A/N: There is something subliminally terrifying about writing in front of a computer. I mean, I always feel the urge to share my creations with the world electronically, but only when not in the face of electronics. Hmm…

This chapter underwent two revisions, to closer follow my mental list of story design principals and to make Link more like a goof and less like a jerk.

Chapter 2:

"Hey, hey, let's play a game!"

Lonlon Ranch didn't look much like a ranch, not anymore. In the distance there were still barns, grain silos and animal keeps, but Sheik's attention was caught with the more immediate presence of barracks and smithies nearby. Not too far away it looked like a group of men were working on making their horses more agreeable in committing to a cavalry charge.

In unison the horses decided not to gallop at the pumpkin targets and swerved to avoid the crudely assembled scarecrows. Their riders would have expressed their frustration if they weren't busy clinging on for dear life.

Sheik admired how the horses slowed to a trot and circled back to their starting positions. A few of the riders released their barnacle grips to slump lifelessly on the ground. The rest tried to repeat the process in hopes of better results.

Link stomped on the ground petulantly.

"Hey, hey, stop ignoring me!"

She managed to tear her eyes away from the second round of dismal failure to see Link flapping two wooden swords around.

"Oh. Sorry."

He smiled and tossed her one of the swords. "Alright, rules. If you get struck by a hit that would have drawn blood if these were real swords, you have to answer a question truthfully. Ready?"

Sheik readjusted her grip on the sword. She never held anything like this before. "Okay."

All too suddenly the three meters between Sheik and Link disappeared and Sheik stumbled back, rubbing a welt on her forearm.

Link grinned. "Your name, for starters."

Ah, right. Their route to Lonlon Ranch had been completed in near silence. Link had been too busy rolling the distance and she had been too busy trying to keep up. "I'm Sheik."

"Excellent, Sheik…" He mulled in thought for a moment before bopping her on the shoulder. "What's your favourite activity?"

Dancing, actually. "Um, reading."

Whack. "Favourite idol?"

"What?"

"Until you actually hit me, I'm the one asking questions, not you. You know, some singer bard or musician or someone."

"Oh. No one."

Link pouted at that answer. "You're boring." Immediately he lit up with a gleeful smile, swinging at her head. She blocked it and he flicked her at the elbow instead. "Which girl do you like?" He suddenly grew serious and stared at her intently. "You do like girls, right?"

As an afterthought, he whacked her again.

Inwardly Sheik cursed Impa. This was the most awkward disguise ever. "Ah, yeah." She answered with the first maiden she could think of. "Aura, my – um, Princess Zelda's maiden in waiting."

Link smiled broadly. It was unnerving how quickly he could change facial expressions. "Ooh, palace romance. Me like." He feinted high and nicked her at the hip. "How far did you get with this fair maiden?"

"Not very. Far, that is."

Link tsked in disappointment. He clipped her twice on the shoulder and grinned stupidly. "What is the raunchiest, sauciest fantasy you've had involving Aura? And I don't want any of your evasive two word answers this time."

It was amazing how quickly Sheik's defence improved.

-S-

This time Link took the opportunity to survey the changes to the ranch. Sheik wouldn't be providing a fight anymore; at some point she abandoned the practice sword and curled into a depressed little ball, the weakling.

Maybe he went too hard on her with the questions. Then again, Link would forever cherish her sputtered answer to what she thought a man's saucy fantasies would include.

She wasn't creative enough.

Hmm. There were a few more housing barracks than the last time he came by. Another smithy too, or maybe a bakery; a new chimney either way. Hmm. A new giant brass gong. A new face ringing said gong. Oh, look! A super long mess table loaded with food!

Link glanced back at the still huddled up Sheik. "Aw, come on buddy. If your auntie Impa ever asks me about your plans on ravishing every girl in Castletown, I'd tell her you'd be very gentlemanly when doing so." Sheik twitched. "Come on big guy, let's grab some food."

Sheik followed Link as he slipped through the wave of soldiers heading in the same direction. She stood awkwardly when he buttocked for himself some seating space at the table.

The displaced soldier looked at him strangely. "This table's for the soldiers. Who're you?"

"An uninvited guest, but the details aren't so important," he waved airily before turning to address Sheik. "Sit man, the food here never disappoints!"

"Link!" Someone bellowed from the distance. Sheik turned to see a portly balding man shuffling over to them. "Yeh shoulda told me you was comin' by, dropping in all unannounced an' all. Come, you sit with us! Malon an' I gots much to catch up on with you."

