Author's Notes: Okay. So this chapter is waaaayyy overdue. Most of my original readers have probably long since deserted this fic, but maybe I can ring in a new batch of you now that almost two years have passed since I uploaded Chapter 6. If you are one of the original readers, and you've been waiting for updates, I apologize. I'm not the most punctual or reliable author, and any of the pieces I write take time, especially TFoC, due to the complex, multi-faceted nature of the plot. I assure you there is an "end" to this, and maybe, sometime by 2015, I'll have it uploaded to FFNet. O.o
Speaking of FFNet, I noticed they've removed my line breaks from the previous chapters and globbed everything together into one on-going paragraph. I must say, I'm a little miffed. Rest assured, I'm reuploading the other chapters tonight to correct this little err on FFNet's part, so my stories read fluidly. Again, my apologies.
This chapter is a little longer than the rest, partly because of how long it took to update, and partly because we're finally covering some ground with the plot. Not a lot is explained in the OoT universe (or LoZ in general), so I took some liberties with the lore, the hierarchy of powers, science of the world, etc. I tried not to be overly technical with the language, but I did want what I was saying to make sense, so hopefully I don't fumble over any of the explanations near the end of the chapter. If something seems really off or illogical, please feel free to shoot me an e-mail (or review) and I'll make haste to rectify/clarify my mistake. Hope you enjoy!
On to the fic!
Disclaimer: The Legend of Zelda © Shigeru Miyamoto and Nintendo.
The Fires of Compromise
Chapter 7: A Traitorous Old Friend
When Link had lived in the Kokiri Forest, dreams had been his only escape.
He'd spent the first ten years of his life climbing vines and skipping rocks. Saria had done the same, laughing and running and twirling through trees. Yet Link couldn't help but sense a "difference" between them. She'd seemed older, more developed, a hidden secret behind emerald eyes. Link had secrets too, though he had always felt he had nothing to hide. He was open and free, like the forest, even if he'd always been slightly "out of place" amidst his Kokirin brethren.
Yes, the forest had been his home, whatever his unusual circumstance. And he had loved Saria—his family, his friend, the only "mother," or sister, he'd ever known.
But nothing could compare to the tranquility of dreams. The night, in its mysterious descent, hovering over the forest in a blanket of stars, immobilizing the light. He would lie in the hollowed innards of his house, window opened wide, welcoming the sleep that would snatch him from his cocooned world and whisk him away into the uncharted skies of the beyond. And it was in these flights he dreamt of other worlds, other tribes, other shapes and colors of the evergreen tree. And it was in these dreams he could lose himself to the urge, the want, the need to see and do something outside those forested walls.
It was in dream that Link felt truly alive, truly "himself." Though it was something he could never share with Saria—or anyone of the Kokiri Forest. They'd seemed so…bound to its barriers, so confined. He did not think they would or even could understand his longings, his impatience.
He'd made a ritual, at dusk, of scaling the tops of his treehouse to stare, mesmerized, into the sky. Saria would sometimes join him, but with an unnamed apprehension akin to fear, though she'd never vocalized her concern. So far gone was he that he'd once climbed the top of the tallest tree in hopes of stealing the smallest glimpse of a world beyond the forest… But alas, he saw only a stretch of canopy fading in the distance.
Link, alone in his fanciful whims, locked his dreams away with the twilight hour, toiling through the day in anticipation of the night. And life carried on this way, for several years, until that fateful appearance of her.
It was the first and only time he'd given any serious thought to telling Saria. But only because she was so…perfect. Not in the sense that she was beautiful and angular and ivory white—though there was certainly that too—but in the sense that she and him were the same. He could sense the sameness between them, feel the understanding in her eyes. She knew him, knew what he was, knew why he wanted to escape and where he could escape to. She was whatever he had been searching for. The only trick was in finding her.
He'd kept silent at first, not wanting to draw attention to his ethereal visions, but Saria caught wind of his absent-minded daydreams, his sketchings of her eyes and nose against the bark and tethered parchments.
