Disclaimer: The series The Legend of Zelda and its characters were created by Shigeru Miyamoto and Eiji Aonuma, and is owned and licensed by Nintendo. I am simply borrowing them for my amusement. No money was made in relation to this story. In fact, money was probably lost because I was supposed to be working when I was writing this…^_~

-1: Horizon -

"Shadow Temple. Here is gathered the greed and hatred of Hyrule's bloody past."

--carved into wall in Shadow Temple, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time

Gray. Gray stone streaked with gray rain. It cut down from the sky in cruel, arctic needles and drummed his shoulders; hopped up like small glass crickets when it struck the low gravestones. The granite markers bore black soot in the crevices of their carvings; filth that could not be washed away by the daily rain in Kakariko Village. At least the rain had not changed.

The graveyard had burned along with the rest of Kakariko; but the stones remained among the raven hued straw that had once been crab grass that bloomed with those bell-shaped yellow wildflowers he remembered so well. When one is a child, he tends to pay more attention to the flowers than to the grave markers. The cemetery had grown past its old borders since he'd last set foot in it—the high walls of musty reddish earth still enclosed the older portion of it, the deku vines crawling along the exposed roots of blackened oaks and the eroded wooden pickets that feebly closed off the entrance to the Shadow Temple. Yet where Dampé's old hut had been, and the open areas leading to the village had once been clear of buried dead, new graves had sprung up like unfortunate weeds—the markers both of granite and half-incinerated wood.

How long ago the village had been torched, and by whom, he couldn't begin to guess. He dimly could compare the memory he had of this place to the negative of it that really remained. The town had once been so hopeful that it would grow; that the great Impa's efforts to help her hometown flourish into a bustling city would bear fantastic fruit. The ashen skeleton of that memory stretched up into his view in the form of the scorched cadaver of the Windmill blades. Even in the dugout of the graveyard, he could not escape the sight. The village now was ghostly, empty and silent beyond the thick gurgle of the perpetual shower that slithered down the charred wooden remains of homes and shops.

If the atomic sky had not been weeping down the frigid rain that had long soaked through his thick outer tunic (and that now was permeating the silk lined mail he wore beneath it), he knew the same cold feeling would have been crawling across his skin. This was the place he had sacrificed his childish innocence to fight for, only to return after his long absence to find it only a more tragic wasteland than he had prevented it from becoming in his long strife against Ganondorf.

Yet despite the chilled nausea the sight of the now grave teeming Kakariko cemetery, he felt an irrefutable pull to remain there. Obeying his inexplicable instinct, Link walked along the jagged rows of ruined memorials and makeshift tablets, his eyes dragging along each grimy name as if he was looking to recognize one.

Whose name was he expecting, dreading to see? He was sure he must have known, but through his stunned and furious torpor, he could scarcely reason. His mind had gone half dead once he'd reached Death Mountain's crater and taken his first look at the blackened panorama of Hyrule Kingdom. He'd come from the northeast, having spent several years living in a desert city just past the rises of Ikana Canyon in Termina. Ikana was the land of unrested souls, and the Desert City, Lut Molhoun, was shrouded in perpetual darkfall. The endless night had become a strange comfort, a guilty solitude. When the strange but seductive allure of returning to Hyrule had beckoned to him, leaving the dark sky and blazing stars left him longing for a clear sky now as he endured rain—something he had not seen for nearly ten years.

When he stood atop Death Mountain, squinting across the overcast vista of the Kingdom of Hyrule with its shadow immersed forest beyond the sprawling black fields and crumbling cities; Link felt a dread crawl through his abdomen that he had yet to shake. Now in the village at the foot of the grumbling volcano, he found only a skeleton of what he remembered.

The rain drummed, the apprehension swelled, and Link's eyes fell like lead upon the name on the granite slab at his feet.

Malon Fara Lonlon

Aged 16

Beloved daughter and friend. Life is eternal and love is immortal. Death is only a horizon, and a horizon is nothing save the limit of our sight.

Malon. Link finally recognized the dread that was now twisting like a roused snake in his stomach. It hadn't been the name he was searching for, he knew, but perhaps that surprise made it all the worse. He could picture the petite redhead in her ranch-hand leather dress, swaying gently in the evening wind while she hummed to herself, to the horses…staring at the pale stars at dusk and missing her mother. How could such a thing happen? Where was her father…where was Talon? Why wasn't someone there to protect her from whatever death befell her?

Why? The young man set his jaw, betraying himself.

