"

-13 years later-

Beep.

Just another minute… Just one more, please…

Beep.

One second… That's all I'm asking for, one…

BEEP.

Just… a second… All I need… One more…

"Link, get up. It's ten after eight."

He opened his eyes. Link had once again joined the land of the living, and his first action was to slap the 'snooze' button vehemently. Pulling his arm back to the safety of his warm comforter, he closed his eyes again and prepared to drift back off…

The comforter was ripped violently off of him, and suddenly the warmth was gone, to be replaced with a sudden, unyielding cold. His skin erupted into goosebumps, and he reached for the blanket to cover his bare legs and chest.

"What the hell? What was that for?" he said groggily, his sleepy eyes adjusting to the room's brightness. Before him was the blurry outline of a figure, dressed ominously in black, with shoulder-length brown hair, and holding his warm comforter in its left hand.

"Watch your mouth. Get up, you'll be late for school," said his mother, tossing the comforter aside. "How late were you up last night?"

Link yawned. "Dunno. Maybe one, one-thirty."

"On a school night?" his mother replied, sounding shocked, and a disgusted expression on her face. "What were you doing?"

"Couldn't sleep. Don't get mad or anything, I wasn't doing anything wrong!" His wakefulness was growing by the second, and his exasperation was turning into anger. It was the truth; he had woken several times to the same, unusual dream.

His mother rolled her eyes, and turned to leave. "Get dressed; I want you down there in ten."

Link waited until she was safely gone, then muttered softly to no one in particular, "Bitch."

He stood up, stretching his arms above his head and yawning widely. In front of him was a full-length mirror and he saw in it his newly awoken self, a typical suburban teenage who was undoubtedly pissed off. He shook his tousled, dirty-blonde hair out of his eyes with a great twist of his head, revealing his holy terror, the reason he kept his hair long: his unnatural, pointed 'elf ears'. He had once asked his parents about them, and they told him it was a minor birth defect, nothing serious. That didn't stop people from laughing at him; his classmates had gotten over it by the time middle school rolled around, but he still resented those years of torment. Only one person had been kind to him through his elementary school years, and that was Zelda.

He examined himself carefully in the mirror. He was not overweight, but definitely not in the best shape possible. His arms and legs were skinny, and while he would not use "obese" to describe himself, there was a small amount of flab on his stomach and chest. At any rate, he was no bodybuilder. He raised his arm and flexed, and immediately felt stupider for it afterward. Shaking his head, he reached down and picked up a pair of jeans which he pulled on over his boxers.

Next to the mirror was his computer, which was fairly new, but had the distinct appearance of something that had been overused, or, as his mom would say, "well-loved". On the keyboard was a half-eaten bag of Cheetos, probably from a few weeks ago.

There was not much else. The room, all in all, was inherently small. Grabbing a shirt from atop his dresser on the way past, Link headed for the way to the bathroom.

"Well, evidently not… I don't see how you can say that…"

Eight o'clock in the morning, and his mother was already on the phone. Typical. He could hear her talking away from the top of the stairs that led to the kitchen, a narrow passage that gave him a feeling of extreme claustrophobia every time he walked down it at night. He sighed and continued on his way to the shower.

When he emerged ten minutes later, she was still chatting away.

"Tonight? God, no! That would be far too early… What? How can that be?"

As Link approached the kitchen, he saw his mother standing in the middle of the room, eating a bagel and talking animatedly with a stern look on her face, her black suit personifying her as the businesswoman she was. Whatever she was talking about, though, it was of no concern to Link. He passed by her quickly, choosing instead to focus his attention on the toaster, and the bread he was putting in it…

"Can I call you back? Link's here now – It's your aunt, Link – Yes, I know you are. Of course. Fine! I'll talk to you later. Bye." She hung up and displaced the phone from its precarious perch on her shoulder. "Hi. So, you tired?"

Link raised his eyebrows. "Uh-huh." He really was in no mood to talk to his parents.

"Well, I'd hope so. You really shouldn't be up as late as you were," she lectured. "You're only fifteen, and you need enough sleep. Growing up and all that." She rustled Link's hair with her hand, making it messier than usual and revealing his pointed ears.