"Who is she?" she'd asked. Link had found it oddly perceptive that Saria had known it was female.
"A girl," he'd replied. "A girl in my dreams."
Link recounted the image of the fair-haired girl in his mind, the number of times she'd appeared, the way her face had bored holes into his very soul. Saria had listened with fervor, patience, and at his mention of her beauty, what he now knew to be a vicious envy. Had he understood it better, Link would have seen the repressed longing in Saria's eyes, the same longing that followed his form from across the bridge, trailing behind him in his departure from the forest. A longing left to swirl and stew and squelch into nothingness as he marched into the unknown future.
Zelda, he had dreamed.
Now, years later, at his mention of Zelda once again, Saria's expression turned imperceptibly cold. It was strange to see such an unbecoming scowl on Saria's otherwise warm and inviting face. Link had never known Saria to be cruel or unthinking to even the slightest of creatures. But something of his attachment to the Princess sparked a carefully controlled rage in Saria—he could see, so much better now than before.
In a rendezvous, Link had once asked Zelda if she and Saria had ever spoke, but Zelda assured him they had not. Their powers had "crossed once," she'd explained, during the battle with Ganon, but all association otherwise had ceased with the recycling of time.
And for that, Link had been silently grateful.
At his mention of Saria, she'd asked if he ever missed life in the forest. He'd thought for a moment and decided he did not. When he reflected on his life then, he knew, strong as anything, that he had never been truly happy. It had always been his destiny to leave. Nothing in the forest could have kept him.
She'd nodded at this, her eyes almost pitying; it was as if she understood something he did not. But in her he also saw smugness, a triumphant gleam. Zelda had been raised a princess, a noble. Like any ruling overlord, Zelda was territorial, possessive of her property. Link was her property. His affirmation of his loyalty and detachment from the forest only reinforced the hold she held over his heart. She knew, as Saria knew, as Link himself knew that his future was forever entwined with Hyrule, with the Princess, with the land of the world outside the forest. He had no way of knowing if his decision was even conscious, but he knew in the depths of his soul it was right.
Link's thoughts then drifted, briefly, to Malon, whom he had also left behind for the sake of Zelda. Malon, who in so many ways, was more of his kind than Saria could ever be. But she too had been a fleeting acquaintance, a stepping stone on the path to "greater things." He did not think ill of himself for his callous thoughts. Zelda had told him once that people were just as much a learning experience as textbooks and dungeon maps. And if there was one thing Malon, and even Saria, had taught him, it was not to invest time in that which could never be.
And the longer he looked into Saria's jealous eyes, her countenance cold at his warming of the Princess, he knew, in his heart, that the friendship they once shared could, like his friendship with Malon, never be.
It was mid-afternoon before Link made it back to the Temple of Time. He'd hastened his return to Market after his and Saria's strained goodbye. With the Spiritual Stone missing, Zelda would want to know the what, when, where, and how of every detail Link could provide. Retrieving it was every bit her responsibility as it was his.
He turned to face the sacred alter, the one constant of all his pasts, presents, and futures, the one thing through all his bodies and builds had remained unchanged. Behind it was the Door of Time, the gateway linking Hyrule and the Sacred Realm, resting place of the ancient Triforce. The Door of Time, accessible only to Link, the Hero of Time, the rightful owner of the Master Sword. His blood boiled with rage at the recollection of Ganon, his filth, his treachery, his ill intent. The knowledge that Ganon suffered, trapped forever inside the Sacred Realm, soothed him. And yet he grieved, knowing the Gods would frown at his taking pleasure in his enemy's pain.
…Anger weakened him. He knew better than to be controlled by his emotions. It was always stronger near the alter, near the Temple of Time. Link could feel it, the rage oozing from Ganon's every pore, their mutual hatred feeding one another in the intensified energies of the Temple. If only he had time to pray, to cleanse his soul and beg Farore to forgive his petty vengeance.
