it enough?
Impa couldn't help but morbidly ask herself the question.
The false Zelda did not let up in her attacks. Though her swings of the rapier were clumsy and awkward, they were relentless. And Sheik was weak. To her frustration, while she would normally be able to best this opponent in form alone, Zelda proved to be a larger nuisance than normal due to Sheik's exhaustion.
There was barely a breath in which Sheik was able to land a blow of her own; all of her time was dedicated to dodging the persistent jabs of Zelda.
"Give up! You pathetic worm, your resistance is futile!" the queen taunted. The fact that it was her own voice, her old voice, that belittled her made Sheik shudder.
"Augh!" Sheik's back arched, her face contorting, as Zelda striped the sword down her back. Sheik could feel her blood oozing from her new wound. Her lips already bore the crusty remains of the blow she'd suffered to her nose.
Her time was short. She'd pass out from exhaustion and blood loss if she didn't do something fast to deter Zelda.
If she failed, she dreaded to think what would become of Impa and Darunia, alone against the creature Zelda had summoned. Everything was upon her shoulders, suffocating her slowly. She could not afford to fail.
For a moment, the briefest of moments, Zelda leered, admiring the damage she'd inflicted on Sheik. This was the goddesses' gift: a moment, only one. And Sheik would not take it for granted.
Seizing it and holding it upright, Sheik shone the Lens of Truth at Zelda. Light poured out of the glass, bearing down on Zelda like fire and causing the queen to writhe and squeal. Sheik held it steady, determined. She could not back down now, even as she felt her blood seeping through the back of her Sheikah armor.
"How did you see through my disguise?"
It was no longer a mirror image of her old self that stood before Sheik. Sheik grit her teeth, watching a confused Wizzro squirm before her.
"Impossible!" Wizzro exclaimed.
Sheik unsheathed and threw a dagger at Wizzro before another moment had passed. She cried out with rage as Wizzro sank into the floor, vanishing as the dagger whizzed through empty air.
Darunia grinned with satisfaction as the magic hammer slammed into King Dodongo. Though he knew the blow had been a heavy one, he was surprised to see the giant lizard howl and flop to the ground, its life leaving its body.
"Is it dead?" Ruto's voice conveyed her surprise as well.
"I. . . I think so," Darunia muttered. He watched the fallen enemy carefully, in case this was only a cruel trick.
But the monster poofed away in a cloud of smoke, leaving nothing behind. "How odd!" Ruto exclaimed.
"Sheik!" Impa hobbled over to the others, holding her side and wincing with each step.
"General! Be careful!" Darunia chided.
Impa glared at him, silencing his further protests. "We must get to Sheik!" Impa clarified, pointing with her free hand to the tunnel, "Quickly!"
The sight of Impa nearly made Sheik cry out. Sheik had never seen her mentor so weakened. The monster that Wizzro had summoned had clearly taken its toll upon her. "General!" she rushed to her.
Impa, true to her character, waved off Sheik's concerns. "The portal, Sheik!" she shook her head and pointed, "We must seal it!"
In the wake of all that had happened, Sheik had forgotten about the purpose of the mission. Against the wall of the chamber still lay the huge portal. But Sheik faltered. The Triforce had been torn from her being by Cia. What power did she have to seal the portal?
Impa interpreted her hesitation. "Sheik," she said more softly, "Pray the goddesses give you strength. If your heart is pure, they will grant you the power you need. We Sheikah walk in their blessing; I do not think they will abandon us now."
Sheik, of course, was not really a Sheikah, but she straightened her shoulders nonetheless. Perhaps the goddesses would still favor her. What other choice did she have?
As she faced the portal, Sheik had to refrain from shuddering. It was like she had just dove into icy water; staring into the portal felt like a slap of cold—danger—through her flesh.
Sheik raised her hand, praying to the goddesses that Impa was correct.
A breath of relief escaped her as a golden glow emerged from her hand. The moment the light hit the portal, the portal evaporated as easily as if it had been a mist rather than a physical object.
