"And just what is it that you seek to gain from this partnership?"

He could feel the blade's pulsing energy from across the room, hear its humming in his mind. Weakly, he lifted his arm, his hand outstretched as if to take it for his own.

"First of all, my freedom."

With those words the blade flung itself from its haphazard placement on the floor, its hilt wedging itself into his palm. He felt a literal weight lifted from him as the magic chains holding him prisoner in the dingy cell dissolved into nothingness. As they vanished, he felt his own power returning to him. It was like warm soup sliding down his throat after a day out in the cold. Still, this wasn't quite the freedom he meant, though it was a step in the right direction.

"And second...my birthright."

The blade's energy pulsed with enough power to be felt through his arm, and a faint red aura became visible along its edge, growing stronger by the second.

"Well then, what say we make our way out of this dump? Oh, but won't there be guards of some sort at the door? Our departure might get...messy."

The blade's silky-smooth voice made it seem entirely gleeful about the likely possibility of bloodshed. Its new wielder grinned wide, his needle-like teeth glistening with the reflection of the blade's bright red aura.

"That won't be an issue whatsoever."


Lori's call rang out as she ran through the streets of Fairhill Village, a few loose feathers from the Cuccos she had been helping with falling out of her hair. "Link, where aaaaaare you!" she called out again. She paused to catch her breath, letting out an indignant huff. "Where could that lazybones be?" she wondered aloud.

She thought of the most likely place for Link to be and took off at a light jog, having the smallest of hopes that he wouldn't actually be there. Sure enough, as she approached their home, she could see a familiar face doing a stretch, that tell-tale "I just woke up two minutes ago" stretch. Lori rolled her eyes and pushed the door open, not bothering to be quiet now that the last member of the family had awakened. "Link, get over here, you goober!" she called playfully. A shuffling sound could be heard from the back of the house, and soon enough a young man soon stepped out into the main room, still rubbing sleep out of his eyes.

"Link, I honestly can't believe we're related sometimes," Lori sighed, though there was a bit of humor in her tone. "You knew today's the day you're supposed to make a delivery to Hyrule Castle. It's gonna take half the day getting' there, Pop's worryin' like mad, and here you are havin' a kip! You've not even got your boots on!"

Link's eyes widened and he gasped, running back to his room and quickly coming back out in a sort of hopping manner as he tried putting his boots on while heading toward the door, the fairy-shaped pendant he always wore haphazardly thrown over his head and slowly sliding down to its proper place around his neck. He grabbed his sword off a hook near the door, just in case he ran into any trouble on the road, and was nearly out the door before Lori put a hand on his shoulder. "Be careful out there, okay, brother?" she said. Link nodded; he knew the roads to the castle town well enough by now, considering the amount of deliveries he'd made—that, and the non-delivery invites he had occasionally received from a regular client and friend. "Oh, and take this with you." Lori handed him a small box wrapped in a cloth. "Gran made you a lunch for the road. Figured you'd not get back to civilization until nightfall, so it's something to keep you going." Link took the box with a smile, then headed out the door and down to where their father's workshop was.

The smithy was located out of the way of Fairhill's homes, if only as a courtesy to prevent the smoke and the sound of tools on steel from irritating the others. As Link approached, he could see his father busying about, a look of concern etched in his aging features. Link waved at him, but he didn't seem to notice, so with no other option he cleared is throat and let out a short "Hey, Pop!"

Link's father glanced up, and his look of concern changed to a warm smile. "Well, it's about time you got here, son!" he said. Unlike his children and wife, the blacksmith Fergus was a large, heavy-set man, having the sort of physique one would expect a blacksmith to have. In fact, the only physical feature he seemed to pass onto his children were their bright blue eyes. "You all ready to head off?"

Link nodded enthusiastically. Truth be told, he always looked forward to making deliveries for his father. Fergus' work was praised throughout Hyrule and beyond as being of the highest quality, and as such he was often commissioned for work from all sorts of clients living in all sorts of places. Acting as his father's delivery boy gave Link a chance to travel more often than he might have otherwise, and he thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity.