He'd made a habit, since his return, of visiting the Temple once, sometimes twice, a week to honor his patron, Farore. Zelda prayed daily, he was certain, to her patron and the Goddess of Wisdom, Nayru. But Zelda was never allowed outside the palace walls. Instead, she used Hyrule Castle's chapel shrine for her confessions.
No, there wasn't time enough to pray. He could see through the windows overhead it was nearly dusk. But Link bowed his head and kneeled, promising to return once his business with the Princess was complete.
With one final backwards glance, Link made haste into town. The guards locked the castle gates at dark, and he did not fancy having to climb its perimeter walls to sneak inside.
The Market typically quieted at dusk. Most of the vendors were closed or closing. The men were on their way back from the fields, and the womenfolk were headed home to prepare meals for their husbands. Anyone who wandered at night at all went to drink, and with the recent destruction of the bar, all that remained of the Market nightlife was a fistful of guards and a back alley full of stray dogs.
…What awaited Link in town was anything but typical.
A crowd had gathered near the service road, a line of guards stationed at the gate. There was pushing, shouting, arms raised in protest, and a few of the men in back carrying torches and pitchforks. One of the guards was attempting some control, but his assurances were lost amidst the indistinct cries of the townspeople.
Link stayed on the outer edge of the mob, maneuvering himself over and around to the opposite side of the street. He wasn't sure what had happened or if the soldiers were even equipped to handle such a sizable crowd. What he did know was things were quickly spiraling out of control. If he could just get to the back alley, maybe he could slither his way over the service fence…
A shrill voice cried in the distance, though with all the people and the yelling, it was hard to tell from which direction it came.
"Link! Over here!"
Link finally spotted Clarice, pushing her way through the crowd towards him. She looked even rougher mingled against the day folk, shoving past farmers and housewives.
"Outta the way! Comin' through!" she cried.
Tough groups were second-nature to Clarice.
"Damn it to hell, Link!" she blasted at him, reaching out to drag him by the collar into a side street and away from the main road. "Where in the nine gates a hades 'ave you been? It's been mad as a hornet's nest 'round here! People hollerin' and cussin' and grabbin' their garden hoes and actin' a real fool!" She flailed her arms in hysterics.
"I wasn't gone that long," Link defended. "But what happened? Things seemed okay this morning."
Clarice shook her head. "With all these fires and nonsense, the King went and quarantined the town! Nobody's allowed outside the walls after dusk. People went straight nuts, I tell ya'. Got the whole town scared out their wits."
Link's face darkened. "What about the service road?"
"Still open, but security's tight. They're checkin' everybody at the gates, and they've tripled the guard count." She shook her head. "Not that it'd matter much. There's no gettin' through that mess. Crowd's so thick ya' can't even blink without hittin' the guy in front of ya'."
"Then I'll sneak over the side." Link turned to leave.
Clarice yanked his arm. "What! You mad, boy? They got soldiers lined up and down that thing! There ain't no gettin' over! Not unless you wanna spend time in a nice, cold jail cell."
"Clarice, please," Link pleaded. "I have to try. It's important I get to the castle."
She sighed, shaking her head. "Look Link, I don't know what you got goin' on at the palace, but if yer so hellbent on gettin' over that gate, at least wait till dawn. People'll be cleared out by then, I'm sure. And right now, guards won't wanna talk to no one. Even you, Link." Clarice paused, looking him over head to toe. "Sides, you ain't slept in over a day, 'ave you?"
Link sighed tiredly, shaking his head.
She smirked. "Why don't ya' come back to my place and get some sleep? Me and the 'idiot' have a little place downtown. Not much, but it serves its purpose. You can crash downstairs for the night."
"But the Boniface…"
"Passed out drunk."
"Come on. You ain't got nowhere to go anyhows, now that the bar burned down. What was you plannin' to do? Sleep in the streets?"
