INSOMNIA
based on
The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask

[In the land of Hyrule there echoes a legend. Held dearly by the Royal Family, it tells of a boy who battled evil and saved Hyrule. The legends do not tell of the scars that the horrors of war left on the mind of this ten-year old boy. They merely say that he crept away from the land that had forged him.

But the mantle of hero is not so easily shaken.

Robbed, cursed, and left to rot, Link joined with the slightly-unhinged faerie Tatl on a quest to save her brother and stop the moon from crushing the land of Termina. They had only three days to thwart the Skull Kid, who had long since succumbed to the dark power of Majora's Mask.

Their journey took them to the mountains to the north, home to a tribe of Gorons: benign but fearsome monsters made of living rock. An unnatural blizzard had taken its toll on the Gorons, rendering them alone and miserable

The tribe's great hero, Darmani the Third, followed the blizzard to its source at Snowhead citadel, but fell to his death in the treacherous winds. With Darmani's strength (manifested in a magical mask) and the Goron tribe's blessings, Link and Tatl armed themselves and now made their way towards Snowhead to end the wintry spell.]

-oOo-

Termina Field

Neither Link, Tatl nor Cremia had spoken much since their encounter with the bandits along Milk Road. The ride since then had been silent and uneventful.

Now, Clock Town was visible in the distance as a murky silhouette in front of the icy black sky. Much further in the distance, a hint of dawn peeked out from the edge of the horizon.

Together, without any conscious agreement, Link and Cremia slowed their steeds down to a walk.

"We ought to part ways here," said Link. "The mountains are a lot further north."

Cremia arched an eyebrow. "The canyons the other day, and now the mountains? You two certainly keep yourselves busy."

"Oh, you know," said Tatl. "We work hard; we play hard."

Link glanced in Tatl's direction: the faerie's voice was completely serious, but her face was all smirk.

Canyons?, he mouthed to her.

"Well," said Cremia, "I can't thank you both enough for your help tonight. I'd have lost a month's worth of cargo to those marauders if they'd gotten the chance."

"You're welcome," said Link.

"I only wish we'd stopped to beat 'em up when we had the chance," said Tatl.

Cremia arched an eyebrow. "Oh, I think you gave them trouble enough for their trouble. What was that you were saying about Link throwing a horse?"

"Only the most epic—" said Tatl.

"Nothing," said Link simultaneously.

(A half-second glaring contest ensued. Link won.)

"In any case, I wish you both all luck with whatever you're up to," said Cremia with a nod. "'Til later, then?"

"Until later," agreed Link.

He tugged at Epona's reins, as Cremia did the same with her steeds. Their paths parted like a flower stem splitting neatly in two.

-oOo-

Barely five minutes later, Epona came to a halt without warning.

Link was shaken out of his reverie. (He had been half falling asleep, his mind drifting through images of miserable faces — Darmani, the deceased Goron warrior; Kafei, the cursed groom-to-be; Saria, who'd pledged her eternity to a thankless cause; Cremia, carrying her sister's future on her shoulders.)

He looked around. They were in an uninteresting part of Termina Field. Grass, weathered stone columns, mountains looming ahead of them.

"What's wrong?" he said softly, one hand pressing gently on Epona's back. "Are you okay?"

Epona craned her neck, one round black eye meeting his.

"Your horse is broken," said Tatl dryly.

Link dismounted carefully, feet landing catlike on the ground. He walked around until he was facing his horse.

Epona looked quite calm; certainly not spooked. As he stood there, she nudged her head ever-so-slightly back where they'd come from, in the direction of Clock Town.

"You want to go back?" he said.

Epona neighed affectionately, turned, and began to walk away and back towards town.

"What are...?" Link began, then trailed off.

It seemed strange to say this of a horse, but he trusted Epona's judgement. She'd saved his life more than once in Hyrule — most notably one night as they were trudging back from the desert, when they stopped to set up camp. Epona had seemed uneasy as they settled down, but Link and Navi paid her no mind since they'd already scouted to make sure the area was free of interlopers. After a quiet evening, they woke up in the middle of the night to find themselves surrounded by a gang of four thieves, wrapped in the sand-bitten silks of the desert tribes, two of them holding Link at swordpoint.

(It was then that Epona had clocked one of the bandits with her hind leg, knocking the interloper out cold. The ensuing confusion gave Link the second he needed to draw his sword unchallenged.)

"She'll be all right," said Tatl. "I think we found her round about now, during Woodfall."

Link nodded. "She's a lot smarter than she looks."

"That makes two of you."

"Pardon?"

"I said, that's good to know."

Link glanced at Tatl distrustingly.

Tatl met him with a skeptical look.

"You know," she said. "I'm not a horse expert, but isn't it a bad thing when they have a mind of their own and wander off without you?"

Link shrugged slightly. "Epona, I trust."

He turned to face north again and began to walk. The mountains were a long way ahead.

"I knew her in a different life," he said.

There was a hesitating softness to his voice.

"She's a survivor," he said.

CYCLE 2: HYSTERIA
DAWN of the THIRD DAY

Dawn broke. Birds sang. Link and Tatl went from Termina Field to the mountains without incident.

This time, when they reached the human village near the base of the mountains, they stopped by the sign pointing to Snowhead. Link's gaze followed the signpost down the path, a tiny part of him expecting to already see that icy peak where the unnatural blizzard had begun. Instead, he saw only another nondescript trail fading swiftly into fog, snow, and mist. Perhaps it was his imagination, but the ice in the air seemed thicker and more forbidding down this way.