Fergus handed Link a package wrapped in cloth from underneath his work bench, briefly undoing its wrappings to reveal the contents within. It was a rapier, beautiful and gleaming, but with a quiet sense of power underneath its adornments. "She's a right beaut, ain't she?" Fergus asked with a deep chuckle. "Shame it's not entirely a Fergus original, of course." Link looked up from the decorated blade, an eyebrow raised in confusion. "Yep, this is actually a replica. The original is meant for ceremonial purposes, but a certain favored client of yours wanted a combat-ready one that looked just like it. Can't say I quite understand the whims of royalty and their ornamentation of proper swords, but a job's a job and it's not like it's immoral to make a copy when the person in charge of the original is the one askin' for it." He wrapped the sword up once more, then gave Link a package wrapped in much more intricate material. "That there's the original, make sure it gets back safe. I've shod Epona for ya already, so you shouldn't have any—"

At that moment, a loud clunk sound was heard and the room began to fill with dark smoke almost immediately. "Oh, by the gods!" Fergus shouted angrily. "It's wiggin' out again!" He grabbed a work rag from his bench and began fanning it as he approached the forge. "Yer ma's a genius with machines, but I'm startin' to think this self-stoking forge she built is more hassle than it's worth." He pulled on a few of the levers on the side of the forge until it stopped billowing smoke and making sounds. "Go on and get goin', then, you don't wanna be outside a town when night comes. I'll clean this up, maybe get Meredith to fix it properly if she ain't too busy..."

Link nodded, grateful that he wouldn't have to deal with the aftermath of one of his mother's machines again, and made his way out the door with both swords in hand. He half-jogged to the village stable, where he found his trusted steed Epona already fit for the journey with her saddle and reins, as well as brand new shoes applied to her hooves. He gently patted Epona's head before climbing onto her back, and the two of them set off.

Down the forest path they went at a slow yet steady trot, as Link did not want to set Epona on a gallop until they were into the much more open area that was Hyrule Field, for her safety if for no other reason. Even with the usual overgrowth that Faron Woods usually experienced, the path through to the rest of Hyrule was usually maintained well enough to make it an easier ride. The tops of the trees were clustered together enough to blot out some of the midday sun, however, and while Link wasn't too bothered by it, the lack of consistent sunlight always seemed to agitate Epona slightly.

A twig snapped in the distance. Link looked around in confusion, and Epona stopped in her tracks and let out a nervous snort, her ears flitted around to catch whatever had made that noise. He stroked her neck in reassurance, then lightly snapped the reins to encourage her to keep going. They were both on-edge now, Epona moreso than Link due to horses being somewhat skittish by nature, and every small rustle of leaves just added to the unease. Link had to remind himself he had made this journey countless times with nothing having gone wrong before, so it would be highly unlikely for anything to happen this time.

He heard a voice. It didn't say anything, but it sounded like a child giggling. Link knew that sound, or at least he had an idea of what it was, but to Epona it was something strange and frightening. More rustling could be heard along the path, and while Link tried to persuade Epona to keep going, she was having none of it. Suddenly, a figure appeared in front of them out of nowhere, causing Epona to rear back and neigh loudly in fear. Link managed to hold on and eased her panic, then he got a good look at the figure that had made their sudden appearance.

"Heyo, Linky-boy!" the child-like entity before them exclaimed. "How's my favorite human doing?"

Link gave the child a look of annoyance. Of course it would be Skull Kid. He was probably the only resident of Fairhill who knew about Skull Kid, or at least the only one who was an adult and hadn't yet dismissed stories of weird kids in the woods as childish flights of fancy. While he couldn't bring himself to be angry with him for too long due to very personal reasons, he had a job to do, and a strange entity living in the forest harassing his horse just would not do.

"Aw, don't gimme that face!" Skull Kid said. "I just wanted to see you, buddy! You haven't come to visit in so long, I was worried something bad had happened." He pulled his lantern staff closer to him and made a face of mock sadness. "Or that you'd...forgotten about little old me?"

Link rolled his eyes, though he couldn't help but crack a tiny smile. He could never forget about Skull Kid, not after what he'd done for him all those years ago. He'd just been busy the past few months, and hadn't had the time to go on random treks through the deepest part of the nearby forest.

"Grown-up stuff, huh?" Skull Kid asked, seemingly understanding. "Adulting sure does take a lot out of you humans." He grinned that impossibly wide grin that was practically his trademark. "Glad I don't have to deal with that!"

Link smiled and motioned in front of him, as if to say that he really should be going. "Oh yeah, your grown-up stuff," Skull Kid chuckled. "Well, Linky-doodle, I'll get out of your way. You really should make some time to come hand out soon." His face then turned a bit solemn. "Listen, bud, you be careful, all right? I smell trouble on the wind, and I've got the weird feeling that you're gonna get mixed up in it. And I'm not talking about that Wolfos I dealt with for ya up ahead." He winked, and without another word he vanished.