Sheik collapsed to the ground.
"Her back. . . she's bleeding worse there. She must've taken quite a beating without us!"
Sheik saw only blackness, but she could hear voices. Faraway trickles of sound buried in oblivion.
"You and her both, General. You need to potions—quickly!"
"We haven't much time. Sheik and I must return to our own age as soon as possible."
"Well you both must rest before you return. I fear it will not go well for either of you if you continue to push yourselves!"
"I know of a place where you can find rest."
Sheik knew that the voice was Ruto's. A stubborn string of her was vehemently opposed to following whatever advice she would give. She'd abandoned them in battle, after all!
"It is a home isolated from villages and other locations that might attract unwanted attention from the enemy. And its residents are loyal to the royal family of Hyrule."
"Then let us go," Impa said, "We can afford to pass one night there."
"I'll see if I can scrounge up some potions before you set out. And some horses. It's not far from the Water Temple. . . goddesses willing, you'll be there by nightfall."
"Thank you, Darunia. Thank you both, really. We'll be off."
When Sheik came to, she was lying in the grass, having just had a red potion spilt across her lips by Impa. She was still a bit delirious, but she could've sworn Impa smiled ever so slightly when she opened her eyes.
"You have done well," Impa said quietly.
The general's expression still carried so much pain, so much death, but for one blissful moment, Sheik forgot the curse and felt genuine pride swell within her.
She had completed the mission, and Impa was pleased.
But reality returned swiftly. Everything within Sheik ached. Every muscle, every bone. It was difficult to not long for the warmth of her royal bed, and perhaps also for Link sitting across from it, guarding her as she slept. Such a memory felt so distant now, more like a vision Sheik had dreamt up than an even that had actually taken place.
True to his word, Darunia provided Sheik and Impa with horses. While riding quickened their pace, it did little to soothe Sheik's tense body. She wanted to sleep. She wanted to see a medic. She wanted to put food in her belly. How much farther until this place of rest?
The sky was ablaze with the sinking sun; the day had been spent, Sheik realized with a pang of sadness. One day left of Impa's life. Link's. Her own.
With the inferno colors of passing time guiding their path, a small house gradually became visible on the horizon. Sheik wondered at the presence of the house; in the current Hyrule of her age, no one lived in the middle of the expansive Hyrule Field. Who dwelled there in the era of the Hero of Time?
The closer the two Sheikah drew, the more obvious it became that this was not just a house but a ranch. A large fence kept a few horses enclosed as they grazed. A barn stood to one side, the clucks of cuccos sounding from inside. Impa dismounted in front of the house on the property and knocked at the door. A woman opened the door. "Can I help you?" she asked, giving the two Sheikah a confused glance.
"Are you Malon of Lon Lon Ranch?" Impa asked.
"I am," the woman answered. She was very beautiful, with rich, red hair that flowed down her back and blue eyes. Though Sheik assumed this woman must be older than her, she still had a youthful face and rosy complexion.
"We are allies to the royal family of Hyrule," Impa said, "I will tell you our story if you will permit us inside. We seek shelter and a meal for the night."
Malon smiled and opened the door wider, "Any friends of the royal family are friends of the ranch. Please do come in."
Sheik said nothing as Malon set a bowl of hot soup in front of her. Though she strove to conceal it, Impa sat stiffly across from her, clearly still in pain from battle. Sheik knew that Darunia had given Impa another red potion. A potion that, once before, had saved Link when he was on the brink of death. All words were stolen from Sheik's lips as she watched Impa now, wholly unaffected by any attempts at healing.
"My husband should be home soon," Malon said, "These surely are strange times. Princess Ruto was right to say that you'd be safe here."
"Thank you for your kindness," Impa said.
"I can't imagine what you two have been through," Malon's voice was solemn.
"We have only done what was necessary to ensure Hyrule's safety," Impa said, "We should be fine after a night's rest.
Sheik suppressed the urge to dump her soup over Impa's head. She'd had more than enough of the Sheikah general's nonsense.