"You still have that map to Snowhead from the Gorons, right?" said Tatl.

Link retrieved it from where he'd wrapped it around the handle of his shield. "Here. What do you make of it?"

Tatl studied it.

"Nothing unexpected," she said. "It doesn't look too difficult, but I'm betting the cold snap has made a mess of everything." She pointed at a couple of spots. "These bits here? They'll be snowed in deep. And the wind exposure along the whole path is going to be horrible. But it's doable. Just not exactly a walk in the park."

-oOo-

Thus:

They staggered through waist-deep snow, they braved icy ledges barely a half foot wide, they gritted their teeth through waves of merciless icy flakes, all the while getting ever nearer to the blizzard's source. Tatl scouted, checking that they weren't walking into a dead end or a den of Wolfos; Link shielded her from the wind when it was at its worst, its strength threatening to rip away even the shield strapped to his back let alone a free-flying faerie.

Tatl led. She had taken it upon herself to memorise the twists and turns of the Gorons' map, which was just as well — the howling winds would have stolen it at the first opportunity. After a time, Link had lost track of how long they had been traipsing north: more than an hour, less than three.

"Not much further," said Tatl.

"How much not further?"

"When we — well, you — get over this next peak, we should be right on top of it. And hey, at least you don't have to deal with any more ice on the way up, right?"

"I'd almost prefer the ice," Link panted.

"You like sliding around all over the place?"

"I like solid ground."

Trudging through snow for the last mile had really taken its toll on Link's strength. Each step was increasingly difficult; his calves felt like jelly and the thinning air was not helping with his breathing.

Noticing this, Tatl frowned.

"You know, you could switch to your Goron form," she said. "It'd be a lot easier."

"And it'd be even slower." Link shook his head. "I'll think about it if my legs give in."

"Once they do, you mean."

"Hmm."

"'Hmm'?"

"If my legs do give in, and I put the Goron mask on, do you know whether I'd be able to walk as a Goron? Or would the tiredness... carry over?"

"You're asking me? Do I look like I'm made of magic or something?"

"Yes." Link shot her a look. "Was that a joke?"

Tatl blinked. "Um, let's just say it was."

She flew ahead, hand on chin, apparently deep in thought.

"Okay," she said after a few seconds. "Not, like, one hundred percent sure here, but I reckon you'd be okay. The fatigue is in your body, not your soul, right? So if you switch bodies, it stands to reason that the tiredness goes away...

"But, uh. The obvious answer here is to, you know, just try. Speculating until the birds come to roost is all well and good, but actually diving in and finding out the answer to your questions wins any day."

Link nodded slowly. It wasn't bad advice, even if it was the polar opposite of Navi's counsel. She had always been one for a more cautious approach...

"Listen — always plan from a distance. From a distance there's time to realise you've made a mistake. Rush in, and by the time you realise you're wrong you'll be halfway dead."

Navi pointed ahead.

"Now, look at that big skull, where the last door ought to be. There's something odd about its jaw, Link. Look — don't rush in, but look — and tell me what you can see."

"All this fatigue must make you wish you'd listened to me in Clock Town and stolen that revitalising potion, huh," said Tatl.

Link rolled his eyes. "I was actually thinking, that's not the advice Navi would have given me."

Tatl groaned. "'Navi would' this, 'Navi would' that. The way you go on about your other faerie friend, it's like you two were an item." She gave him a look. "...were you?"

"What?" Link's jaw dropped. "No! And I don't 'go on' about her! I never even mentioned her until you started prying into..."

"Excuses, excuses," said Tatl. "Well, what would she have said? 'Don't stab first and ask questions later'?"

"Something like that," said Link.

"I've met faeries who think like that," said Tatl, "and sometimes it's a good idea. But nine times out of ten, if you overthink something, it'll never get done."

"I don't know..." said Link. "If you rush in, you won't know you're wrong until you're halfway dead."

"That," said Tatl, "is why you don't rush into danger. You stride. Eyes wide open, wits about you, but moving." She grinned.

(Link had to admit, he was still constantly being surprised by Tatl's intermittent moments of insight. For all her flippant attitude, she was damned shrewd...

...he wondered what she'd have made of Navi.)

"How did you end up hanging out with a faerie anyway?" said Tatl. "I mean, not that I don't like you, but humans and the rest of you fleshies usually stick together."

"Well..."

Link paused for a moment. Did he really want to say? Answers led to questions; questions led to more answers.

He exhaled slowly.

To hell with it, he thought. No matter how unsavoury a first impression she'd made, Tatl had proven an invaluable ally and a good friend in his short time with her. She'd earned that kind of trust.

"In the village where I grew up," Link began, "it was quite normal for faeries to mingle with us. In fact, from the day they were born, everyone had one particular faerie as their companion. Most of us were practically raised by faeries."

—like an echo many years delayed, the Kokiri boy said, if only i had a faerie friend like the others

"Their — our — faeries were like mentor figures to us. They were meant to guide us through our early years, and teach us important things: compassion, curiosity, resourcefulness... They were meant to be moral compasses, I suppose."

"'Meant to'?" said Tatl archly.

"Some faeries weren't as serious about their responsibility as others." In his mind's eye, Link saw the smirking face of Mido, his old bully. "And, well, flawed mentors lead to flawed... mentees."