The road was now clear, and Epona was no longer panicking. With a click of the reins, they set off once more, ready to once again make progress in their journey to Hyrule Castle.

The vast grassy plain that was Hyrule Field was a nice contrast to the dimly-lit forest. There was plenty of space for Epona to really get going, and so Link let her run as fast as she liked. This was the part of the journey that Link enjoyed the best, letting his mind wander as the wind blew through his hair, the repetitive sound of Epona's hoofbeats easing any cares he might have that day. Of course, there was the occasional monster or bandit trying to start something, but that's what he had his sword for. Still, it wasn't a common enough occurrence for him to worry too much about the possibility.

Even as the sun was dropping in the sky and he let his mind wander, Link couldn't help but notice something in the distance. It was vaguely in the shape of a human on horseback, too far off to make any features, but the colors looked to be mostly dark in tone. He had a feeling he knew exactly what that shape was, especially because it seemed to be headed towards the castle from the west. He encouraged Epona to head in the direction of the dark-clad person and their horse. As they got closer, he saw a detail even in the dimming light of sunset that confirmed he knew who this person was: bright red hair flowing in the breeze. Link let out a yell to get his attention, waving excitedly as he noticed him and turned his horse to approach him instead.

"Hey, it's the delivery boy!" Ganondorf exclaimed upon coming close enough to actually talk to Link. "What's brought you out of your little forest village today? Or are you heading to Hyrule Castle for the same reason I am?"

Link gave him a confused look, motioning to the items he had with him for delivery.

"So it's just a delivery then," Ganondorf said. "In any case, since we're both out riding, I've got a bit of an itch to see who's got the better horse." He patted his large black-coated horse and grinned. "Mas'ud is the fastest horse in all of the Gerudo Desert, as far as I know. You wanna see how he and your mare stack up against one another?"

Link nodded enthusiastically, but then looked worried, glancing back at the delivery goods. He signaled for Ganondorf to wait and dismounted Epona in order to make sure the packages were safely secured. It was only after he triple-checked their ties that he leapt back into the saddle, the fire of the ever-present competitive streak between him and the Gerudo king in his heart and his eyes.

"All right, then, let's get going!" Ganondorf declared eagerly. "On your mark, get set..."

He took off before saying "go", but luckily Link had anticipated this jest and done the same—it wasn't exactly out of character for him, and it's not like they had a wager on the race or anything. The two were neck and neck for most of the run, then Ganondorf began to pull ahead. Link grimaced; Epona was a breed built for pulling and carrying, not one built for speed like Mas'ud seemed to be. "Faster, faster," Link whispered into her ear, along with a short "yah!" of encouragement, and she began to catch up.

The sky was fading to a deep blue as the two riders approached the gates to the town surrounding Hyrule Castle, with Ganondorf reaching the entrance just before Link did. Their horses were likely exhausted from going at their respective full speeds for so long, but they would be able to give them some rest and water soon enough, and their spirits were high from the friendly match. "Ah, that was entertaining," Ganondorf said with a relaxed sigh. "We should be heading to the castle, then. Come, Link. I've got some horse feed in my pack if Epona needs any before we get there."

Link nodded, patting Epona's neck for a job well done. They passed through the town gate, found a stable to house their horses for a time, then made their way to the castle on foot.

The opulence of Hyrule Castle was always a sight to behold. The guards manning their post at the doors must have recognized either Link or Ganondorf, maybe both, as upon noticing their approach they motioned for them to be let in. Link adjusted the straps holding his delivery on his back as they made their way inside. His boots on the marble stonework floor echoed in a manner that he still could not get used to, and his wavering steps were a stark contrast to Ganondorf's confident stride. A peculiar feeling kept nagging at Link, and he couldn't be sure if Ganondorf was picking up anything similar, but he was becoming increasingly paranoid that someone was watching him from the shadows.

He let out a short yelp of surprise as he felt cold steel press against his neck and a hand grab his arm, twisting it behind his back.

"State your name and business," a harsh male voice said sharply from behind him. Link was too shocked to speak, which to be honest was not that hard to do considering how he usually was. He didn't know what would set his attacker off, and he couldn't risk trying to look at the guy lest he slice his neck open. "Well?" the man asked. "Why aren't you saying anything?"

"Hey, what the hell do you think you're doing?!" Ganondorf shouted.