Link lowered his eyes, his smile sheepish. "Camp out in the fields, actually."
Clarice snorted. "How absurdly you. Face it, yer comin' home with me and that's final."
Link had a mind to protest, but the look on Clarice's face said he'd be wasting breath. So he accepted defeat with a shrug and smiled. "Thanks Clarice."
The next morning Link woke bright and early. He hadn't wanted to admit he was tired, but the night's sleep had done a world of good, and he felt more refreshed than he had in days. It was true what Clarice had said that the flat they shared "wasn't much," but it was a bed and a roof over his head, so Link couldn't complain. He'd never been one to worry about where to sleep anyways. If worse came to worse, he simply slept outside, in the fields, or buried himself in a nice underground cave. He certainly couldn't rent a room, no more salary than he was paid at the bar, and most of the townspeople had barely enough to put up their own. Besides, Link had never been one for charity and he lived just as well out in the wild.
"So, off to the castle?" Clarice asked absently, rubbing his cheek with a cold washcloth. She'd been trying to hose him down all morning.
Link wiggled out of her grasp. "I'm clean, Clarice!" He wiped the dampness from his face. "And yes, I'm headed there now. No time to waste."
"Fine, fine…" she sighed.
While Clarice busied herself in the kitchenette, Link patted himself down, checking for his personal belongings. Gathering his sarong, his pixie dust, and his sword, he made for the door.
"Wait a second!" Clarice yelled and rushed to his side. "Ya' can't take that!" Her finger pointed to the Kokiri Sword nestled in his left boot. "Guards are checkin' for weapons at the gate. They'll never let ya' through with that thing." She extended her hand in a "give me" motion. "Leave it here. I'll keep it til ya' get back."
Link lowered his eyes to his sword. After the Ocarina of Time, the Kokirin Blade was his most precious possession. He didn't like the idea of leaving it behind. But Clarice was no fool when it came to the castle guards, and for that matter, neither was Link. With the hubbub of last night and heightened sense of security across town, he knew they would confiscate his blade in a heartbeat…and there would be no getting it back. Link would have to entrust his sword to Clarice for safekeeping.
"Alright," he finally conceded. "But Clarice…"
"I know, I know." She raised her right hand. "I swear on my life you'll get it back. All in one piece. I swear."
"It's important to me," he affirmed.
"On my life," she threw in for good measure.
He thought for a moment and nodded his consent. "I trust you'll keep it well, Clarice."
With a twitch of his heartstrings, Link withdrew the sword from his boot and placed it into Clarice's awaiting hands. She clutched it tight and held it to her chest.
"On my life," she repeated.
Link smiled. "I'll be back soon. Take care of you and the Boniface till I get back."
With a small wave, Clarice fared him goodbye. As she watched him leave, she unsheathed the blade just far enough to glimpse the metal beneath, its silvery surface glistening in the morning light.
Clarice had been right. The service road was open, but the guards were issuing pat-downs and weapon checks on everyone and everything that passed through. They searched his pouch, his boots, even made him remove his sarong to feel for any concealed knives or wrapped substances. It was insane.
When Link checked okay—they found only his clothes, his ocarina, and his shell blade shell on his person—the guards permitted him entry with the warning that he leave all "funny business" at the gate and mind his steps. Link thanked them quickly and proceeded on, slinking in-between a couple of wagon carts of cargo on their way to castle storage. It wasn't quite as busy as he was used to seeing at the beginning of the week, but at least the day-to-day activities had been largely unaffected, even with the Market on high alert.
He moseyed his way along the service road till he came to the guard crossing at the castle gate. It served as an inspection station to the carts and buggies delivering supplies to the palace, and as a popular tourist attraction for out-of-towners to admire the property. Link was pleasantly surprised to find that, despite the increase of security in town, the security on the castle grounds was as skeleton crew as always and would pose little threat. He followed his normal routine of sneaking in through the storage docks near the moat and into the courtyard where the Princess would be waiting.