"I see..."

"And I..."

Link paused, looking for the right words.

"And I was a bit of a special case," he said at length. "For the longest time I didn't have a faerie companion."

"Right," said Tatl slowly. "I remember now. You said some of the kids used to tease you. Was that...?"

"That was why," said Link. "It..." He shrugged. "It wasn't so good. But most of the other children were good friends. And then eventually, a faerie was sent to me too."

"And that was Navi?"

"That was Navi."

Tatl contemplated this, a thoughtful expression on her face.

"It all sounds a bit too storybook to be true, but it fits with what I know about you..."

"I'm telling the truth."

Tatl met his eyes and smiled (...sincerely? Link blinked. No, impatiently.)

"I know," she said.

She paused.

"But... pairing faeries with human babies?" Tatl looked perplexed. "That sounds like the biggest recipe for disaster I've ever heard. And you know me; I've written the cookbook on disaster."

"Human babies isn't quite right," said Link. "See..." He fished around for words. "None of us realised the difference until some years later, but it turns out I was the only..."

"Wow," breathed Tatl.

Link paused mid-sentence, confused. "What?"

Then, two steps later, it happened to him, too. One moment the blizzard was stinging at his skin, thick and cold. The next, it was behind him: an impassive wall of white left behind as they stepped into the eye of the storm.

Only the howling winds remained, stronger than ever.

Once he'd gotten over the shock of the sudden visibility, Link realised he had a clear view of Snowhead before him.

"Wow," he breathed. (Tatl smirked in agreement.)

The Gorons' maps had depicted Snowhead as a sharp peak at the end of the path, with a little black mark representing the citadel sitting at its apex. The drawings were faithful, but they didn't remotely do justice to the real thing.

Circling the citadel like a moat was a chasm, perhaps a mile in diameter, deep enough that its bottom was invisible through the fog, though thin, jagged peaks of ice pierced out into view, some broken off at the top to reveal hard, shiny faces, others honed to a point. If he fell into the chasm, Link could see only two possible choices: either break every bone in his body on the flat surfaces, bouncing battered and lifeless into the depths... or be impaled on the icicles.

Not far ahead of them was the one way across the chasm — a bridge of ice curving ever-so-slightly left and right as it ran between where they stood and the citadel's foundations. Its top was smooth and shiny, a pearly blue-white; its underside was covered with frozen stalactites longer than Link would have thought possible, the product of what was clearly more than one year's winter.

The citadel itself was a tower of stone, though again frozen over so that its greys and browns were only noticeable in that they made its encasing ice look a little muddier than the rest of the vista. It stretched up several hundred feet, with its one entrance about halfway up: a tiny corkscrewing path circled down from there to the base of the building. Atop the citadel was what could only be described as a crown — a few dozen giant spikes of ice, each easily bigger than a typical house, jutting out from the building's rounded peak in every which way. In the stillness of the wind and the morning sun, the entire structure glittered like a diamond, equal parts majestic and unbreakable.

"That," said Tatl, "looks amazing."

"I'll second that," nodded Link.

He took a few steps forward, intending to start on the path towards the ice bridge.

The ground was deceptively icy. His boot slipped as it came down, and he nearly toppled backwards. With a burst of adrenaline, he threw out his hands. He stood still for a few seconds, arms out, before being sure he had his footing again and relaxing his posture.

"Watch it," Tatl warned.

"I know," Link replied.

He crouched, keeping his centre of gravity low, and started forward, this time more cautiously.

The path sloped gently downwards and narrowed as he approached the bridge. By the time he reached it he was able to appreciate just how precarious it was — barely five feet across, and covered with a translucent pale-turquoise coating of ice that promised dangerously uneven footing.

The wind remained ominously absent.

"Here goes," Link said, and started forward.

The bridge stretched forward for nearly a quarter-mile before arriving at the foot of the citadel. Link stepped onto it with some trepidation, then began forward at a pace so slow it would take the better part of ten minutes to cross. Still, once he'd settled into a rhythm with his footfalls, he didn't pick up speed despite the temptation.

It happened after he'd been walking for just over a minute. He'd gotten a hundred feet along the path when he heard the air begin to whistle again.

"Tatl," he said, keeping his eyes forward and his head level (turning around while trying to balance delicately was both incredibly stupid and a mistake he'd actually made once in a heavily guarded desert fortress), "did the wind just start blowing?"

"Yes," said Tatl, and, as the noise picked up in intensity, "It's not stopping, either."

Link took three more steps forward. On the third, the wind had strengthened to the point that it pushed his foot to the side as he planted it into the ground. Not by much, but considering how worryingly little traction he had...

He looked ahead. He hadn't even made it a quarter way across.

"I don't know about this," he said, as—

—"Turn back," said Tatl sharply, at the same time, and—

—the wind began to grow from gust to gale, shifting Link every so gradually to the left even once he'd planted his boots in as hard as he could.

"Uh oh," he said.

He turned around (dropping to his knees, swivelling his body around, keeping both feet on the ground the entire time), and started back, his footsteps a little faster than they had been on the way there. The wind picked up in strength, and he found himself having to brace against it, as if a small kid was trying to push him over.

"Wingshreds, it's getting stronger," said Tatl. "Move faster."

"I'm going as fast as I can," said Link, eyeing the solid ground just fifty feet ahead of him.