Link stood, smiling as the newcomer patted his back with a meaty hand. "Mr Talon, it's always good to come by. I brought a friend too, Mr Sheik over there."

Sheik resisted the habit of curtsying for a light bow. "It is an honour, Baron Talon."

Talon laughed as he grabbed both their shoulders to lead them to his table near the main house. "Shucks, no one calls me by that title. Ol' Talon's fine for a modest man o' me, no baronses needed here."

So, this was the man who singlehandedly created the largest agricultural basin in Hyrule; the man that held a near monopoly over all livestock trading and bred the finest horses outside the Gerudo Quarter; the man that earned thousands of rupees weekly in food agreements with the military; the man that held investments in the new wetlands farming projects.

Huh. She expected someone taller. His bristly moustache and guffawing laughs did a lot to hide the shrewd businessman within him.

"Yeh'll be having none o' that low grade food they serve there," Talon continued, "high grade ingredients, o' course, but food only gets so far when cooked for hundreds of mouths. Me daughter's been working with the cookbook recently, a masterpiece it is. If yeh gonna eat food, you gots to eat food with soul."

The girl sitting at the table rolled her eyes. "I'm afraid today's lunch is going to be pretty soulless, dad," she said, standing up, "it's the exact same thing we had yesterday." She stopped when she saw Link. "I'm not lending you more money," she stated evenly. She turned and smiled warmly at Sheik.

In contrast to Talon's black hair, Malon's hair was a deep red, drawing attention as her blue eyes held it. Sheik could see how with some light makeup and a new dress Malon could become the centre of attention in any ballroom. Sheik bowed lightly to her.

"Mr Stiffly here is Sheik, stop with the bowing," Link grunted, "and don't worry, I'm here to pay you back among other things." He grabbed a chair and sat down as Talon did. Hesitantly Sheik followed suit.

"It's nice to have some gentlemanly behaviour for a change," Malon glared at Link when he started sniggering, "Din knows that you're in short supply of manners."

Sheik didn't know how to go about describing eat lunch with this group. At regular intervals Link would say something silly, Malon would shoot it down, and before their discussion could get too heated Talon would burp. It was peculiarly rhythmic.

"Well, we know that the Zoras are incredibly dependent on the bark filters that only the Deku traders supply," Link's hushed whispers contrasted against his wildly gesticulating hands.

Malon tilted her head to avoid his flailing forked chicken. "Link, they are not going to marry their princess to a Deku Scrub."

"But she's been in tons of secret meetings with them!"

"There have only been two, and they're not secret. If you read the news, they're about extending the trade routes through the rivers, not marriage engagements."

"Ah, but the news only talks of two meetings," Link grinned triumphantly, "but we don't know of all the other meetings because they were secret!"

As Malon raised a hand to rub her temples, Talon burped loudly and wiped away the bits stuck in his moustache. "Lovely meal, Malon, lovely meal. If yeh don't mind, I've got some business wi' Link here to discuss."

In perfect synchrony both men rose, slung arms over each other's shoulders and walked away hunched as they talked in excited whispers.

Malon passively watched them before glancing at Sheik. Sheik had a very delicate looking jaw. "It's nice to see a clean shaven face for a change. I've seen a lifetime's supply of beards and stubble, with all the soldiers here."

Sheik fought the urge to pull up her cowl. "Oh. Thank you."

Malon laughed lightly. "You're a quiet one, aren't you? Link's going to be noisy enough for the two of you, anyway." She looked to where Link and Talon huddled off to. They were engaged in some strange ritual dance. She turned back and placed a palm on Sheik's hand. "When you're with Link, can I ask a huge favour of you?"

It was hidden behind her usual irritation, but Sheik could see the honest concern Malon had for Link. "It would be my pleasure."

Malon smiled gratefully and leaned in a little. "Link has a serious gambling problem. There are days when he'll come by, carrying a year's work worth of rupees, but most of the time he stumbles in, mooches for a week and stumbles out. And then there are times when he's quiet and spends the days sitting on the rooftops."

She gestured to where Link was. The two men were frozen in posture, right arm at waist and left arm pointing resolutely to the distant horizon. "He's always his silly self, but there are times when you can see the exhaustion in his eyes."

"Do you know what Link does?"

Malon shrugged. "He says he's a treasure hunter, but I think that's his way of covering his gambling problem." She sighed and watched the two men can-can into the distance. "He's a really nice person, you know. All I wish is for him to settle down, get a job, and stop wandering. So please watch out for him."