And she was waiting, in that very spot, the same spot he had seen her all those years ago when he'd snuck into the courtyard as a young boy. Her hair fell in waves against her back, and a small smile played on her lips as she toyed with a tulip blossom, its petals as bright as candy apple red.
The dress she wore was red as well, but darker, like the color of blood. It was enticing and yet, strangely foreboding, and he wondered why, of all days, she had chosen to wear such a devilish garb. Yet he could not help the trill of excitement he felt at her bare shoulders and arms…
"Are you planning to sit with me some time today, Link?" The princess stood then, raising her hands to rest delicately against the silk frills of her dress. "Or was it your intention to stand there and stare?"
Link felt his face flush the color of her dress and wondered if his heated skin would be hot enough to burn himself a hole into the ground. It certainly couldn't be more embarrassing.
"I'm sorry, Princess." Link's voice broke, only adding to his embarrassment.
Zelda's giggle eased his thoughts as she grabbed his hand and pulled him to a seat. "I knew you would come today. I saw it," she said, tapping her head. "So I got up bright and early to wait. I even chose this special dress." Her eyes sparkled mischievously. "I'd ask what you think of it, but you've already answered that question."
Link's face flushed harder, if that were possible, though even he had to laugh when Zelda held the ruffles of her dress against his face to compare colors.
They stole a few moments for themselves, laughing, teasing, enjoying each other's company. But they both knew why Link was there, and they both knew time was against them.
"I have to apologize, Princess," Link finally spoke.
Zelda blinked. "For what, Link?"
"I tried to get a hold of you last night. But with all the guards and madness in town…" His voice trailed off.
Zelda shook her head, brushing his palm with her fingertips. "It's fine, Link. I know what's been happening in town. The guard count has been increased for the protection of the people. It makes things difficult for us, but anything is worth the safety of the Market. I'm just glad you're here now." She paused, interlocking their fingers. "…I heard about the bar. I'm so sorry."
Link said nothing, but brought her hand to his lips to place a chaste kiss against the skin.
Zelda melted a little against his touch, knowing what happened hurt him more than he was willing to show, but brought her attention to the matter at hand, bracing herself for the impending bad news. "So, what's the damage?"
"Well," Link started, pulling the shell blade from his pack. "I brought something to show you."
Link held the shell in front of him, prying apart the top and bottom for Zelda to peer inside.
"A shell blade shell?"
"Not the shell itself, but what it's carrying." He opened the sides a little wider for her to look. "Pixie dust."
"The night of the…fire," Link's voice stumbled a bit, "Clarice and I found this little Zoran kid wandering through the back alley. She was with another kid, carrying an old Zora's egg filled with pixie dust. Did you know Zoras give their children the baby eggs they hatch from as keepsakes? The girls use them as jewelry boxes and the males usually keep them to present prospective females with presents inside as a courting ritual…"
Zelda narrowed her eyes at Link, giving him the look she always gave him when his mind wandered off track. Link caught sight of her stare and cleared his throat. "Anyways, being a Zoran, I simply assumed she'd found it somewhere near Zora's Domain."
"Can I touch it?" Zelda interrupted to finger the smooth tips of the shell.
"Sure, it's harmless." Link watched Zelda prod the pixie dust with her pointer. "I found it a little strange that someone would be carrying around pixie dust, so I went to Lake Hylia to investigate. I noticed these little sparkles in the water near the rocks. It was too early in the day to be sunlight, so I swam across and found hundreds of these little pixie dust particles floating on the surface of the lake."
Zelda stopped her probing to look up at Link. "What is pixie dust anyway? I mean, where does it come from?"
"Pixies, of course," Link said matter-of-factly. "More specifically, it's the body excrement of a flying fairy."
Zelda snapped her hand from the shell blade, stumbling back against the grass. Her voice took on a disgusted tone. "The what?"