When Malon returned to the kitchen, Sheik seized Impa's hand. "You're unwell!" Sheik whispered, "Why do you deny it?"
Impa yanked her hand away and glared at Sheik, "What has come over you? I'm fine. The damage I suffered in battle was severe; it is not unusual that my recovery might take longer as a result."
"General, this is not strength!" Sheik strove to keep the emotion from weighting her voice, "To deny injury is stupidity not courage. You'll wear yourself to the bone lest you stop and ask for aid when it is warranted! One night's rest? You require one week, in the least!"
"We have not got one week, Sheik!" Impa snapped, "For a Sheikah, you seem to have little control of your emotions."
For a fleeting moment, hope glimmered within Sheik's eyes. Perhaps the queen inside of her would betray her.
But the moment had come and gone in a flash. Impa turned her attention to her soup, muttering, "Keep your head. Put these thoughts behind you."
Sheik's fingers tightened around her spoon. But before she could explode and say something rash, the door creaked open and there was a happy cry from Malon.
No greater distraction from Impa's pain could have been provided. The moment Sheik turned around in her chair and saw the man who had entered, she gasped aloud and dropped her spoon.
Though he surely couldn't be Link—that would be impossible—the man that now embraced and kissed Malon resembled Link more than any man Sheik had ever seen. He had the same blonde hair that hung in his face, the same piercing blue eyes, even the green clothes he wore somehow brought Link to mind.
Absorbed by the scene unfolding before her, convinced it was some sort of mirage, Sheik hardly noticed Impa standing and dropping into a kneel. "Sheik!" Impa hissed, snapping Sheik out of her trance.
Though she wasn't sure why she needed to do so, Sheik mimicked Impa, kneeling in the presence of Malon's mysterious husband. "Oh! Please, that's not necessary!" the man's face reddened as he beckoned Sheik and Impa to rise once more.
"It is an honor, sir," Impa nodded her head in acknowledgement, "To meet the man who saved Hyrule from oblivion, the Hero of Time."
Sheik's eyes widened in shock. The Hero of Time. . . married to Malon?
"Please," it was obvious that this Link was uncomfortable beneath the attention, "I did only what I ought to have done. And I am at a disadvantage here; clearly you know my name and yet I do not know yours. Malon, who are our welcome guests?"
"Their names are Impa and Sheik," Malon explained, gesturing accordingly, "They are here by way of magic, sent from another time than our present day, sent to help Darunia and Ruto."
"Ah, sent from another time," Link smiled, "How I know that life."
Sheik thought about how Link was probably one of the only people who could possibly understand what was happening in her Hyrule at present, with Cia opening the portals.
"Impa and Sheik," Link turned the names over in his mouth, "How interesting. I know two others by those names here in the present time."
Link's eyes fell on Sheik. Though this was not her Link, Sheik blushed and averted her eyes. "You especially," Link smiled, "Resemble the Sheik I once knew. Though you are a bit more. . . feminine, I should say."
Link chuckled, "The princess really did have me fooled into believing she was a man when I knew her as Sheik."
Malon and Link shared a smile, revisiting memories that Sheik and Impa did not possess. "But the past is not the point," Link said, "I ought to thank you both for your assistance. I've only just now returned from Kakariko Village myself after investigating this matter with Darunia. He's a dear friend, and I owe you a multitude of thanks for saving him before I had the chance to do so myself."
"His actions were not his own, sire," Impa said, "He was possessed by a dark magic from our time, one which we have, blessedly, removed."
"Time travel is not unknown to me," Link smiled softly.
He did not look at Malon this time, though there was a sadness in her eyes as she watched him. This memory was one unique to Link, a story that, regardless of how often he might share it with Malon or others, could never be fully understood by anyone except himself. Though he smiled, there was a shadow of grief masking the gesture, a combination of fondness and pain alike.
"It bears its burdens," Link said, "Again, I thank you for making the sacrifice to help us."
"It is as you yourself said, sire," Impa said, "We did only what we ought to have done."