Sheik didn't know how much Link was hiding from Malon. She seemed unaware of his prodigious strength and believed him to be a wandering bumpkin with an addiction. When Sheik placed her own hand on top of Malon's, it was almost painful seeing the amount of relief washing over Malon's face.

-S-

It wasn't too long ago that Talon and Link came to an agreement. Talon didn't feel secure having his daughter work in an environment filled with men. Link needed free lodging.

Talon had a house. Link had a sword. The conclusion was pretty straightforward.

The secret, Link confided to Sheik, was that he didn't use his sword.

"This here," he whispered, pointing to a small salve jar, "is some generic balm used to calm the mind. I bought it from one of the Castletown market stalls for fifteen rupees."

They were creeping along the corridors of the soldiers' barracks, and Sheik was amazed that the creaking from Link's exaggerated tiptoeing hadn't waken anyone up yet.

"And this here," he pulled out an incense pot, "is filled with the voodoo herbs that the Gerudo use for their trance ceremonies. I traded a jar of pickled cucumbers for a small pouch of this stuff."

Entering a room, he lit the incense pot – Sheik felt the small burst of magic leap from his fingertips – and placed it down on the floor. Immediately the room became silent as the soldiers' snores and shuffling quietened down to slow even breaths.

"I discovered this accidentally by dozing through one of their dance rituals and then finding myself robbed naked when I woke up," Link was unperturbed by his admission, "but the combination of medicine A and medicine B on a sleeping person leads to some interesting results."

He crouched next to the bed of the nearest soldier and wiped a little salve on the soldier's upper lip. Wiggling his eyebrows at Sheik, he bent down and whispered to the soldier, "What is your name?"

The silence broke as the soldier groaned and sighed out his answer. "Janus."

Link smiled. "Where do you hide your valuable possessions?"

"Floorboard. Bed."

Sheik nodded slowly. The two together worked like a truth serum. The palace alchemists spent thousands of rupees unsuccessfully trying to make one, and yet Link made it with chump change and a jar of pickles.

"Do you want a sandwich?"

"No."

"Do you want another pillow?"

"No."

"Do you want Malon?"

"Yes."

Link rubbed his hands together and cackled. "Janus, whenever you make eye contact with Malon you will scream at the top of your voice, 'I want a pillow sandwich'. You will comply. You will now sleep and dream of Talon beating you with a stick."

As Janus' breaths eased into a more natural rhythm, Link stood up and handed the salve jar to Sheik. "Suggestion wears off after a day or two, but that's enough to see some funny behaviour. I'll take that side of the room and we'll meet in the middle."

The floors squeaked as Link tiptoed away, and Sheik contemplated the salve jar before kneeling at the next soldier and applying a bit under his nose.

She watched the soldier's still form silently for a minute. Of all the questions to ask, Link chose sandwiches and pillows…

"Do you believe in this war?" She raised a hand to her mouth. She didn't actually mean to-

"Yes."

Oh. Well. "Do you believe we will win?"

"Yes."

"Do you believe in your king?"

"No."

She fell silent again. She could hear Link giving a command about socks and bean sprouts across the room. A soldier who believed in the war but not in his king…

"Who do you believe should rule?"

"General Starhill."

Not all the soldiers she interviewed trusted her father. While the majority believed in the king, some mentioned other names and it was those that worried her. The most common names belonged to Commanding General Starhill and the Trade Minister Clayton.

When they left the next morning, Sheik didn't pay attention to the random screaming matches that erupted. Link asked some question or another but she didn't listen. There was a lot for her to think about.

-S-

"Observe! The giant statues of the Colossus! The pillars that defy the law of the sky! The architecture that remains unblemished from decades of sandstorms! The Spirit Temple!"

Link spread his arms to open himself to the majesty of the desert temple. Sheik wasn't as interested though, focussing her attention on him instead.

"Are you alright-"

"The Spirit Temple!" He interjected loudly.

"You've got arrows sticking out your back-"

"Spirit Temple!"

Sighing, she turned to face the entrance as he walked in. She couldn't help but look at the three arrows sticking at odd angles from Link's back though.

Apparently Link's ticket from Nabooru didn't read 'please let this green sexy beast past unhindered and unquestioned' as he was led to believe, but rather 'five hundred rupees for taking this moron dead, my blanket for capturing him alive'.

There had been a moment of awkward standing after the gate guard read the ticket out aloud, followed by a mad sprint through the Gerudo Fortress as women chased them with brandished weapons.