Because he had chosen to leave Hyrule. If he had been here, instead of off in Termina dealing with the frustrating crusade with Majora's Mask, off in Lut Molhoun finding something resembling peace or acceptance with his destiny—he could have…

But why? Why was it always on his shoulders? Wasn't he allowed to make his own decisions without endangering the happiness of others? It seemed that everywhere he went there was disaster. It didn't seem just. By the age of 12 he'd already been the Hero of Time, already known what it was like to be an adult (albeit a slightly naïve facsimile of an adult), and then found himself in Termina trying to outsmart time once more. How many times had he turned back the clock those three days? How many times had he asked himself how he'd been drawn into another massive responsibility that many were simply oblivious to? It made him think of Anju and Kafei, finding each other only a few moments before the moon began its inevitable descent toward the town. It was for these people that he spent his days alone, drawing his sword and cleaning his cuts. To preserve happiness. Perhaps it was in pursuit of his own elusive happiness that he'd returned to Hyrule, only to find a new type of misery. He supposed he was mostly used to his solitary lifestyle. He never had been much of a talker, anyway. Sometimes, though, he still wondered. Wondered as he watched groups of friends chattering at open markets, lovers hand in hand in the town square; wondered what it would be like…

What it would be like to be normal.

He'd wondered that most often while watching Kotori with her companions at the Lut Molhoun farmer's marketplace. She had been there, nearly every night, buying deku roots and sweet potatoes, with long golden hair that unavoidably reminded the young man of the Princess Zelda he had coveted for years as a younger boy, half in love and half in anger with her…somehow, she was the embodiment of the joy he could picture for himself that was forever just beyond his grasp. Perhaps that was why he watched the girl, Kotori, eyes concealed beneath the hood of his cloak, back firmly against the mud brick wall of the plaza. He still found himself thinking of the Seventh Sage on occasion, even after all these years. The corner of his mouth twitched.

Not that it really mattered.

Link knelt, his mail clad knee sinking into the tarry mud at the foot of her marker. He removed the heavy, black steel gauntlet on his right arm and touched the letters of her name, filled with the dark char from the fires and slick wet with the endless rain. He rubbed at the letters fiercely, cleaning the black from her name and around it. He would not let her grave, too, be defiled by this disgrace. The poor girl hadn't deserved this. Even if he was no longer the Hero of Time, the pure hearted warrior who had saved Hyrule from a grim fate—he would still find out what had happened to this place—to his home…but he wouldn't take the blame for it, despite the guilt that hammered down on him with unbelievable gravity.

He scanned the rest of the graves. Names that rung rusted bells in the back of his mind only made the futile anger curl tighter and hotter in his stomach. At the back of the cemetary, he confronted the Royal Mausoleum's plaque. He had searched each stone, her name never appeared. He had acidly almost hoped to see the Princess' name—only to fulfill his idea that this could only happen to Hyrule with the Seventh Sage dead. Yet with his search coming up with nothing more than dirty hands and a quickly building and bordering on unbottleable shame, he couldn't push back the relief that trembled as a vague emotion behind the engulfing fury. Zelda D'Harkanian had to be alive. Unless, if she was dead, her body had gone unburied. He didn't want to think about that.

Link replaced the gauntlet, wriggling his fingers through the open tips and feeling his wet palm seal against the rough leather lining.

He would find her. He would find all the sages and demand to know what they had let befall the kingdom the goddesses had ordained they protect. He felt that Farore was still with him, still in spirit guiding him with the triforce of courage, even though he was now not as pure as he was when she had chosen him. She surely had her objections to his use of the mask.

The mask was packed away behind his shield even now, the white expressionless face with its tribal violet markings. He could not part with it. The Fierce Deity—he had gone through a lot for that mask, and it belonged to him. It had chosen him in the same way Farore had, it was a grand tool of battle, and he always had use for a good tool. He would not part with it for the sake of some sort of would-be morality.

Link passed the tomb, the humid air sinking tiny barbed teeth into the bare skin on his neck, grazed the tip of his nose and rasped across his cheeks, despite the lack of a noticeable breeze. He was exhausted from his journey over the mountain of fire, the journey up the craggy northeastern face of Death Mountain was far more trying than the carved out road down its southern side. He had already been to Goron City in the hollow on the side of the volcano, but it too was as deserted as Kakariko. Looking up to the cliff, edged by the weathered pickets, Link removed his Longshot from his pack, tugging the hood up on his cloak and aiming for a pitch smudged stump, recalling the notes of a familiar Nocturne as he did so, though he no longer carried an ocarina.

He was taking a gamble that the Shadow Temple wasn't as destroyed as Kakariko; but it was the closest place he could begin his search for a familiar face and an explanation. The air in the graveyard breathed an unsettling chill against him, and the rain was falling ever heavier.