Link nodded, "Well, then we are joined in that mind. We are also, I admit, joined in our hunger. Malon, shall I prepare more food?"
"That would be unnecessary—I have some saved for you of course," Malon grinned, "When have I ever not?"
"Never," Link smiled back. They shared another kiss, a sweet, tender kiss.
Before Sheik could rationalize the words, they'd already flown from her mouth, "How is the princess?"
Link broke away, no doubt surprised at the abruptness of Sheik's tone. "Oh, she is well, I believe," Link said, "I will go to Hyrule Castle tomorrow to alert her of Darunia's progress, to save you both the trouble of doing so. But to my knowledge, the events on Death Mountain have not affected her."
"She is alone, then?" Sheik asked.
The expressions of both Link and Malon expressed that they did not understand Sheik's question. "That is to say—she is unmarried?" Sheik said, flustered, "I. . . it's a curiosity of mine. The queen of our era is unmarried as well."
"Oh, yes, she is unmarried," Link smiled in understanding, "Yes, Princess Zelda is a very close friend and a strong woman. I don't believe she's ever been tempted by the idea of marriage. She's quite independent."
Link chuckled, once again visiting some memory Sheik could not imagine. "Sheik?" Impa muttered beneath her breath. No doubt she was wondering if Sheik had lost her mind. Sheik didn't care.
Sheik would've replied to Impa had she any idea what to say. The news of her ancestor, living alone as she did, was like a winter frost creeping through Sheik's body. She had always believed Zelda had married the Hero of Time, and to now see him happy with another. . . did the same fate await her? Was this as it always had to be? Had Impa been correct in her beliefs of celibacy?
Sheik felt like her world was crumbling away, and she was grateful when Malon stole the attention. "Now, you've told me a little bit about yourselves," Malon addressed the Sheikah, "But I'm afraid I'll have to ask you to say it all again; I know my husband will be greatly interested in the going-ons of future Hyrule."
"Yes, perhaps I can be of service to you," Link said seriously.
"No," Sheik thought to herself. There'd be nothing that this Link could do to help. It was too late.
After all that had happened, Sheik needed a moment to clear her head. Several moments. Days, probably, but she knew she couldn't afford that much time. Impa had been quite clear on that matter.
Her only escape was to claim to need some fresh air before bed. Impa seemed skeptical of the request, but, thankfully, she allowed Sheik outside.
Most of the horses were in the stables, but one chestnut mare still grazed in the moonlight. Sheik leapt over the fence and approached the mare, needing something to do. The mare's ears straightened as Sheik drew near. Giving a quiet nicker, the horse trotted away. "Oh come on now," Sheik muttered, "I just wanted to stroke your mane is all."
"I'm afraid she is not very trusting."
Sheik gasped. Her knife was drawn as she spun around in one fluid motion. Her surprise turned to embarrassment to see the Hero of Time smirking at her. "Goddesses, you're quiet," she said.
"I learned it from Sheik," Link's grin grew, "She was extremely stealthy. I never once heard her coming."
"Hm," Sheik sheathed her knife, "Well, she taught you well. You're on your way to becoming a Sheikah."
Link whistled, and, to Sheik's surprise, the mare trotted to Link's side happily. "How'd you do that?" Sheik asked.
"It's her song. She always comes when she hears it; Malon taught it to me," Link said, "Here, whistle as I do."
Link whistled the tune once more, and Sheik copied the notes. To her surprise, the horse nickered and nudged up against her. "Her name's Epona," Link said, "She's always had a fondness for me, but see? She's warming up to you now."
"Is that how you met Malon?" Sheik asked quietly, "By buying her horse?"
Link chuckled and scratched the back of his neck. Though everything was dark and only lit by moonlight, Sheik could've sworn there was heat rising in his cheeks, "Actually, I didn't exactly. . . buy Epona. But Malon was good enough to let me keep her."
He smiled. Sheik could see that in Link's mind, he was in a different place and time once more, "To answer your question, I met Malon when I was still a boy. Of course I didn't have feelings for her at first; our love came with time. But I will say that she was always in my heart after our first meeting."