She couldn't help but get entranced by the protrusions from his back. "Are you really alright?"

Link sighed and arched to pull one arrow out. He licked the tip and nodded. "If they really wanted to kill me they'd have coated this in poison and I'd be twitching on the ground. They're only coated with a sedative, mostly harmless." His eyes crossed and he smiled crookedly. "Feels pretty good actually."

A sedative is it. Nabooru must have a really nice blanket.

"I've met Nabooru in passing before and she appeared a very diplomatic woman. What did you do to make her-"

"Oh look," Link interjected again, "a row of Iron Knuckle statues! What replicas! What realism!"

Sheik looked at the row of armour sets lining the wall before turning back to Link. Each one grasped a different weapon across their chests, each weapon sharing the theme of looking very heavy. "And how come you never read the note she wrote before-"

"You know," he mused loudly, "if these were real Iron Knuckles you wouldn't do this." Picking up a loose rock, he skipped it across the floor to have it clatter against the greaves of the nearest statue.

He frowned when the stone bounced off without effect. Walking up close to the statue, he craned his neck to peer into its empty helmet. Carefully, he extended one palm and touched the breastplate.

Nothing happened.

Frowning in consternation, he placed both hands and pushed. Planting his feet he thrust with all his strength, and smiled triumphantly when he rocked it off its feet.

That smile faded when the statue toppled back to crash against the statue behind, which teetered before falling backwards.

The continuous clap of metal smacking against metal echoed as two dozen statues fell over along the wall.

Sheik froze as she felt ancient magics swell up from the ground and walls, a dark smoke that wafted and circulated around each set of armour. She could see the magic coalesce and take form, forging bone and sinew under steel.

"Link-"

"Thank goodness those were just statues," Link breathed a sigh of relief, "wow, do you know how much trouble we'd be in if they weren't?"

A pulse. Twenty four simultaneous heartbeats resonated within their cages. "No, Link, these are-"

"I mean, I can take on two, no sweat. But a whole company? Ha, ha-"

A low wail filled the room. Joints screeched as magic fought against centuries of rust. Link and Sheik watched with morbid horror as all twenty four statues climbed to their feet.

Magic swirled and thrummed, and Sheik could feel the bloodlust soaking the air.

Link exhaled, grabbed Sheiks arm and sprinted right past them into the next hallway.

Stone screamed and groaned under the heavy footsteps of the following Iron Knuckles.

-S-

"Have you ever thought of joining the army, Link?"

He twisted around to look at her before turning back. "Now's not quite the time for questions, Sheik."

Twenty metres below them the ground rumbled to the steps of the patrolling Iron Knuckles.

"Now's not the time to be crawling along rafters, but here we are." They froze as the wooden beam creaked under their weight, and very slowly they crawled in reverse back to the junction.

A Skulltulla hissed as it leapt from above for Link's neck. He raised a hand and swatted it out of the air.

Before it could touch the ground below a broadsword sliced it in two. The Iron Knuckle stood over the spider's carapace before returning to its patrolling path.

Link peered down and shuddered. "Fine. No, army life's not one for me. Taking orders, marching, doing drills, it's all meaningless to me." Having backtracked enough, he turned to shuffle along another rafter beam.

"Do you think we're doing the right thing, fighting in these wars?"

Another Skulltulla flung itself at him, another batted bug and another sliced carcass on the ground. The Iron Knuckle pulled its halberd from the splintered stone before walking away.

"I don't know who started which war and I think it's dumb that any of them did. But now that they've begun, I believe that we have to end them." He looked down again, and it seemed like the Iron Knuckle patrol patterns had translated in the same direction he was going.

Sheik's next question came out more hesitant. "Do you believe in your king?"

Link twisted back to make sure Sheik could see his raised eyebrow. "Why are you so inquisitive? I believe in an ideal, not an individual." Looking down, he cursed. "And those steel monkeys can't even twist their necks to look up, so by Farore how are they following us?"

Another Skulltulla swooped down, but instead of attacking Link it leapt towards Sheik. She raised her arm and its fangs tore through the leather guard into her flesh. Crying out she swung wildly, smacking its skull faced shell against the wooden beam.

She felt the bite of its legs digging into her arm. It snarled and curled its head towards her. In horror she realised it was preparing to leap for her face.

Screaming in fright she raised her other hand and arched back. There was the flare of its venom coursing in her palm. There was the sting of its momentum smashing against her jaw.

There was the eternal moment of weightlessness. She could see Link's panicked face receding into the shadowed rafters. She could hear the air flow around her falling form.

