Brief Author's Note: I apologize for breaking my promise. Life has been getting in the way of all the things I want to do, and because of this I've realized that I cannot make any promises about the timing of posting chapters here. I can promise, however, that I have not forgotten about this story and I still full intend to continue writing it. This year has simply been incredibly trying. On the bright side, I'm through most of the worst parts, and I'm looking forward to having a lot more time to dedicate to this story and my writing in general. Also, I'll try not to leave you hanging too long here; I'm really excited about what comes next, and it's incredibly likely that I will procrastinate on work to write more in the next few days. I've spent a looong time on this chapter, and while I'm not sure what to think, I've decided I just have to get it posted so I can move on. I hope it's worth the wait!


Chapter 42:

A Short Break

"I don't like this, I don't like this, I don't like this..." Pike muttered under his breath, glancing warily at every Sheikah he passed. As much as he tried to steel his nerve, he couldn't mask the frenetic bounce in each step he made towards the field. It was taking all his mental effort to come up with ways to keep himself focused.

Hum a little. Humming's good, he told himself. And smile, he added. In cue with his mental instruction, he beamed at no one in particular, only too aware of the awkward way his lips stretched tightly across his teeth and caused his cheeks to cramp. You know what they say, smiling makes you feel better, and at least you'll go down with a big fat grin on your face before they beat the living shit out of you, you happy, dead son of a bitch.

Needless to say, it wasn't going so well.

It wasn't even that he thought his role in the plan was unfair. In fact, he had to admit that he had the simplest job of all of them. The others were headed straight for Dark Link. The most he was headed for were fierce screams and angry glares from the Sages. Though to be fair, Impa was pretty terrifying, and even knowing how gentle Darunia could be, he wasn't excited about seeing him at his most furious.

As long as they get mom and Jem out of there. That was his biggest concern. That they were able to ensure their families' safety was the only thing that he envied about the others' route. Dark Link on the other hand...well, Pike had no desire to get himself killed. And he supposed he should be grateful that the Sages were the worst of his worries. But even so, that didn't make facing them any easier.

Far off to the left he could see Hayden, watching him carefully as he proceeded. The Sheikah didn't look all that comfortable in Pike's clothes - they'd had to swap to make his Sheik guise convincing - but at his sour expression, Pike couldn't help but feel a twinge of irritation.

"Yeah, you sit there feeling sorry for yourself," he hissed. "Like I asked for this either."

Talking to himself. That was the new plan. It was working a little better than the others, he noted with a small glimmer of hope. He needed something if he was going to get through all this. Already he had drawn the attention of half the Sheikah he'd seen, but what with all their blank, composed expressions he hadn't the slightest clue if they were aware of what Sheik's presence meant. He didn't know if they even recognized Sheik.

"I swear to Farore, if I ever get that face from Hayden again, I'll punch it straight," he promised himself, his step picking up into a brisk jog. Hmmm, seemed like a little bit of violence helped to hold back the terror even more. "Set them all straight. They think they can set me up like this? I'll show them who's boss!" The grin that spread across his face this time didn't feel awkward at all. Suddenly feeling more confident, he chanced a glance behind him. A few Sheikah were definitely speeding up to match him, he decided. Their faces were perfectly blank of emotion, as flat and unreadable as stone - but he'd been around Blaze more than long enough to know what that meant. "That's right," he beamed, turning back to face the pass into Hyrule Field. "Who's the boss? Pike's the boss! I'm gonna outrun you, and your Sages, and save the day, oh yeah. Look, you pansies haven't got anything on m - oh shit!"

In the brief second he'd looked away, the Sheikah behind him had charged forward like snakes, and when he looked over his shoulder again he nearly tripped over in shock at seeing how close they'd suddenly gotten. Whatever confidence he'd had a moment ago was long gone now. With a yelp, he broke into a full-out sprint towards the field, hoping it would be enough to open a little distance between them. The Sheikah moving lithely after him, however, were the least of his worries. It was only when the shrill whistle ripped through the air and a Gerudo - Jahnna, ironically enough - leapt down from the ledge above him that he really started to panic. He didn't know much about the Sheikah, but he'd learned back in the fortress that the Gerudo could pack a punch.

She hit on me first, the tease, he allowed himself a single bitter thought as he ran. She'd been batting her eyelashes and shooting him suggestive glances all that week before he'd finally decided to make a move. Funny how nobody seemed to remember that part of the story...

Just as quickly as Jahnna had leapt down, Pike heard her let out a high pitched grunt of pain, and Hayden appeared beside him. "They're almost out," the Sheikah, still looking incredibly awkward in his clothing, assured him. "Blaze just got the Ocarina. You just need to hold out a little longer. I'll give you what time I can, just keep running!"

"What the hell else am I gonna do?" he screamed right back, never slowing the pace. How in Farore's name did he get here so fast, and why isn't he the one running? he puzzled in his brain, before another Sheikah appeared just in front of him with a loud crack, shrouded in a cloud of smoke, as though he'd come out of nowhere.

Oh yeah, he remembered as his heart dropped into his stomach. That.

Before he'd even attempted to get past the new obstacle, another crack sounded through the air, and Hayden appeared in front of him once more - only this time suspended in mid-air. His momentum carried forward as he hurled towards the first Sheikah, kicking him in the gut and sending him to the ground.