"Hey! Mom!" Link said, matting his hair back down over his ears. "Don't do that. I'm not seven." But his mother was unfazed.

"I have to do things like that as long as I can," she replied. "Y'know, you're gonna be gone soon. You can't live here forever."

Shrugging, Link picked up his toast and shoved it into his mouth at once, expecting his mom to react with something like "Don't, you'll choke", or "That's not a good idea" – But it never came. She was already busying herself with her makeup, getting ready to go.

"I'll see you after school," she said, with a last look at Link that hinted at solemnity. But as she turned to open the door, she hesitated.

"Hey… I love you. Remember that," she said. "Okay?"

"Um, sure thing," he replied, and within an instant, she was gone with briskness only his mother could achieve.

That was weird, Link thought after she had left. Why she had suddenly felt the need to tell him she loved him was beyond him. He passed it off as another of his mother's ridiculous obsessive-compulsive issues. She really did have a lot of those. He finished up his toast, picked up his bag, and left.

The sun was still low in the sky, and it cast heavy shadows onto the road as Link walked down it, searching for the shadow of his friend, the one he walked to school with every single day. In another year they would both hopefully have their licenses to drive, but Link secretly admitted that he would miss this morning ritual.

"Late again, Elfy." The voice came from far ahead, echoing in the early morning sun.

"Shut up! Don't call me that," called Link back, laughing. He sped up into a jog and hurried to where she was.

Zelda was standing on the corner of Pride Street and Windward Avenue, two intersecting roads that Link and she happened to call home. The corner of the two had been the meeting spot for he and his best friend for the past ten years. They met there when they walked to school, when they were going somewhere together, or, when they were younger, they used to play make-believe, and the corner would be Zelda's castle, where Link would have to rescue her from a dragon.

"Nah, I'm kidding. I like your ears, you know that," teased Zelda, and with every word Link took in how beautiful she was. She was almost as tall as him, with her wavy blonde hair cascading down over her shoulders, and piercing blue eyes that seemed to sparkle in the morning sun. His attraction to her was Storkview's best kept secret, even though he'd liked her since he could remember, even before he truly knew what it meant to like a girl.

"So, you stoked for the history test today?" she asked sarcastically, breaking the sudden silence.

"You know it. I was studying all night, you know."

"Somehow I don't believe you. Not sure why," she said, raising an eyebrow.

Link gasped in mock surprise. "Really?"

"Of course. But I mean, I could be crazy."

The other thing he liked about Zelda: he could talk to her without feeling like a flamingo in a flock of crows. All other girls hated him with a passion, and it was awkward just being near them.

Zelda sighed. "I hate Mondays. Ever get that feeling when you really just feel like you'd rather lay down and die than do something?"

"You mean like living with my mom?"

Zelda chuckled, shaking her head. "Yeah, like that. That's my Monday mornings. Although my mom's not quite as anal as yours."

"Yeah. She got all pissy at me again today, because I was up till one last night. I had that dream again." Link said absentmindedly.

The atmosphere of the conversation changed almost instantaneously.

"You mean the one with the woman, and the guy in the temple?" Zelda was suddenly serious. "You had it again?"

Link was surprised at his friend's abrupt change of personality. He laughed and said, "Um, yeah. But it was kinda different this time. They said something about an 'unknown evil'. Really stupid, actually, but it creeped me out. I woke up about five times. I always get this feeling whenever I have it that for some reason these people are talking about me…" he said. He raised his eyebrows. "Zelda?"

"I… yeah," she replied. She shook her head. "Sounds great. Anyway, I just remembered, I have a morning drama practice today, and it started ten minutes ago. Sorry, Link, I have to run!" She smiled apologetically, a look which quickly transformed into a worried frown, and jogged off in the direction they had just come from.

"Zelda, uh…" Link ventured, School's the other way!" But she would not turn around, and Link was left to ponder her mysterious departing.

Zelda did not appear at school for the remainder of the day. Link called her cell phone numerous times, but to no avail – she simply would not answer. Each time he hopefully dialled her number and waited, only to be submitted to the monotone computerized voice: "The customer you are calling is not available," and then, "Hey, it's Zelda, leave a message and I'll get back to you!" But Link refused to leave a message; if she didn't want to pick up, that was her problem.