The wind picked up suddenly, and it was no longer like having the weight of a small child pushing against him, but more like someone twice his size. He angled himself into the wind, trying to run against it, but the ground wasn't affording any purchase—

"When you're cornered, that's when taking risks becomes necessary," said Navi

—and To hell with it, Link said to himself, throwing caution to the increasingly ferocious wind and bursting into a sprint.

He'd started running not a moment too soon. The air pushing at him from his left was like a solid wall of brick. It was all he could do to stay just right of centre of the path as he began to run, then—

—just a few feet from the edge it became too much, and the force of the gale knocked his feet out from under him. He landed hard on the ground, felt himself sliding backwards, his tunic and the edge of his shield hissing angrily on the ice as he slid, turned his head around to see the edge heading straight for him, scrambled for purchase, anything at all—

—and grabbed the sword from his back and shoved it into the ground behind him, propping himself forward precariously. But even its fine point couldn't find purchase on the ice, and he began to scrape back along that last foot—

"Goron mask," said Tatl sharply, and before the words had fully hit his brain, Link curled his head towards his belt and used his free hand to shove the mask onto his face so hard it might have bruised molten magma melting through his varicose veins and serrated stone screaming its way into his skin and tendons tightening and cramping through to the crevasses of his joints and

and

and he was a Goron, splayed on his side, the wind shoving at him face on, his added mass and the friction of his rough, gravelled skin against the ice affording just enough force to maintain inertia against the gale threatening to cast him off the edge.

"Okay. Okay, good. Now crawl forward and please don't die," said a voice somewhere to his side.

As gently as he could, Link rolled onto his belly, not daring to expose more surface area to the wind than was necessary, and spider-crawled the remaining thirty feet towards solid ground. The ice cracked ominously underneath him whenever he shifted his legs forward.

As soon as he'd made it back to a wider part of the path, he clambered to his feet, head low, and stumbled back the way he'd come, before reaching flat, snowy ground and collapsing onto his back.

"Goddesses," he breathed, more thankful he'd survived than terrified.

Tatl landed by his side, keeping a close eye on him as he pulled the mask off and returned to his human shape.

They both stared across the distance between them and the citadel. Airborne flakes of frost and snow whizzed by at unthinkable speeds showing the wind growing in ferocity, swirling around the Snowhead citadel like a tornado or an airborne moat, before — just as inexplicably as it had begun — beginning to fade away.

After a few minutes, the air was still again, as if the inclement weather had been entirely their imagination.

Link closed his eyes, pushing the raw terror and the narrow escape behind him. That was in the past. This wind, whatever it was, was a complication. This was just a complication. They'd find a way around this somehow.

He deflated, the tension sinking out of his frame. He looked a little bit more like a ten year old boy again.

"This is how Darmani died, isn't it?" said Tatl quietly.

Link bowed his head.

They had barely talked about the Goron hero since his ghost had departed to the afterlife, leaving behind the Goron mask: an embodiment of his strength. Though they'd both spoken to Darmani, it was Link who he'd entrusted with ending the Snowhead blizzard and ensuring the Goron tribe's safety.

The thought that Darmani's body still lay shattered across the rocks and ice below was not a comfortable one.

"He'll never get a proper burial, will he?" said Link.

"You don't know that," said Tatl. "Maybe once the storm clears someone will come for him."

The preposterousness of that statement lingered in the air for a few seconds.

"...okay, maybe not," said Tatl. "But we helped him, remember? At least he left this world peacefully."

"Peacefully isn't happily," said Link.

Tatl glared at him. "Link. What do you want to do, go back in time and save him? It was weeks ago, and even if we could go back your damn time travel rules mean we couldn't change anything. You're..." She gesticulated wildly. "Ugh. You're being morbid for the sake of morbid. And not the fun kind of morbid, either."

"I'm not being morbid, I'm..." Link turned to look at Tatl. "What's the fun kind of morbid?"

"And here I thought you knew me."

Link smiled. Then his face turned serious again.

He nodded towards Snowhead. "How are we going to make it across there?"

"I don't know," said Tatl. "The wind's strength is insane. Tael and I have ridden hurricanes with less oomph."

Link rose to his feet shakily. "It's got to be magic, right? Like how that monster in Woodfall caused all that poison water in the swamps."

"I don't doubt it, but that doesn't make much difference."

"Can you... do whatever it is you do to look at spells?"

"Auramancy?" Tatl shrugged. "I don't see how that's going to help us with a weather problem."

"A weather curse, remember."

"Yeah, yeah, okay."

Tatl settled to a perch on Link's shoulder and bowed her head, eyes staring forward intently.

A few seconds passed. Tatl's eyes narrowed further and further, yet the faerie stayed unusually silent.

"What do you see?" said Link, after it had been more than long enough.

"Um," said Tatl.

Link looked at her expectantly.

"I... I think the storm is messing with my vision," Tatl said finally. "I'm not seeing... anything sensible."

"What do you see?" said Link.

Tatl played nervously with her fingers. "I... look, there's all sorts of weird refraction and distortion going on with the auras around here. You know, things appearing the wrong shape, or, um, size."

Link frowned. "So you can't make anything out?"

"Nothing that explains this wind," said Tatl.

She rubbed her eyes disbelievingly.

"Look, let's just... go back and see if the Gorons have any tools we can use to get across."