She could feel the raw anticipation of the Iron Knuckles below.

Twenty metres was a large distance to fall. The nearest Iron Knuckle tightened its grip on its double sided axe.

She watched the rising edge with sick fascination. All she could think about was how much she hated Impa right then.

Two arms grabbed her roughly around the torso and the wave of Link's hair blocked her vision. He kneed her legs painfully as he rotated their bodies to fall feet first. Between his locks of hair she saw him extend a foot to meet the axe.

Impossibly his boot made firm contact with the flat side. Her stomach lurched as he sprung off, their bodies careening away from the axe.

Sheik was still dazed from the shocks of them skidding across the dusty floor. Link immediately rolled to his feet, tore the Skulltulla from her hand and unsheathed his sword.

The Iron Knuckles shifted to form a circle around them.

"Get up. Can you feel your fingers?"

Sheik staggered to her feet. Blood dripped freely from the bitten areas. Everything elbow up felt numb.

He grabbed her and threw her back down, twisting to avoid a spear thrust. Lashing out his sword managed to clip the Iron Knuckle's extended wrist. It bellowed as plating snapped off.

He yanked at Sheik again to pull her away from the slash of a broadsword, and again to throw them beneath the side swing of a spiked mace. Both times his sword flashed, chipping away at the armour.

He lunged away from the crowd of Iron Knuckles. "I'm getting nowhere," he panted, "is there anything you can do to improve our chances of not dying?"

Sheik saw the miasma of dark magic billowing from the cracks Link made in their armour. It wrapped around each Iron Knuckle like ethereal veils.

"Get them in a line," she managed to cough.

Link dropped his sword to allow for one armed handsprings as he clutched Sheik closely. Being thrown around like a rag doll made it very hard to concentrate. She closed her eyes so as to not see the flashing steel and near misses of the Iron Knuckles.

All warlocks had an affinity for certain flavours of magic, being able command wonders with one flavour and being hopelessly incompetent in all the rest. Everyone who was identified as possessing magical talent was trained in the basics of all the elements to determine which one they held an affinity for.

Sheik struggled to keep the basic training in mind. Gritting her teeth, she flooded her left arm with light magic and her right with spirit magic. It took all her focus to prevent these high concentrations from mixing.

Magic rarely ever appears in just one flavour, more commonly appearing in a mix of two or three. The magic that shrouded the Iron Knuckles was predominantly spirit magic with hues of shadow magic.

Her concentration almost faltered when they smacked bodily against a wall in an effort to dodge a sword thrust. Link leapt backwards and the Iron Knuckles followed.

"They're in a line," he yelled, cart wheeling back – she felt disoriented as walls gave way to rafters to floor to walls – and staggering away from a swing, "now what?"

Sheik's arms throbbed. Her body felt like it was going to be crushed under the pressure the two magics were creating. She inhaled. "Now get me close."

Weaving, Link kicked aside one axe swing and lunged towards the nearest Iron Knuckle. Screaming in pain and desperation, Sheik thrust both arms forwards to clutch the steel breastplate and released her hold on the magic.

The spirit magic burst free and immediately polarised the magic within the steel armour. Light magic discharged around the outside of the armour, bathing it in a purifying white glow.

There was a moment of great satisfaction when light and spirit arced, crushing the steel frame into a condensed lump and then hurtling it like a cannonball away from Sheik's arms.

It tore through the lined Iron Knuckles as if they were paper cut outs. The ambient magic ignited and burned through the steel shells.

All that remained were the flaming husks of the Iron Knuckles' weapons and a giant puncture through two metres of stone walling.

Link unceremoniously dropped Sheik and peered through the hole in the wall. Surviving Skulltullas in the room over were attempting to repair their horribly mangled nest.

He crouched down and rolled Sheik over so she was facing upwards. Her eyes were tense with an amount of pain he could only imagine. Her arms weren't bleeding; the magic discharge cauterised those injuries shut.

He stroked his imaginary beard as he contemplated her wracked form. "This wouldn't have been a problem if you knew how to deal with flying Skulltullas, you know."

Sheik's eyes darted over and she stared at him hard. Her breaths came short with all the pain and incredulous fury she felt. "I. Don't. Believe. You."

He chuckled sheepishly and walked away to pick up his dropped sword. "Well, no harm, no foul. I forgive you." He could feel her glare burning into his back. "So, let's sit down, rest for a while, and have a pleasant, non accusatory conversation that doesn't lead to me pushing over another row of Iron Knuckles, yes?"

