The ground was buried beneath five inches of snow and still more of it was falling by the time Leith and Sheik emerged from one of the many side-exits of the castle. They had no time to submit to the awe-rendering sight spread out before them, but hurried toward the stables.
The royal courtyard was blanketed in white, the green leaves of the carefully pruned trees sealed in icy glass shells, and the moat was frozen solid. The coldness was biting, so terrible it was that it chapped and made raw any exposed skin. It was so frigid that Sheik's teeth were chattering in a matter of moments after being in such conditions. Leith gave him his cloak, though it wasn't much. It was still better than nothing.
Upon entering the stables they heard an excited whinny and discovered Glynfrid tromping anxiously about in his stall. The horse seemed to know that adventure was afoot and was eager to be a part of it. Sheik smiled at the familiar sight of the creature, suddenly very grateful for anything that reminded him of the small goodness still left in the world.
"I'll take this one," he told Leith. "He knows me best."
Quickly the two men gathered up saddle and bridle and readied Glynfrid, who was quite cooperative for once. Once harnessed, Sheik sprang into the saddle and asked, "Where am I to go?"
"Anywhere that takes you from this place. You won't get far if this weather takes a turn for the worst. The closest village is Kakariko, but I wouldn't advise going there unless you had no other choice."
"Then I am off to Lon Lon."
"The ranch? Are you mad? It's too far away—you'll be frozen before you get there!"
"Glynfrid is a swift runner and I'm carrying no other baggage. I'll make it, Leith. I have to."
The chamberlain made a grim face and nodded. "Very well. Assuming you do manage to reach Lon Lon, what are your plans?"
"I'm not sure," said Sheik, "though I will try to find Link and Veil. They need help more than I do right now. The future of the world is my first concern; politics comes later."
Leith grinned despite himself. "Spoken like a true prince."
"Don't coronate me just yet," the Sheikah said modestly, then nodded to his mentor. "What of you? If they discover what you've done you'll be sent to the gallows."
"I've spent my life serving this country," said Leith determinedly. "I won't let Mortimus and Rauru take it without a fight. If there is any sense left in the Princess' mind, I'll find it yet and use it against them."
"Assuming that she still has a mind left after all the lies they've been polluting her with," muttered Sheik. "I hope that she will be all right."
"I will look after her as best I can," resolved the chamberlain. "You must leave now, before the weather worsens."
Sheik blinked back the tears in his eyes. "This is not a good-bye," he assured confidently. "I will return."
Leith nodded. "I know it. Gods be with you, Your Highness."
"And you, Leith."
A look passed between them, and then Sheik nudged his heels into Glynfrid's side. The horse neighed and galloped from the stables into the white world beyond.
The snow was falling steadily as the afternoon began to turn into evening across Hyrule Field. Epona briskly trotted over the gently rolling hills that were now blanketed in new snow. As far as the eye could see everything was white and gray, and if one stared long enough they would begin to get the odd feeling that there was nothing left of the world but a cold bright void that spread out before them, leading nowhere but onward into perpetual nothingness.
Veil was enjoying himself immensely as he craned his neck back and gazed up at the clouds, pelting Link with questions of why and how until Link finally gave up and allowed the encyclopedic Navi to answer his queries. The fairy kept herself huddled in the hood of Link's cloak, trying not to be churlish with the shadow as he asked childish questions (it was only the weather making her short-tempered).
Suddenly she became very alert, and interrupted Veil's latest inquiry about where snowmen lived during the summer to say, "I hear something."
As a fairy, Navi was blessed with hearing much more acute than any beings', and whatever she heard was cause enough for her to leave the protective shelter of Link's hood and fly up above their heads a few feet. She instantly burst in alarm, sending out a rain of sparkles before she dived back down into the hood and cried, "Bounty hunters!"
"What?" Veil exclaimed. "What are those?"
"Damn," uttered Link. "How many?"
"Six. They're tearing towards us from a quarter league north. They'll be upon us in a matter of minutes!"
"How far to the forest?"
"At least four leagues," said Navi. "There's no way we could outrun them!"
"We're not going to run from them," Link said courageously. "Fleeing does nothing but prove our guilt. We have a better chance of making it if we pretend we are a couple of travelers. Veil, pull your hood over your face and hunch your back. I have an idea that just might save us."