It seemed a waste. But with the wind howling dangerously across the ice and Tatl looking like she'd seen a ghost, there didn't seem much else for it. Link sighed, turned, and began to trudge back down the path.

-oOo-

Halfway to the village, they spotted a earthy brown dot in the distance, visible at once against the bleak white of the path.

"What's that?" said Tatl.

"I don't know," said Link, hand drifting slowly to his sword.

As they approached, they were better able to make out a shape.

"Is that... the Goron elder? From yesterday?" Link squinted through the snow ahead. "That can't be right."

"Definitely him," said Tatl after a moment. "His aura's pretty distinctive. Kind of... lightning-struck cedar, but not smoky."

"But... we left him inside that cabin—"

"...yesterday morning," interjected Tatl.

Link paused mid-sentence, lost for words.

"What?" said Tatl. "You were expecting him to just stand in the same place all day? People don't do that."

"He'd already half frozen to death once," said Link. He broke into a dash (made heavy by the thickness of the snow), and stopped by the shivering Goron's side. "And we told the rest of the Gorons to come pick him up. Why would he..."

"He was pretty damn determined," said Tatl sadly. "C'mon. Let's get this guy back indoors before we have a popsicle on our hands."

-oOo-

A cabin
Village, The Northern Mountains

Link kicked the door shut behind him. It slammed shut twice as loudly as he'd intended, and he winced: with the Goron mask on, he literally didn't know his strength, and he'd already broken that same door once.

"It's a what?" he said to Tatl, striding with thunderous Goron footsteps to the next room, where the fireplace they'd lit for the Elder the previous morning had just about run its course.

"Juice or something, frozen, with a stick through it. I can't vouch for the stick, but the frozen part tastes great."

Link crouched and laid the Elder gently on the ground, before moving to throw a blanket over the side of his body facing away from the fire.

"Why would you want food ice cold?" he asked.

"Ever had a refreshing drink of water from a cool stream on a hot day?" said Tatl.

"Yes...?"

"Well, that reason, times a thousand. It's pretty good."

"It's so good that people pay trained mages to freeze the juice for them? People who've spent their lives studying elemental magic?"

"Yes. And yes, it's pricey. But again, worth it. Plus..." Tatl glanced around, as if expecting to see anyone besides the two of them and an elderly frostbitten Goron in the room. "...they're cheaper on the black market. Sometimes fresher, too. They get ice-breathing monsters to do the dirty work."

Tatl watched as Link rekindled the fire.

Over the course of many long minutes, the elderly Goron's breathing returned to normal. The ice that had crystallised on his back began to melt.

Not long after, the Goron Elder's eyes opened: glassy; they drifted confusedly around the room before spotting Tatl's yellow glow.

"You... again?" The Elder's eyes didn't so much narrow at her as twitch, the muscles around his brow too numb to move properly.

"Yeah, me. The faerie who just saved your life a second time."

"Why are you..."

Link shifted slightly where he stood. The movement caught the Elder's eye — he turned his head slightly, caught sight of Link, and broke into a coughing fit. When his breathing had cleared, he stared straight at Link, incredulously.

"Da..."

He coughed again, shuddered.

"...Darmani?"

Link blinked, then looked down at his hands. He'd forgotten to take off the mask. He looked every bit the Goron hero the Elder mistook him for.

He fished for words. "I..."

"F-forgive me..." the Elder stammered, voice mournful. "I sent you... your death..."

"I'm not..."

...not Darmani? Link looked at his body again. For all anyone but Tatl could tell, he was. The only visible difference between him and the deceased warrior was the ill-fitting green cap on his head.

"...I'm not angry at you," he finished instead.

The lie tasted awkward in his mouth, and he could feel heat beginning to burn through his face. This isn't right, he thought. But Darmani had trusted him. But with his body, not his identity. But if the Elder would listen to Darmani's voice, perhaps he could do more good this way. But I have no right to do that. But...

Mid-train of thought, Link caught Tatl's eye. She was nodding almost imperceptibly.

Emboldened, he muttered a silent prayer to Darmani's spirit, and turned back to the Elder.

"Elder. It's time to go home," he said, and not until that moment had he noticed how strong and gentle this stony voice of his sounded. "Your people need you."

The Elder's head moved slightly. "Darmani..."

"The other villagers came to find you yesterday," Link said. "Didn't they?"

A guilty pause. Then: "I... left. Saw them. But... had to... go... Snowhead..."

Link exhaled sadly. It was as he'd expected.

"Why?" he asked the Elder.

"Someone must... stop the winter..."

"But it doesn't have to be you," said Link softly. "The mountain is treacherous. You're needed at home."

"But... I need to save my people..."

"They need your guidance. I told you, remember?"

(Link winced as he realised 'Darmani' hadn't ever talked to the Elder about this before, but the frost-bitten Goron didn't seem to notice.)

"I cannot... sit here doing... nothing."

"Helping them survive the cold isn't doing nothing."

"I had to... They need a hero, Darmani... Like... you..."

"They don't need a hero right now. They need a leader."

"But I... can save them..."

Link clenched his teeth. "They need a leader more than they need your heroic sacrifice."

"Someone must..."

"Then let us!"

"You're... illusion," the Elder croaked. He shook his head slowly. "You're dead."

Link corrected himself: "Let the faerie and the boy do that for you!"

"The faerie... and the human? No, no..."