Impa thought Zelda would be safer with Link. Hah. Oh Impa, Sheik thought, you don't know how wrong you are.

-S-

She didn't know how Link managed to hold so many items in his pouch, but she was grateful for the potions and salves he carried along. The injuries on her arms were rubbed with an ointment and freshly bandaged, and drinking his red potion eased the pain from her crude use of magic.

Underneath her cowl she smiled as she wiggled her fingers. Never had she enjoyed the ability to do so as much as she did now.

They had relocated to another room further from the Skulltulla nest. Sheik had no idea how Link had the energy needed to dispatch the three Lizalfos that had made the room home, but he declared the room as safe a place as any to stop and rest, claiming the scent of the Lizalfos would keep the lesser creatures away. The lanterns in the room were maintained by the power that thrummed through the structure, casting a yellow glow to the stone.

Link and Sheik sat on opposite sides of a monument to the Gerudo Colossus, a giant stone carving of a woman wearing a cobra's hide. Link was inspecting his sword for nicks and kept tutting as he ran a finger over the edges.

"Malon thinks you have a gambling problem, you know."

Link looked up from his inspection to meet Sheik's red eyes. "Treasure hunting's one giant gamble, she's not far off."

"When you're with Malon, what does she see?"

He cocked his head in askance. "Other than my raw, irresistible sex appeal? I don't know what you're asking about."

"A lot of what I'm saying is conjecture, since I've only seen you two interact for an afternoon." Sheik gestured towards his sword. "She knows you carry a sword, but she doesn't see the man who can cleave a Lizalfos down its skull. She knows you disappear for times, but she doesn't see the places you go to, the dangers you face. You keep a lot hidden from her, and I'm interested in knowing what of you that you let her see."

He scratched his jaw and sheathed his sword. "You've got good eyes there, Sheik." He reclined back against the big toe of the Colossus. "We've known each other for seven years, so she sees her bumbling childhood friend. A silly and reckless boy, but mostly harmless. And hey, she's happy, so this silly and reckless boy can stay silly and reckless." He leaned forward to look her in the eye. "If you don't mind, she doesn't need to see anything else."

Sheik knew to relent. If she pushed further Link would have them chase down another army of Iron Knuckles. Changing topic she asked, "So why are we here?"

His serious air disappeared for one brimming with childish glee. "Now, I'm so glad you asked! Hidden deep within the labyrinths of the Spirit Temple is a mystical pair of gauntlets that grant immeasurable strength to the wearer. The Gerudo haven't ventured past the main foyer of the Spirit Temple and so haven't been able to reclaim them." He rubbed his hands together. "Can you guess how much they'll pay for the return of this treasure?"

"Did they commission you to reclaim this treasure?"

"Well, no, but they can do that when we return."

"What if they don't want it, and accuse you of theft?"

"Well, I'll just talk to Nabooru, she'll help smooth things over."

"This is the same Nabooru who wrote that note for capturing you dead or alive?"

Link stood up and stretched. "Well, I think we're in good shape to delve deeper into the heart of this temple. Come, partner! Time waits for no one!"

-S-

Generally all secret treasures have some secret guardian hulking around, as Link explained to Sheik. It made sure only the strong, the worthy, could even dare to stand before some of the greatest creations of men.

It was also the Goddesses way of showing their sense of humour and the irony of life.

Standing guard in front of the door to the next room was the still form of a giant Iron Knuckle. Unlike the ones that lined the walls before, this one towered at three metres and wielded proportionally massive scimitars in each gauntlet.

Other than the new and improved guardian, the room was much as Link remembered it to be: slits high above let in sunlight and fresh air, the arched ceiling supported by numerous pillars and flying buttresses. There was a religious quality to the room, the path of white marble branching to altars yellowed with age, with the main path following on straight to pass underneath the solitary guardian.

He turned to face Sheik. "You wouldn't be able to do your cannonball move of ultimate destruction again, would you?"

In response she raised her bandaged arms.

Link clucked in disappointment. "Alright then. I'd rather that you have more training then I gave you, but are you feeling up to swinging around a longsword?"

Again, she waved her bandaged arms.

He tsked again. "Well, you did knock out all those Iron Knuckles earlier. I guess it's time I do some of the fighting." He pulled out his sword and examined its edge once more. "You know, in gratitude for returning the Megaton Hammer to the Goron tribes, they forged me a really nice sword. It is a fine blade, with only one imperfection."