Still, it made him somewhat angry that she didn't answer him, and had run off in a mad rush that morning to go to a "drama practice" that he was sure didn't actually exist. Now that he was thinking about it, he didn't even know whether or not Zelda was actually in the school drama club. Could it be that she didn't want him around? No, there was no possible way. They had been friends for years, at least as long as Link could remember. Why would she suddenly get the urge to desert him now?

The walk home alone was difficult that day. It was the first time in a while that Link had been forced to walk home by himself, and it seemed somehow colder without someone beside him to talk to. Of course, it didn't help that he kept envisioning Zelda, sneaking off to see another man. Not that she had ever expressed any kind of romantic interest in Link, but the jealousy still remained, like a shadow obscuring the shining sun in the sky, eclipsing everything so that only darkness remained.

Link wondered briefly whether all these emotional thoughts were healthy.

When he finally arrived back at his house, his mother was already home, talking on the phone and rushing around, sweeping and dusting and cleaning every cleanable surface.

"Uh-huh. Well, I don't see why not. Yeah. Yeah. Oh, I understand completely – Just a second – Hey, kid, what's up? – Sorry, Janine, what was that? Fifty? Are you kidding? I wouldn't have guessed thirty-five…"

Link threw his bag onto the sofa, and sat down himself, sighing deeply. "Not much. What's going on, you having people over?"

His mother dislodged the phone, muttering a quick, "I'll be back in a minute", before mashing the 'hold' button and tossing the phone onto the couch with Link's bag. She smiled and replied, "Sort of. Well, yes. And no."

"Maybe you could be a bit clearer. I might understand you that way."

"Yeah? That might work," she shrugged with a shrewd smile. "I guess I have a kind of confession to make."

Link's stomach did a backflip. This couldn't be good, whatever it was. "You do?"

Smiling widely, his mother sat beside him and placed a hand on his shoulder. "I'm sorry if I've been kind of weird this past while. But it's been stressful… You can say I've had a lot on my back. A lot to live up to. I'll try to be as clear as I can, but you still might be a bit in the dark.

"The person I was on the phone with this morning, well…" she hesitated briefly, "it wasn't my sister, like I said. It was my boyfriend. I've been seeing him for about three weeks, and I didn't want to tell you, because I thought you'd be upset. But now he's coming over, and we're going out to dinner, and I need to make the place look nice before he comes."

A large, heavy something seemed to be caught somewhere in Link's throat. "Oh," was all he could manage.

She was seeing someone already? His father had left just two months ago, and she was already in another relationship? How could she do this to the family?

"I know it's hard for you to understand. But I think it's for the best. You're unhappy now, but I guarantee you, it'll be right in the long run." She looked sympathetically at her son, and looked as if she wanted to say more, but couldn't bring herself to do it.

"Well, if that's all, then I'll be going…" His mother did not even notice – she had gone back to her phone conversation with Janine. Solemnly, Link made his way upstairs, and back to the confines of his room.

The many posters on the walls seemed to all be staring at him, their faces burning deep into his retinas, making his head spin. He collapsed on the bed, and, left once again to his own devices, drifted slowly off to sleep. And slowly, unsurely, he began to dream…

It was dark out. A high castle wall loomed proudly before the boy, dwarfing him in size. From his position at the edge of the drawbridge, he could make out every finely carved stone, every tiny moss-filled niche in the rampart. The torches set in evenly spaced brackets along the wall had been extinguished long ago as a result of the relentlessly pounding rain.

As the boy stood drenched in clothes of deepest green, he heard the sound of horses' hooves as they echoed in the distance. He could do nothing but stand and stare, wide-eyed, as the sound of hooves grew louder.

In the archway formed by the place where the drawbridge would go when it was raised, the faint outline of a distinguished-looking white horse appeared, galloping at high speed toward the castle gate. The boy could see two people on its back, one with brilliantly white hair, and one wearing a long, regal-looking dress, with distinctly recognizable blonde curls that had been dampened by the rain. The latter's steely blue eyes grew wide as she saw the boy, but she said nothing as the horse trotted swiftly by, and the boy could do nothing to stop it.