"Darmani trusted them — I mean, I..." Link's voice caught for a second, and Tatl caught a glimpse of how much it was paining him to impersonate Darmani like this. "I trust them. Let them do it."

"No... Darmani, we can't..." The Elder's voice cracked. "We mustn't rely... on the strength of strangers."

"You don't have any other options," said Link. His voice was gaining the faintest hints of a growl; Tatl shifted nervously.

"We mustn't rely... on the strength of strangers."

"Who's left? Your people are floundering without you. You can't go off to Snowhead and leave them to fend for themselves."

"I am their leader... I must save them..."

Link's voice rose to a roar. Tatl's hair stood on end. Does he know he's being that loud?

"You're not going to save anyone marching off to die in Darmani's footsteps! Your people are freezing and huddling together in your village, with no idea what to do with themselves! They've lost Darmani, and they think they're going to lose you too, and they're struggling to keep things going without you! Your son has been crying non-stop since you left the village! They need you there, not here!"

In the corner of her eye, Tatl thought she saw a flicker of movement. She turned and saw Darmani's ghost himself standing besides Link, the same fiercely protective glare in both their eyes, the same melancholy bubbling up as rage within their fists.

She gaped.

"Are you...?" she whispered.

Darmani's ghost met her eyes, nodded in solidarity, and then blinked out of existence.

A few minutes later, she would convince herself she'd imagined the whole thing. But at that moment, she was almost certain that somehow, thanks to his soul in the mask, Darmani had been speaking through Link...

...or, perhaps, that the Goron warrior and human boy were more alike than she'd realised.

Link and the Elder stared at each other in silence for a few long minutes.

The Elder's face twisted through mixed expressions of hurt, confusion and guilt, until finally he spoke.

"My... son?" he said.

Link met the Elder's defeated look with an impassive face. He said nothing.

"My son is crying?" the Elder said.

Link gave a slow, solemn nod.

"But... he's... a strong one. He doesn't need... be scared."

"He misses you," said Link.

The Elder turned this phrase over in his mouth as if it was completely foreign to him. "Misses? My son is crying... because he misses me?"

He shook his head: slowly, disbelievingly.

"How do you know that?"

"Because all your people tell me so."

Comprehension crept onto the Elder's face like a slow-dawning sunbeam. He blinked: once, twice. The epiphany washed gradually over his countenance.

"Forgive me, my child," he whispered. The ice surrounding his eye condensed: a single drop of water formed. "Your father has work to do."

Link placed one thick hand on the Goron's shoulder. "Elder. Your work isn't out here battling the elements. It's at home with your people."

The Elder met Link's gaze for a time. Then, he nodded.

"I... understand. Darmani... you must protect... tribe..."

"I..." Link paused, at two minds about a promise he couldn't keep. "I will do whatever I can."

"By the way," said Tatl (Link jumped; he'd forgotten she was in the room), "you might not want to go straight outside again. You look like you're on death's door."

"Can you... send the...?"

"We'll send your villagers back for you," Link assured him. "Just stay here and let your body recover."

The Elder nodded. "For now... If you feel pity for my crying son..."

"What do we do?" said Link.

"Please quietly sing him to sleep for me."

Link nodded. "Okay. We will."

He began to turn around, but the Elder interrupted him.

"No... not just... sing... Sing him this song I am about to play..."

The Elder began to tap his fingers on the floor. Link crouched down low, cocking an ear towards the sound.

The old Goron hummed slowly in time with his beating fingers. The music was strange and foreign, and it was hard to be sure, but Link thought he could just pick out the line of the melody despite the tunelessness of the Elder's voice.

"It is the very same melody... played for you when you were young..." the Elder whispered, as his tapping came to an end.

"I'll remember it," Link said.

"Sing my son to sleep," said the Elder.

"I will," said Link.

"Don't you worry," said Tatl. "We'll sing the living daylights out of him if we need to."

"That... just sounds threatening," Link muttered aloud.

After a pause, in which he reassured himself he wasn't forgetting to do anything, he turned and moved towards the door of the house.

"I..." Tatl frowned, and whispered to Link: "Is he going to run off again?"

"I... hope not," Link whispered back.

He looked back towards the Elder, speaking so that he could hear:

"Promise me you'll stay where you are."

"Sing my son... to sleep," said the Elder.

It wasn't a direct response, but his slow breathing and relaxed eyes seemed to indicate yes. That was probably the best answer they were going to get.

"Hush now," said Link. "We'll send someone to get you."

"Again," muttered Tatl.

"Sing... son... sleep," said the Elder.

His eyes drifted closed.

-oOo-

A few minutes along the path to the Goron village, Tatl found the nerve to ask the question that had been buzzing on her mind.

"What's gotten into you?" she asked. "You're so... grumpy, all of a sudden."

"He's doing the wrong thing."

"Yeah, and so is that world-eating parasite of a mask attached to Skull Kid's face, but that never made you throw a tantrum."

"But the Elder isn't just doing the wrong thing by his people. He's doing the wrong thing by himself, too. His people don't like him being gone, but look at him. Even out there on the path you could see he was in misery, clear as day...

"It was like a penance. Pointless. The same way that Kafei was putting himself and Anju through pain by hiding and doing nothing. It's all self-sacrifice for its own sake. Nobody's happy."

"And what about you, then?"

Link shot her a look. "What do I have to do with—"

"You're the one playing the hero here. Does that make you happy?"

Link scowled and said nothing.