Sheik stepped closer to examine his sword. It looked like it was made with conventional practices. "Oh?"

"It's big and heavy and so I left it there, now all I carry is this cheap garbage." He flicked the edge. "Look how easily it nicks." He sighed and squinted at the figure in the distance. "But giants like those can't move very fast, so this will be more than enough."

He could really appreciate its size as he walked up to it. Unlike the other Iron Knuckles this one was unblemished by rust, the steel and silver that made its form shining brightly under the windowed sunlight.

He crouched to pick up a stone-

And immediately backpedalled to avoid a scimitar slash. The tip caught a link in his chainmail and raked a thin gash across his chest.

"Hey, you're not meant to wake up yet!" He dived behind a pillar to dodge its follow up swing. Belatedly he realised how easily the supports crumpled under an Iron Knuckle attack and managed to scrabble away before the pillar collapsed behind him.

"And you're meant to be slow and stupid!" He attempted to roll underneath it; it lowered one knee and barely missed kicking him. "This," he threw himself flush against the ground to dodge a horizontal stroke, "isn't," a vertical strike missed him when he rolled aside, "fair!"

Hopping to his feet he dashed behind the next pillar, hoping to buy a moment. "Seriously Sheik, cannon move of easy win would be pretty damn helpful around now!"

"Watch left!" she shouted back. He darted right in time to escape being cleaved in half. "And I can't! It has too much volume, I can't control the amount of magic needed to crush its frame!"

"Can I cook it?"

"What?"

"If I try to melt it, would it blow up on me?"

She remembered the spark of magic he used to light the incense. "Spirit and fire is not volatile!"

Hopping back a few metres, Link grinned. "I guess that means no."

Without the surprise of its premature awakening, Link was more nimbly dodging its swings. Dancing around its blades, he watched for the opportunity to dash close to its body.

Wind whooshed past when it swung in a cross slash, leaving both blades gripped high above the Iron Knuckles head.

There. His legs tensed and he burst forward, biting off one glove to expose his right hand.

It crouched and dropped one elbow. Link marvelled how its stance was a perfect mirror of the Gerudo spin.

Oh. Oh dear.

Link managed to get his sword in the way as it blasted into him. Steel creaked as its first swing threw him into the air. The second swing smashed him through one pillar and he smacked bodily against the far wall.

Sheik dashed over as he crumpled to the floor. "Are you alright?"

Link coughed and tried to roll to his feet. "That thing," he croaked, "is cheating." Staggering up, he frowned at the fractures drawn along the base of his blade. "This isn't fair."

He hobbled aside as the Iron Knuckle charged forth, using the winds of its strikes to help buffet him away from the scimitars' edges. He felt like a drunk fighting a giant. He weaved past its blades as he slowly led it back to the open area.

"Come on, you stupid monkey," he whispered, "you know you want to."

The moment came. The Iron Knuckle performed the same cross slash, and Link leapt in once more. It crouched and Link raised his sword in preparation.

The first swing hurled him into the air again, the force shattering his blade at the base. But before the second strike could cleave him into the ground, he curled in his legs and ricocheted off the whooshing blade towards the Iron Knuckles helmet.

Sticking one hand into the helmet's visor to arrest his fall, he planted the palm of his other hand in the crack between the base of the helmet and the steel neck collar. Magic hummed along his fingers as he drew up every ounce of magic he could.

"O Goddess of Power, don't fail me now."

It had been seven years since he last used Din's Fire to its ultimate destructive capabilities. It was weak, regrettably so, but for now it was enough. The steel enclosure acted as an oven as the Iron Knuckle baked from the inside.

Flames licked free from the joints and openings. The steel smouldered and glowed and the silver ornamentation started boiling off. The Iron Knuckle swayed in a desperate struggle before falling to its knees. Above the roar of the fire a wail screamed loose as the magic holding the Iron Knuckle was extinguished.

Link did not stop until the entire thing was nothing more than a lump of bubbling steel before him.

-S-

"So, where is it?"

"That's… a good question."

They were standing on a platform above the Spirit Temple. Well, Sheik was standing and Link was leaning heavily against her for support. He looked around and was disappointed to see nothing more than clouds.

"Are you sure it's here?"

"There was the whole guardian thing, and the gauntlets are indestructible. I can't think of anywhere else it'd be." He peered over one ledge before leaning back. Wow, what a fall.

"What do they look like?"

"They normally come in some oversized wooden chest, but they're silver gauntlets and look exactly like they're named. Gauntlets made of silver."