"That's what I'd like to know," another stern voice, a female voice and one that Link recognized, said coolly. The owner of the voice stepped out of the shadows—Impa, a renowned general of the Hylian army and Zelda's personal guard. "Let the boy go, Morshei," she said, staring at a point behind Link's head where he assumed his attacker was. "He's a friend of the queen."

The blade left Link's neck and the grip on him was released. He instinctively grabbed at his throat, turning to see who had been so willing to do him in. It was a man who appeared to be around his age, his near-white hair and bright red eye signifying he was of the Sheikah tribe like Impa. "Forgive me," he said, putting away his knife and bowing slightly. "I didn't know you were someone held in such high regard."

"You'll have to excuse Morshei," Impa said, as though he had done nothing more than bump into Link while trying to pass through a narrow hallway. "He's new, and not nearly as trusting of people he doesn't recognize as the outer guards are." Link made an indignant face and pointed to Ganondorf, to which Impa clarified, "He didn't attempt anything with Ganondorf because he knew Zelda had a summons for the Gerudo king, and he must have figured that if either of the two of you was a Gerudo king it certainly wasn't going to be the pale-skinned blond."

"So, what was this about a queen?" Ganondorf asked. "I thought Zelda's mother was..."

"Oh, that wasn't included in your letter?" Impa asked. "Zelda is no longer just the princess, or at least she won't be in a week or so. The king, or rather the king-prior now, has decided his time has come to hand down the throne."

Impa turned, motioning for them to follow her. She led them into a room with an ornate table surrounded by equally ornate chairs in the center. At one of the chairs sat a blond woman about the same age as Link and Ganondorf, dressed in blue and wearing a jeweled tiara atop her head. "Zelda," Impa said sternly, causing the woman to look up in surprise. "Your guests have arrived."

"Guests, plural?" Zelda asked, a light smile appearing on her face. "That's a surprise." She stood and calmly approached the three of them. "It's very good to see you both," she said pleasantly. "I know why Ganondorf is here, but what brings you to the castle, Link?"

Link motioned to the delivery he had brought. "Guess Fergus finished with that order you placed sooner than expected," Impa mused.

"How serendipitous," Zelda said with a smile. "I had been meaning to summon you here as well anyway, once I had given it more thought..." Her smile faltered for a brief instant, changing from an expression of happiness to one of concern. Before anyone could point it out her face became pleasant once more. "Ah, before we begin, would you permit me to see the replica?"

Link nodded, removing both the ceremonial sword and its newly forged replica from his back. Zelda opened the plainer-looking package containing the replica, taking the rapier in her hand. "Amazing," she gasped. "It really does look exactly like the original." She backed away from the other three, sword still in hand, and once she was out of range where it could do any real harm she gave it a few tentative practice swings. "Different weight, of course, and feels less flimsy. This is perfect!" She carefully placed the sword back onto the table. "Thank you very much, Link," she said. "Give my regards to Fergus, if you will. I'm sure he doesn't get many orders for replica blades, and nevertheless he performed spectacularly."

"Why exactly would you need a replica blade, anyway?" Ganondorf asked.

Zelda shrugged. "I like the design," she said simply. "That, and having a functional sword on hand that fits my personal needs may be useful for what is to come."

"And this event that is to come is why you required my presence, is that right?"

"Correct," Zelda said. She turned to Link and added, "It's fortunate that you would arrive today, for I feel what I was to tell Ganondorf concerns you as well."

"Well then, I'd best be off," Impa said, making her way to the door. "Carry on with your briefing."

"You can stay and hear this also, Impa," Zelda insisted. "This isn't something that's for their ears only."

"Unfortunately, it is not with your word that I must make my leave," Impa said as she headed out. "I have training to supervise, and someone needs a talking-to." Link grimaced and his hand slowly made its way closer to his neck—he had a feeling he knew exactly who Impa was talking about.

Zelda motioned for Link and Ganondorf to have a seat, and they did so gladly. She sat as well, folding her hands and wearing a look of worry on her face. "The reason I have called you here is one of grave importance," she said solemnly. "I have been receiving troubling dreams lately, dreams that foretell the possible destruction of Hyrule and her neighboring lands. I am concerned that these dreams may be more than just the musings of my subconscious, but actual premonitions."

"I understand your concern entirely, Zelda," Ganondorf said. "However, I would suggest against putting too much stock into dreams, no matter how prophetic they may come across as."

Link shrugged. On one hand, he wasn't too keen on making decisions based on weird dreams, but on the other hand he had once personally experienced an odd event where he had dreamed his grandmother's Cuccos would escape and make a feathery rampage throughout the village the week before it actually happened. Of course, that wasn't quite as unlikely an occurrence as one might believe.