In a few short minutes there was a thundering of hooves from behind them and several rough voices shouting for the horses to slow. Link eased Epona into an ambling pace and allowed the mercenaries to catch up. The six lean, unkempt, and barbaric-looking men circled them like hungry wolves until Link brought Epona to a halt.
"Can I help you, gentlemen?" he asked with a steady voice.
There came the low rumble of chuckles among the mercenaries, and the leader of them said sarcastically, "Aye, maybe so. Ya haven't seen two young fellows riding out of Hyrule on a horse, have ye?"
"Sorry, I'm afraid not," Link said as he shook his head. "I've seen no one, at least by this path."
"Where ya goin'?" one of the men growled.
"Are ya? I've never heard of it."
"It's a village in the Lost Wood," answered Link. "My grandfather here is very ill and I heard that there might be a cure for his ailment in Kokiri."
"A likely story!" one mercenary scoffed.
"Don'tcha ken that nobody's made it out 'o the Lost Wood before?"
"Yes, but I'm willing to risk it," said Link with bravery.
The leader of the bounty men brought his horse alongside Epona and glared at the Hylian and the stooped, cloaked old man in the saddle behind him. He curled his lip in contempt.
"Yer either daft or a liar," he said to Link, "but I'm willin' to bet yer a lot of both."
Link urged Epona forward and to the side, out of the reach of threat. "Listen sir, I have no time to entertain your antics," he snapped. "The weather is getting worse and my grandfather's health causes me to bring this little conversation of ours to a close. I bid you and yours a good day."
As Link was turning Epona to depart, one of the mercenaries closest to them spurred his horse forward and drew a long wooden staff from a sheath on his back. With stunning speed and precise aim, he struck the cloaked figure in the saddle behind Link and sent him flying off of Epona with a sharp cry.
"Bastard-!" Link swore, jerking the reins while the bounty hunters roiled with excitement when the hood of Veil's cloak slid away to reveal his face. A thin stream of blood was trailing from his nose and running down his lips. The shadow reached up with a trembling hand and touched the warm red liquid, staring at the smears of it upon his fingertips with a horrified fascination. Then his face twisted into a grimace of agony, and he let out a low moan as he huddled himself into shuddering heap upon the snowy ground.
Though he knew the last thing he should do at this point is dismount, Link was overwhelmed with concern and he leaped from the saddle, running to his twin's side and gathering him up while the mercenaries laughed out loud.
"Yer grandfather, eh? Ha ha! And I'm queen 'o the daisies!"
"Shoulda known it was them all along!"
"Ya think we're stupid, ya runts?"
"Ha ha! Just look at that one cry!"
Link ignored the jeering men and dabbed up the blood on Veil's face with the corner of his cloak. "Veil, are you all right? What's wrong?"
The shadow opened his red-rimmed eyes to groan, "Oh Link! It-it hurts me!"
"It can't be," he uttered. "You're not supposed to feel pain. You can't . . ."
Veil wrapped an arm over Link's shoulder and begged, "Make it stop. Please, just make it stop!"
A shadow fell upon them and the Hylian looked up to see the leader of the mercenaries grinning evilly down at them from atop his horse. "It seems yer little shadow there wants to be put out of his misery. We'd be more than happy t' do it for him if we wasn't promised an extra thousand rupees for yer live capture."
"A thousand? Is that all?" Link scoffed bitterly as he dragged Veil to his feet. "Seems to me you're working a bit cheaply."
"Shut up yer stupid mouth, boy! There was nothin' in the fine print about returnin' ya undamaged, so the both o' yer better do what-"
A bright light suddenly flew into the man's face and began making sharp dives at his eyes. It was none other than Navi, who was extremely upset at Veil's cruel treatment (and also a trifle angry at being exposed in this horrible weather).
"You listen here, you braying ass," she cried as she bravely pecked at the leader's face, "leave my friends alone and go back where you came from before we get rough!"
One of the nearby men laughed. "Looka that, mates! A little fairy givin' orders to a big man! Ha!"
"Navi, stop it!" Link shouted. "You're going to get yourself hurt!"
"These brutes need to be taught a lesson! They can't expect to just—augh!"
The lead bountyman had managed to swat her away with his hand, sending her cart-wheeling through the air and into the snow.
"Navi!" both Link and Veil exclaimed.
"I'm all right," came the muffled voice as the fairy dragged herself from the small hole she had made in the snow.