"Huh." Sheik stayed silent for a minute. "The guardian was wearing silver plated gauntlets."

Link looked at Sheik. Sheik shrugged.

He looked back to where they came from. The molten Iron Knuckle still glowed red from the heat.

He sighed.

-S-

They stayed the night in the same room, waiting for the sandstorm below to finish venting its fury. Link managed to fish out the silver gauntlets from the molten pile only to curse when he realised they were still sized for three metre tall giants.

Sheik was pretty sure Link broke a few bones flying through pillars and falling those distances, but he was resolute in his boast that a night's worth of rest will repair everything. After fishing out some salted cod from his boot – she declined his offer to share – he rolled off in search of the coolest stone surface.

Three hours later Sheik woke up when he rolled back, searching for the warmest spot.

The moon and starlight revealed Link in a manner impossible when he was awake. Seeing his huddled sleeping form she realised how young he was. As young has her, but infinitely more experienced. No soldier could perform the feats he could. And yet for all the miracles and feats of strengths he could perform, asleep he looked like a simple boy.

A soft wind blew through the apertures and Link shuffled closer. Sheik's eyes crossed and she shuffled away.

Oh Nayru he smelled terrible.

With trepidation she raised an arm and sniffed herself.

When they left the coming morning, Sheik declared that one of the first things they'll do is clean themselves.

"Once we get one of those witches to tell us how to resize these gauntlets, we can wallow in all the water we want." The gauntlets in question were tied together with twine and were being dragged through the sand behind him. "Now hopefully everyone's forgotten about the whole capture Link thing."

The Gerudo uncharacteristically were not manning their posts, instead huddling and chatting excitedly in the central training square. They did not seem remotely interested in Link's appearance.

"Oi, Link," a voice called out from the centre of the hubbub, and he looked up to see Nabooru waving out to him. One arm was in a sling and she had bandaging wrapping her left thigh and abdomen. Her horse showed visible relief when she hopped off and happily let itself be led to a water trough.

"Sweet Din, Nabooru," he replied as she walked towards them, "did you get into a fight with a bear or something?"

"You chose a good time to leave Castletown," she said, "the Shuwans made another raid on the palace. There was a whole friggin' horde and I had to fight my way out of the diplomats' quarters." She turned to give an irate look at her sisters. "And would someone get me some medicine and water? I've been riding the whole friggin' night to deliver this news!"

"What happened in the palace?" Sheik strode forward and placed one hand on Nabooru's good one.

She jerked her hand back and looked at Sheik suspiciously. "And who're you?"

"Ah, that's Sheik," Link provided, "Princess Zelda's bodyguard in training."

Nabooru snorted. "Oh. Well son, you definitely have your work cut out for you. When I left, a third of the palace was on fire, the King was missing and presumed dead, the Princess was missing and presumed dead, and boat load of nobles who couldn't escape are plain dead." She snatched the cup offered by her sister and drank it greedily. "I haven't seen little Zelda in a while, so maybe she wasn't in the palace during the attack, but the King was definitely around and chances are his was the first room the Shuwans went to."

Link put out an arm to prevent Sheik from staggering too far back.

"This… is not good. Don't you have any good news?"

Nabooru glanced at the silver gauntlets dragged behind him. "I know the trick behind those," she grunted.

Sheik inhaled and stood straighter. Her voice was soft but firm. "I'm going to Castletown."

"Yes, we're going to – no, no we're not. In fact we're running the hell away, some safer direction like-"

It had been a long time since Link had seen a commanding strength in Zelda's eyes, but as she faced him he could feel the finality and purpose as her red eyes bore against his.

"We all have a duty to attend to." It was barely above a whisper, but even the chatter of the surrounding Gerudo died down as they listened. "My duty to our country demands I guard the safety of the people. But someone has cast his duty aside and sacrificed this country for a gain I will never know, a gain I refuse to understand. My duty demands I find him." She inhaled, and Link could hear the small tremor that revealed the fear beneath her conviction. "Link, I cannot demand anything from you. So I ask you, in the name of Hyrule, to help me discover the truth."

Link smiled. "In the name of Hyrule," he agreed.

Missing, and presumed dead

There were many men who would have gained from the death of her and her father. The first one Zelda intended to investigate was Commanding General Starhill.

-S-

A/N: And there you have it, chapter 2. Two years delayed. Yeah. I hope you enjoyed it. Part of my design principal involves making this story as zany as possible, but given the setting we'll have to put up with a good number of serious moments.