The sound of hooves continued. Coming from the same direction, the boy could just make out a proud black horse covered in shining armor. This horse's rider looked in complete contrast to the white horse's, in that his eyes were not full of fear, but pure, angry hatred. The rider's skin was dark, and his mane of hair flaming red, with a face twisted in deepest loathing.

This time, the horse came to a sudden halt as it approached, and the man on its back looked straight at the boy.

"You…"

He brandished a whip, and struck the horse swiftly on its neck with it. "Do not get in my way," said the man, and then he was gone.

Then there was a sound, a sound like no other… Calling in the boy's ear, causing his head to ache, filling him with sorrow…

"Link…"

It was too much, too much to bear…

"Link!"

He could not stand it, could not take anymore.

"Link! Do we have to go through this morning again?"

As if they had never closed, Link's eyes shot open, and as they adjusted to the blinding light, he realized he was not, in fact, standing in front of a medieval castle, but lying in his room, on his bed, in his world.

Stretching, he flung his legs over the side of the bed. "No… No, I'm fine," he sighed, yawning deeply. "How long was I asleep?"

His mother thought for a moment, and then replied, "Probably about three hours. You were out cold. I didn't want to disturb you, but I need to now. Ganondorf is going to be here any minute-"

"Ganondorf?" shouted Link in disbelief, then added, "Isn't that in Germany?"

"That's Dusseldorf," said his mom, rolling her eyes. "I swear, if sarcasm is an art, you're Van Gogh. Ganondorf is the guy who's coming over tonight. Ring any bells? We kind of talked about this earlier…"

"I know. I get it," said Link, and he shook his head. "But Ganondorf… Wow. Does he have any nicknames? Something else I can call him?"

His mom shrugged. "You could try 'Dad', but I'd hold off on that until, and if, we get married. But that's a long way off if it does happen. For now, stick with Mr. Dragmire."

"Dragmire… Good God," lamented Link. "His name is Ganondorf Dragmire…"

"And there's nothing wrong with that," snapped his mother. "He's new at the office, and he's from somewhere overseas, so cut the man some slack."

"All I'm saying is I wouldn't be in a hurry to change my name, if I were you."

"What, you don't think 'Alaina Dragmire' has a ring to it?"

Link snorted. He knew, no matter what his mother said, that he would never be used to this man, Ganondorf Dragmire. He collapsed back on his bed, and closed his eyes.

"Don't go back to sleep."

"Don't worry, I won't."

Suddenly, from downstairs, the doorbell rang, its shrill sound echoing up the stairs, down the hall, and into Link's room, intensifying his headache further. "That'll be him," said his mother excitedly. "I can't wait for you to meet him; he's such a sweet person. You'll love him, I promise."

"I bet. I'll be down in a minute."

His mother left, and he heard her footsteps as she descended the narrow staircase, her high heels clacking on the laminate floor. There was a great swishing noise, signalling the opening of the door, and a few heavy footsteps. The man called Mr. Dragmire was inside his house at last.

"Hey! How are you? I hope you found the place okay," he heard his mother exclaim. "My son is upstairs, he'll be down in a minute. He can't wait to meet you."

That was the overstatement of the year. "Liar," muttered Link, then he stood up and headed for the stairs. He was halfway down when he stopped dead in his tracks.

The doorway was filled with Mr. Dragmire's sheer size. He was a large man, but not overweight – his form was filled out with pure muscularity. When he saw Link on the stairs, he smiled, and said in a voice that was deep, gravelly, and barely more than a rumble: "Well, hello. You must be Link! Your mother speaks fondly of you." He bent over slightly and kissed his mother on the cheek. "Alaina is a magnificent woman. You are very lucky to be blessed with her presence."

It was not the man's strange accent, that almost sounded Arabian but much sharper, and very difficult to place. It was not his size, although that was intimidating. It was not the fact that he had kissed his mother.

Link's eyes widened slowly. Mr. Dragmire was tall, he had dark skin, and a mane of flaming red hair.

It was the man from his dream.