Sheik didn't dare look at Link for fear of crying. She kept her eyes fixed upon Epona's mane as she sifted her fingers through it. "It's funny, you know," she said quietly, "I didn't mean to be abrupt in dinner. It's only that, from the era in which I herald from, I had always believed that the Hero of Time married Princess Zelda."
"Is that so?" Link sounded surprised, "Is that recorded in the history books?"
"Er, not exactly."
Now Sheik could feel heat flooding her cheeks. The story she'd read always simply stated that Link found Zelda once more after he'd been returned to the present era. It was more of a. . . personal interpretation that he married the princess. And the records Sheik had always referred to were recorded by her ancestors. If Zelda from the era of the Hero of Time had been in love with Link, what use was it to expose that now? This Link was already married.
Sheik shook her head, finally creating an explanation, "It's more just what I assumed. I suppose I thought that the princess and the hero deserved each other."
"Well, love's not about who someone deserves," Link said, "It's about who someone wants, who someone chooses."
Sheik nodded stiffly. "Forgive me, Sheik. It seems the discussion of love is difficult for you?" Link asked, softening his voice.
Sheik swallowed, "I. . . I am close to the queen of my era. And I know that she deeply cares for a man who is. . . quite like yourself. Very heroic, but common. And I fear that her heart will break because fate will not allow them to be together. Because it simply wasn't meant to be."
"Well, that just shows you've not been listening to me."
Sheik looked at Link but he was smiling sympathetically; the words had not been spoken out of anger, "Does this man love the queen?"
"Yes," Sheik said.
"Then, if he is 'quite like me,' as you have said, he will choose her," Link said, "It's not a matter of fate. I wouldn't worry over it."
Sheik nodded, not trusting herself to speak. Link squeezed her shoulder and turned to go back inside, "Though I doubt she'd ever say as much to you, I believe that Impa is worried for you. Best you come back inside soon and get some rest; I think that that is what she wants for you."
Sheik did not linger with Epona for much longer. There was a spare room above the barn that Malon and Link had lent out to the Sheikah. Thus, with an occasional cluck from beneath the floorboards, Sheik settled into bed, her back to the general across the room.
"General?" Sheik asked into the dark.
"Did you ever believe that the Hero of Time married the princess of his era?" Sheik asked.
"Don't be absurd," Impa muttered, "Why would the princess have married one not of noble blood?"
"You kneeled in his presence!" Sheik exclaimed, sitting up in bed, "Clearly he commands respect! Even if he did not, what does it matter? The way the princess speaks of him in the royal records always struck me as the way of one who is in love!"
Impa must've been too tired to notice Sheik referencing the royal records.
"Quiet down before you disturb our hosts," Impa's voice reprimanded, "And I don't know the heart of the princess of this time. Perhaps she loved him, but it's of no matter. She remembered her duty to Hyrule and recognized that she could best fulfill it alone. And it would seem that the hero sought companionship that reminded him of his own origins. That's all there is to that."
Sheik couldn't recall the last time she'd felt both so full of rage and heartbreak alike. Simultaneously, she was grateful that the dark concealed the tears that tracked down her cheeks. Even with the Hero of Time's reassurances of love, Impa's harsh cynicism brought doubts to Sheik's mind.
Link had joined the war to try to win Sheik's—Zelda's—hand. Were friends that all that Sheik and her Link could ever be? Were all of Link's efforts to prove himself and make a name in vain? It'd done nothing for the Link of this era. Sheik laid back down in her bed, pulling the sheets over her head to hide. Despite how scratchy they were, she bit into them, muting the sounds that wobbled in her throat.
If she was successful. . . if she could break Cia's curse, somehow, and the Skull Kid's. . . Link would still have to marry a farm girl and put Sheik from his mind. And if she failed, which seemed more likely, Link would perish. Impa would perish. Whichever way it happened, Sheik would be just like the princess of this era. Alone.
She and Impa would depart the next morning, and Sheik would be more than eager to put this visit far from her mind.