-oOo-

Goron Village
The Northern Mountains

There was no sentry outside the Gorons' shrine, but the snow had worsened and so Link and Tatl only noticed this when they were within a stone's throw of the building. There was no one to let them in.

"Are you sure you want to do this?" said Tatl. "We could be waiting for hours before someone comes to open the door. And no offence, but I don't think you're strong enough to lift it yourself."

"We shouldn't need help," said Link, visualising the dramatic looking ground-pound he'd seen one sentry use to open the door.

"Yeah, but..." Tatl gesticulated helplessly. "Why are we bothering?"

"Remember how we spent a good two days wandering around the swamp, helping people out, until we found our way to Woodfall?"

"By dumb luck, you mean? Remember how you insisted on spending all of yesterday as a glorified relationship counsellor and then nothing happened?"

"Touche." Link crouched down, feeling the tendons of Darmani's body coiling like a magmatic spring.

"That does not answer my question."

Link leapt into the air, tucked his arms and legs in, and slammed into the ground with the pointiest parts of his Goron body, his elbow and hip.

The impact was loud and resonating. It barely jarred him, but the ground certainly suffered — as Link rolled to his feet, he saw a slight crack in the solid rock right where he'd landed.

Whoops, he thought, as the massive stone doors to the shrine rolled open, their mechanism triggered by the shockwave.

"Warn me next time, why don't you," hissed Tatl, rubbing at her ears sullenly.

"Sorry," said Link. He started to move, paused, then turned to look at Tatl.

"You know, if you're really not sure we ought..." he began.

Tatl rolled her eyes. "Link. Chill. If I actually minded being here, I wouldn't be here. Simple as that."

Link let out a breath he hadn't realised he'd been holding. "That's good to know, Tat—"

"Also, seeing as you live under a rock and all: 'chill' is a figure of speech and I'm—"

"I know."

"—not actually suggesting you go freeze to death—"

"I know."

They entered the shrine side by side. A few Gorons' heads turned in their direction, glaring at the icily swirling air that followed them in, but not a moment later those same glares had turned to gapes.

The word began there, with the Gorons by the door, and rippled ahead of Link and Tatl as they strode across the bottom-level floor of the shrine. The word was whispered; first quietly, below anything Link could hear (the baby's wailing once again earsplitting even on the opposite side of the building), then more loudly, murmurs; open countenances of disbelief and hanging jaws and eyes tracking them; the Gorons all frozen in place.

WAAAAAAAAAHH IIIIIIAAAAAAAAA WAAAAAIIIUUUUUUAAAAAIIIAAAAAAH UUUUAAAAAAAAAAAAIIIAAAAH

The same word — "Darmani?" "Darmani?" "Darmani!" "Darmani..." — was uttered incredulously again and again around them as they strode through the Gorons, some of whom had turned pale upon seeing what could only have been a ghost, others weeping in what might have been relief and what might have been sorrow.

"You know, if they start talking to you and realise you're not the real deal, we're in a world of trouble," said Tatl.

"Let's just stay quiet," Link muttered back. A thought occurred to him, and he raised his voice at the next Goron they passed: "You! Send someone down to get the Elder. He's still in the human village."

The Goron blinked dazedly, then, after a few seconds, comprehended and immediately took to his heels.

"Ehh, at least you're not stopping for autographs," muttered Tatl, just loud enough to hear.

UUUUUUNNNNNNIIIIIIIIIHHHH GH-WAAAAAAAAAHHHHH U-IIIIYAAAAAAAAAAAAANNNNAAAAAAAHHHH

The Elder's baby's chamber was at the very top of the building. Link and Tatl made their way up around the spiralling ramp that led there; he, marching forwards with purpose; she, alternately darting ahead and then blasting back behind, physically repelled by the baby's noise.

In all fairness, the baby's noise was earsplitting. As they entered his chamber, the noise seemed to intensify tenfold, echoing madly off the walls and leaving Link wishing that they'd put the child in a slightly less enclosed space. There were three or four Gorons around the room, ostensibly keeping watch of the baby, but all of whom were just crouching on the ground with their hands clapped over their ears, in visible pain.

Link stepped closer, his eyes running past (and dismissing) the rough sloping dome of the room and the cradle-like bed on which the baby lay and, instead, honing in on the baby himself.

The Elder's baby was curled in a ball, lying on his side, and his eyes were screwed shut. He was bawling with such intensity that had he been an adult Goron the building would be caving in.

Tatl said something: "...you going..."

"What?" Link shouted back.

Tatl flew in perilously close to his ear, and repeated, "Are you going to sing the kid to sleep or what?" Her voice was so ringing and painful at this distance it was all Link could do to avoid reflexively clapping a hand to his ear. Squashing Tatl wouldn't solve any problems. (Any real problems, anyway.)

"Not singing," Link said laconically. He reached for his belt. "This will work better."

The Ocarina of Time felt tiny in his enlarged, rocky fingers. He had no doubt he could crush it with these ungainly fists.

But Link wasn't too concerned. When he'd been a Deku scrub, the ocarina had transformed itself into a set of wooden horns perfectly suited to his form. He didn't doubt the same would happen here. He made to lift the fragile clay instrument to his lips...

...but as it turned out, the mere intent to play the ocarina had barely been formulated in his mind when all of a sudden it reacted and started to transform in his hands.