Veil, his own pain forgotten, scurried out to scoop up the fallen fairy and returned to his twin's side. Link stood defiantly before the mercenaries and wished he hadn't strapped his sword to Epona's saddle; she was surrounded by the other men's horses and unable to come to him even if he called.
"Veil," he whispered, "it looks as if we've got to fight ourselves out of this one."
"Consider me your right hand," he answered firmly.
"Listen, brats," the leader growled, "tryin' to squirm yer way out of this ain't goin' to help ya. You'd be best off just lettin' us drag ya in."
Veil wiped his bleeding nose on his sleeve and said, "I'm afraid we can't do that. Please, just step aside and let us pass. We wouldn't want to hurt any of you."
"Hurt us?" The mountain of a man and his band of followers laughed at the top of their lungs, as if even the idea that two teenagers were capable of standing up against six full grown men armed to the teeth was too ridiculous to even consider. "You talk a load of shit, boy! Nails, Duke, take 'em out!"
Two of the meanest looking scoundrels of the entire group lunged forward on their horses and plowed toward Link and Veil. The two young men stood their ground as the mercenaries came thundering down on them. Veil placed his hand on Link's shoulder, and wordlessly the Hylian raised his left hand. It burst into flame like a torch. The mercenaries' horses reared back in fright to avoid the fire, and sent their riders tumbling off and cursing into the snow.
"You think a little spark can stop us!" their leader brayed.
"Yes," Link answered, drawing back his arm and pitching a solid ball of fire toward the hunter, who leaped off of his horse with a scream. It had been a narrow miss; he rolled about in the snow, swearing, to extinguish the flames licking his cloak.
"Link!" Navi cried. "You just summoned Din's Wrath! No wizard or warlock in Hyrule has ever been able to accomplish such a feat!"
Link gazed down at his very ordinary looking hand. "I suppose there's a first time for everything," he said.
"Ya snotty, wretched whelps!" The fallen mercenary had crawled to his feet and drawn his sword, his eyes dark with fury as he stared at the two outlaws.
"Touch my soul, Veil," Link whispered, and the shadow stepped close to his twin, reaching beneath Link's cloak and placing his hand to the small of his back.
"Kill 'em both!" was the leader's command, and there came the sound of steel sliding from hilts and bows being notched with arrows.
Link closed his eyes.
"Ah. Nnhhaa," Veil moaned softly, swaying on his feet a moment before tumbling to his knees. "L-Link, it's too much. You're g-going to-"
A second later, the Hylian was enveloped in orange fire from head to foot. Veil let out a strangled gasp, and his hand slipped away as he fell onto his back in the snow. Navi flew above him, panicked, calling his name and trying to rouse him.
The bounty hunters shouted amongst themselves in disbelief at the sight they were beholding:
Link appeared to be locked in a trance. He stared straight ahead with eyes fixed upon some invisible point, and slowly took a step forward. Though his body was consumed in silently billowing flames, his clothes and flesh were neither scorched nor burned. However, the snow on the ground around him liquefied from the intensity of the heat. When at last he looked up at the lead mercenary and spoke, his voice seemed to resonate from the very air itself, though his lips never moved.
"The world is approaching its end, and Hyrule and all in it will perish if we cannot find a way to stop it," came Link's eerie tone. "Anyone who stands in our way will be destroyed, by either the collapse of this mortal realm, or by me. Decide now which it will be."
The fire began to change. It glowed yellow first, then green, then blue, and finally flared up into a brilliant, blinding white. The hunters recoiled.
"He's a bloody sorcerer!"
"Demon's what he is!"
Several of the mercenaries turned their horses and fled from the scene as quickly as they had arrived. The few remaining seemed petrified and unable to move.
"Forget the bounty, Tob! T'ain't worth dyin' for!"
"Let's get out of 'ere!"
If the bountymen weren't convinced before fingers of flame began to arc from Link's body like solar flares, they certainly were convinced now. Their leader sprang onto his horse and tore in the opposite direction after his retreating mates. Epona remained behind, snorting softly and pawing the ground. In a little while the sound of hooves pounding into the snow had faded and the men had disappeared across the horizon.
The fire surrounding Link faded to orange again before extinguishing completely when a snowy breeze swept over the hill. He sighed as if in relief and slumped to his knees.