"Of course I am not just mindlessly following the whimsy of my dreams," Zelda said, giving Ganondorf a look that was just as sharp as a vocalized scolding. "I did some research after countless nights of this same dream, and the subjects within lined up disturbingly close with both an ancient prophecy and a pattern of historical events." She sighed. "There is a darkness coming. It has come before, and it will come again. In the past, when this darkness has begun to take hold, there were always three people involved. Among the three of them, they were known to display the courage of a warrior, the wisdom of a leader, and the power of a king."

"A disgraced king," Ganondorf interjected. "I'm starting to recognize what you're talking about, and I hope you're not making the connections in the way I think you are."

"In a sense, I suppose I am," Zelda said. "But circumstances are different for you and for him. Just because you share a name with the man who history has often called the Demon King does not mean I believe you to be anything like your namesake. It is an unfortunate coincidence."

"So what do you want us to do?" Link's voice, in the rare instance he allowed it to be heard, was often quiet and unsure of the words coming forth. However, this simple question had in it a sense of purpose, reflecting the inner strength he felt in that moment.

"I have a plan," Zelda said. "Or rather, I have the rough draft of a plan that I feel would be effective but has quite a large amount of wiggle room."

She took a piece of paper from her dress's pocket and unfolded it, revealing it to be a copy of an ancient book's pages. "The Amulets of the Goddesses," she declared. "I believe that if we can collect these and unite them, we will be able to prevent this darkness from taking hold." She met Link's gaze. "One of the amulets, Farore's Courage, would likely be located somewhere around the southern forest. It would make sense for you to look for it." Link nodded in agreement. "I know for a fact that Nayru's Wisdom is located in Zora's Domain, and as I have been meaning to visit them for some time regardless I shall be retrieving that one."

"And what about me?" Ganondorf asked with a sly grin. "You wouldn't have called me here just to leave me out, after all."

"Din's Power is held by the great dragon Volga," Zelda said. "He often makes his home in Death Mountain, but I have heard reports that he has temporarily migrated to the Gerudo Desert. I would say this would make things easier for you to obtain it."

"Perfect," Ganondorf said.

"So then, we're all in agreement?" Zelda asked. "This will be our plan to prevent the darkness?"

"Count me in," Ganondorf said. Link said nothing, as per usual, but nodded with a smile.

"Thank you both," Zelda said with genuine gratitude. "I have every confidence that I can count on you, for the sake of Hyrule and the world."

AN: Woo, I bet no one was expecting this from me! ...okay, unless they were following me on Tumblr for the past few weeks, then they were probably expecting this as I've been teasing things. Concept doodles and the like. But yeah, Zelda fic. This was initially inspired by a post I came across once that put forth the idea of Ganondorf starting off as a friend to Link and Zelda (hence the completely benign introduction and following scenes featuring him) and basically Things Happening to ruin everything, as usually happens with adventure protagonists. I haven't found that post again to say whether or not this is going to closely line up with it, or even to be able to credit it, but that was the springboard for this whole thing so I figured I should at least mention it. Also, before I forget, I need to mention the state of Link's dialogue in this story. He's going to be mostly nonverbal, with the occasional line when absolutely necessary, but people will be able to easily figure out what he wants to say anyway due to reasons I will explain later.

I'd like to point out that Lori is not meant to be an OC. She's actually meant to be this story's take on Linkle, but renamed as she's this Link's twin sister and I doubt their parents are THAT uncreative with names. Kinda like how Purlo from Twilight Princess is to Tingle. Yeah. STAR Game guy is a more realistic Tingle. Kooloo-limpah indeed. That doesn't mean there won't be OCs, of course, not with my love of the things. Link's parents, Fergus and Meredith, are minor OCs, as is Morshei, and there will be more to come. Don't worry, I'll try not to let them overshadow canon characters too badly. They'll just be there to fill the roles that a normal Zelda game would typically create a new character for rather than bring old ones back, because if this were official it would be a new part of the timeline, not a direct continuation. Of course I'm not above throwing in some of my old favorites for author appeal, along with at least one that seems to have a rather large fan following despite me not really caring too much for the character outside of them being very appropriate for their canon role and fan-directed interactions with one of my faveys. (I'll give you a hint: that character has technically already been introduced in this chapter, even if they and the favey they were connected with weren't directly named.)

—Jess aka PuppyLuver256