Link laughed. "'Body excrement.' But don't worry, it's not 'waste' in the traditional sense."
Zelda inspected her fingers with a scowl. "What other 'waste' is there?"
Link bemusedly shook his head. "Pixie dust is debris waste. It's the dirt and dust particles in the air that cling to the fairy's body mid-flight. Fairies are naturally luminous creatures, and in order to retain that luminosity, fairies shed their 'body waste' in little particles of 'dulled' light that we in the forest call 'pixie dust.'"
"Okay," Zelda said, looking somewhat disgusted still. "So what is the relevance of this exactly?"
"Tell me Zelda. How many fairies have you ever seen at one time, together?"
Zelda thought for a moment. "I don't know. One, two tops?"
"Exactly," Link nodded his head. "Fairies are solo-hunters. They don't travel in packs. To see more than a few fairies at a time happens only in fairy fountains or in the forest."
"Because they're indigenous to the forest," Zelda smugly added.
Zelda sat up properly, tilting her head towards the shell, but keeping a fair amount of distance between herself and the "waste." "So why are there hundreds of pixie particles floating around Lake Hylia? And what does any of this have to do with the fires in Hyrule Market?"
Link's forehead creased with seriousness. "That's the thing. Did you know fairies are a source of energy for the Kokiri? It's how the forest stays warm, even though the sun's rays could never penetrate the forest's thick canopy. Their bodies radiate heat the Kokiri use for building fires, cooking food, and so on. It's this same radiant energy, or radiant heating, that gives fairies their glow. Essentially, a fairy is a flying orb of heat."
"Wait, wait." Zelda shook her head, hands in the air. "Are you suggesting that fairies, the same fairies designed by our patrons, Nayru and Farore," Zelda brought her hands to her heart, "as gifts to the peoples of Hyrule, are responsible for setting fire to the town? The same fairies you've traveled with through all your lifetimes and have in essence been your strongest and closest allies, aside from me?" She finished her sentence short of breath.
Link grasped Zelda's hands firmly in his own. "No. Absolutely not. Fairies are good and gentle creatures."
Zelda eyed him suspiciously. "But…?"
"But they naturally generate heat. One, two, even twenty of these guys could never generate the kind of heat you would need to set fire to a building. But if they accumulate in large enough numbers..."
The Princess averted her eyes, head facing the ground.
"I talked to a couple of Zorans that morning at the lake. They said their children were complaining that it gets cold at night. It's because nature is out of balance. And I'm willing to bet the same thing's happening to the Kokiri Forest." He brought a finger to Zelda's chin, lifting her gaze to meet his own. "Something is leading the fairies away from the forest and into the over world."
The Princess shot him an inquisitive look. "Something?"
Link nodded. "You said yourself fairies are indigenous to the forest. But it's not just their home, Zelda. They're apart of it. Just as the Zoras are part of the waters that flow through Hyrule Field. The Great Deku Tree controls the forest. …At least, he did, before he died."
"Now Saria, with the Spirtual Stone, control the forest."
Link nodded again. "Right. The Kokiri's Emerald was connected to the Great Deku Tree. When he died, the power to maintain balance in the forest was transferred to the stone. So essentially, it holds the power of the forest now, am I right?"
It was Zelda's turn to nod. "Yes. Saria, as the Sage of the Forest, works in conjunction with the stone to regulate the cycle of Hyrule's woodlands. They're interconnected. Everything in Hyrule is interconnected."
"So if someone say, stole the stone, would that imbue them with the power to control the forest?"
Zelda quirked a brow. "It's not that simple, Link. You would need a highly mystical creature, like the Great Deku Tree, to control it. That or another sage. It's not something you flip a switch and it works. And even at that, it would take strong magical powers to control even the most simplistic of organisms."
Link stared at her intently.
"Link," Zelda began, slowly. "Why did you say 'stole' the stone?"
She repeated, more forcefully. "Link, what do you mean 'stole?'"
His eyes were everywhere but her.