"Link! Are you alright?" said Navi, alighting upon his shoulder worriedly.
"I feel fine," he said. "I just sort of . . . lost it there for a moment."
There was a grunt beside him, and Veil sat up and looked around. "What happened? Where did the men go?"
"They left," said Link, turning to give a smile to his shadow, then stopping short. "Veil . . ."
"Your eyes," Link murmured, leaning forward to touch the cheek, warm now for the first time. "They're . . . and your hair, it's-"
"What? Is there something wrong?"
Link lurched to his feet and jogged to Epona, drawing the Master Sword from its sheath and striding toward Veil with it. The shadow was terrified for a few seconds before Link knelt down in front of him and held the blade so that he could see his own reflection.
Murky blue-gray eyes. Dark hair that shined brown in the light. Dried red blood on his upper lip. Pale pink cheeks and ruddy fingertips. He touched his face as if he had never felt it before. Color. Color.
Joyous tears stung Veil's eyes, and he gazed at Link in stupefied awe. "I . . . I'm alive," he whispered.
A rumble of thunder sounded in the distance, and the two young men gazed up at the heavy dark clouds amassing low in the sky. The wind picked up, colder than anything they had yet felt and bringing with it heavier snow.
"This isn't good," Navi said softly as she scrambled into Link's collar for shelter.
"We need to get moving before the weather gets any worse." The Hylian helped his shadow to his feet. "How do you feel, Veil? That was a lot of soul energy I used back there. You're not wounded, are you?"
"I feel fine. Well, my nose hurts and it's awfully cold, but it feels . . . it, it feels. I feel." He laughed and wiped his eyes on his sleeve. "Even pain is wonderful after a lifetime of numbness."
"And I'm sure this is just the beginning," said Link, ushering Veil into the saddle. "Come on, we haven't got a moment to lose."
Hyrule Field had become a freezing white wasteland, tormented by gusts of arctic winds and a merciless hail of ice and snow. Sheik pressed himself against Glynfrid's neck for warmth and shouted encouragements to him over the howling tempest. Barely a half hour after they had set out for Lon Lon, the storm descended upon them with blistering cold temperatures and fearsome gales that threatened to sweep Sheik from the saddle. The unfortunate horse and his rider had found soon themselves in the midst of a blizzard that was ten times windier and colder than any that had befallen Hyrule since the beginning of time.
Ice clung to the Sheikah's hair and eyelashes, so cold that it stung like needles and forced him to squint his eyes until he could scarcely see a thing. His legs were growing numb and he had already lost the feeling in his hands. He knew it would only be a matter of minutes before the cold death would work its way into the core of his body and slowly begin to shut it down. And to make matters worse, Sheik could barely see three paces in front of him and was afraid that they were going the wrong way. It was impossible to tell direction without a compass in this storm, and the clock was ticking. If Sheik wanted to live he was going to have to find Lon Lon within the next ten minutes, or else freeze to death with Glynfrid in the middle of the field.
Frustrated tears froze halfway down Sheik's pale, frostbitten cheeks as he fought the urge to close his eyes and go to sleep. He knew he would never wake up if he did.
"C-come on, G-Glyn," he stammered between chattering teeth. "J-just a . . . little bit f-further. We should b-be there by now-"
The snow beneath the horse's hooves gave way suddenly and sent him sliding down a small bank. Sheik was thrown from the saddle but his foot caught the stirrup at the last moment—he swung about wildly and fell headfirst toward the ground. He felt something hard strike into the back of his skull, and the last thing he remembered was gazing up at falling snow—beautiful, beautiful snow—and seeing his mother's face smile down at him. Her crimson eyes were radiant and lively, her expression filled with the warmth and compassion that lived on only through a child's faint memories.
"Mother," Sheik spoke in his people's tongue, reaching out to touch her. "Iivna . . ."
Then she disappeared, and everything went black.
HJB: Apologies for such a short chapter, but I figured a little would be better than nothing. If you're interested in reading the full unedited version of this story (which I highly recommend) please visit my profile page and click on my homepage link. From there you can find your way to my Legend of Zelda section. Soul Shadow is far from abandoned, and I can't thank you readers and reviewers enough for your praise, criticism and support since 2004 when this story began. I hope that you'll continue to read and enjoy Soul Shadow despite its slow and lengthy progress toward completion.