When the ocarina had turned into the Deku horns, it had melted. Now, it unfolded. Lines and seams appeared between the finger holes where there had been none moments before. Its blue surface unrolled into secret compartments in ochre tones, geometric forms unravelling like origami into something larger in Link's hands, forming a line of ceramic hexagons that unspun themselves into a line of stone cylinders that blossomed into hefty...

"...drums?" Tatl rolled her eyes, her exasperated look cutting clear through the Goron baby's wailing. "Naturally the... always picks... most... if you..."

"I can't hear you," said Link.

WAAAAAAAIIIIIIIIAAAAAAIIAHHH

The drums he held in his hands, all subtly different sizes, felt heavy, even with his increased strength... as if made of stone. Just as he found himself struggling to keep his grip on them, the last of the drums unfolded into place and spat out long bands that wrapped thick and flat around him: tongues of leather hide crisscrossing their way across his torso, attaching loosely but securely to his body. Link relaxed his grip and let the new straps around his body take the drums' weight. He inhaled and exhaled, feeling the gentle pressure of the quintet of drums around the front of his rotund belly.

The Gorons in the room appeared stunned speechless. They stood, stock-still and wide-eyed, perhaps trying to remember every last detail so that they could one day tell their children how they had seen Darmani's spirit march into a room and conjure an instrument out of thin air.

HIIIIIIUUUUUAAAAAAH WAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHNNNNIIIIIIAAAAAAAA AAAAAAAAAIIIIIUUUUAHHHH

Link caught Tatl's eye. She shot him a look: Well?

He looked at the drums — for a moment, hesitantly, then, trusting in the ocarina's magic and in whatever providence had gotten him this far, detachedly — and raised a palm high in the air, bringing it down on the surface of the drum immediately in front of him.

THUNNNNNN

The noise filled the chamber. It was much, much louder than Link had been expecting. The reverberation went straight to his core. He could feel his bones vibrating.

Initially he'd wondered how he was going to play the Goron elder's melody with something so percussive. But now he could hear: there was song in the drums' timbre. And more importantly, when he'd struck that one note, he felt the same connectedness which he had when he'd played on the ocarina for the very first time. This would work, he thought.

The drum's echoing faded.

It took Link a moment to realise what sounded odd.

He looked up. The Elder's baby had stopped crying. Instead, his eyes were fixed on the drums in Link's hand, watching, fascinated.

But then as the silence persisted, the baby's face began to crinkle up again—

Without pause, Link raised and brought down his great hands again and began to play the old Goron's lullaby.

thun thum thum thun THUMMMM thum

In his peripheral vision he could see the baby, watching, listening, mesmerised. He could feel the eyes of other Gorons in the room watching him too. Something about the music had their absolute attention.

His eyes drifted closed.

Once he stopped thinking about it, the act of playing was a hundred times easier. Perhaps it was the ocarina's magic translating thought to action as it had with the Deku horns, or perhaps a part of him understood the music on a subliminal level that his waking mind never would. His hands found where they needed to go without any conscious direction. All he had to do was listen to the Goron Elder humming in his mind, and everything else just flowed from that.

The music was a series of steady tones, rising and falling like drips of water on a cavern floor. The sound of melting stalactites lurked amidst the regular drum beats, mournful and dolorous yet also peaceful.

Listening to the sound of drums as his hands and Darmani's muscle memory took over, Link began to understand how such a song could be a lullaby despite the percussive staccato that conjured it. The noise was strong, but it was strength without force or fire behind it. In many ways it was very much like the Gorons themselves.

The music came to an end.

Link's eyes opened.

The room, finally, was silent. The baby lay on his bed, eyes closed, chest gently rising and falling. There was a hint of a smile on his face.

"Sleep well," Link breathed. He felt a wistful smile forming on his own face.

He loosened his grip on the drums and like paper-art clockwork they folded in on themselves back into the form of his ocarina in a matter of moments. It sat there, tiny, in his hand, looking for all the world like an ordinary thing of clay.

Tatl alighted on his shoulder so gently that he only heard, not felt it.

"They look so peaceful," she said fondly.

"They do... They?"

The yellow faerie swept her arm around the room. "Them."

The Gorons who had been keeping vigil by the baby's side had also slipped into slumber. Some of them had fallen to the ground, snoring quietly; others remained in their seats, their heads slumped gently forwards.

"They all fell asleep," said Link, surprised.

"Really?" Tatl replied, keeping her voice low.

They stepped outside the chamber, where an interior balcony overlooked the rest of the cavernous building.

It hadn't just been the Gorons in the baby's chamber. All the Gorons they'd passed on the way in were now sound asleep. They had stopped in the middle of whatever they were doing and now lay on the floor, breathing slowly and peacefully. Along the main spiral ramp around the room, a few Gorons had parchment or pelts still clutched in their hands. On the bottom floor, two Gorons who had been in conversation lay curled together like sleeping kittens.

They all looked at ease. Gone was the bewilderment and misery on their faces: all that remained were weak smiles of weary contentment.


A/N: Lately, it seems the less I expect to enjoy writing a chapter, the more I do.

Thanks to everyone who checked to see if I was alive :P Full-time employment is not always conducive to fanfic writing ;_; Kudos especially to my beta reader / muse / pain-in-the-ass "have you written any Insomnia this week?" agitator, Lenore. I'd also like to thank my agent, and whoever first invented snark: I couldn't have written Tatl without you.