"The Sages are coming!" he yelled excitedly as he pulled himself up again, but at that point, Pike had left him far behind. There was nothing but Hyrule Field before him, and a group of angry, powerful Sages hot on his tail. Sure, Hayden might be feeling good about the success of the plan, but he wasn't the one running, and there was still a little part of Pike that fervently wished something would go wrong. He was the one who was going to get caught, and he sure as hell wasn't about to let them do so easily.

"Hey! Slow down, you have to let them catch you!"

"Like hell I do!" Pike shot back easily. Another glance over his shoulder informed him that Impa and Nabooru were catching up. At Impa's ferocious glare, he lost all semblance of composure and started screaming as he sprinted forward faster than he ever had in his life.

"Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaghhhhhhh!"

The next crack was so close it was deafening, and before it could even register it in his brain, something landed hard on top of him and sent him face-down to the ground.

This was it. There could be no more running. He could give them no more time. He could only pray that what he had managed would be enough...and that Impa wouldn't murder him right then and there.

This had better be worth it, he thought miserably, clawing at the ground in a feeble last-ditch effort to escape.

"Don't even think about it," a harsh, female voice growled in his ear.

Impa. That had to be Impa.

He closed his eyes and braced himself for what was to come.

You guys owe me so big...


A Short Break

Impa didn't move until the other Sages had caught up. She was faster than the rest of them - she had always been faster - but she didn't dare run the risk of doing this without them. The last she had fought Aeria, she had been strong enough to overpower the girl on her own, but they hadn't fought since she'd been freed, and if what she had been told was true, Aeria was a lot more powerful than she used to be...

Several of the other Sheikah made it to them before the other Sages could catch up, leaping upon Sheik's arms and legs. After Nabooru had warned her, she'd made sure to alert them all. Sheik could remain a secret for her, but for Aeria...they couldn't take any chances.

The Sage of Shadow gritted her teeth as she wrenched Sheik's right arm behind his back, pulling hard. She had known it was going to take a lot to discourage Aeria from running, but even so, she really didn't want to have to do this...

"It's for your own good," Impa said sternly, then gave his arm a sharp yank.

The crack that went through the air was almost louder than the scream that accompanied it. She closed her eyes tightly, trying to push out the sound. The first thing she'd done since she got back was break her arm. She hadn't gotten to tell Aeria how much she had missed her, see how strong she'd become, tell her how proud she was, not even comfort her in her time of need. No, she just came back and broke her sword arm. And despite the fact that she couldn't do any of those things because she had been needed to plan a war, and that she had only done it to protect her, she still hated doing it.

"What did I tell you?" Nabooru said darkly as she came running towards them. Nabooru had always been nearly as fast as her, though the others still weren't that far behind. Surprisingly Darunia could really hustle when he meant to. "I don't suppose you had to time to warn her yet, huh."

"If I'd had any time I would have," Impa replied somewhat regretfully.

"Doesn't look like she'll be going anywhere fast," Darunia noted grimly as the other three Sages finally caught up to them. "Got her sword arm, did you?"

"She'll kill me for it, but it's effective," she answered. Aeria wasn't going to be able to even practice for weeks now...if she didn't hate her before, Impa was willing to bet she did now...

It's for her own good, she told herself now. You did what you had to. But no matter what she tried to tell herself, she couldn't help but wish that it had been one of the others that had caught the girl and accomplished the deed instead.

She'd held her back. Just like she'd held Zelda back. Not even Zelda had taken it well, and Aeria was much more volatile than she had ever been...

It was Sheik's voice that finally pulled her back into reality.

"That's not my sword arm," he groaned.

Impa frowned, looking back towards Sheik's back. Aeria used her right hand...it was definitely the right arm she had broken...

Something wasn't right...

"Impa..." Ruto spoke up in a strained voice. "Turn him over..."

"Back up," the Sage of Shadow commanded the other Sheikah, feeling herself tense up and her heart begin to race as she slowly rolled Sheik over onto his back.

She couldn't see past the shawl, and Sheik had his eyes squeezed tightly shut so that she couldn't see them either as he clutched his arm in pain. "I'm left-handed," the boy moaned, and Impa began to feel her heart grow cold. "Please don't kill me..."

"You'd better have a damn good reason why I shouldn't," Impa threatened, suddenly very much on edge. But even as she drew her blade, he opened his eyes, and her heart dropped into the very pit of her stomach.

Not red-orange. Not the color of Sheik's eyes.

The eyes of the boy before her were baby blue.

"It's not her," she said breathlessly, staring at him in horror.

"Impa..." Nabooru whispered.

"It's not her," she only repeated, dropping her knife and snatching at the shawl across the Sheik's face and the hat atop his head. A boy's face appeared, with shaggy, sandy blonde hair that was too short to be Sheik's, and those blue eyes that definitely weren't his either.

"That's one of the stable boys..." Nabooru gasped.

Realization hit Impa like a brick.

She knew that they had been watching for Sheik. She knew that they thought she might use him to escape.

"It's a decoy..." Impa whispered in disbelief. "Aeria...AERIA!"

"The Ocarina," Ruto gasped, her eyes wide.

Nabooru had already taken off towards Aeria's tent when Impa looked behind her, with Saria running as fast as her little legs could carry her just behind. Ruto in turn wheeled around and sprinted towards the tent they used for their meetings. Darunia, however, stayed firmly put, placing a firm hand on Impa's shoulder.

"Where is she," Impa hissed at the boy, one of Aeria's companions whom she had never met. He winced, obviously terrified.

"She's gone by now," another voice spoke up, just from the side. Another boy, with light brown hair and gray eyes, garbed in a dirty tunic, walked towards them with a determined look in his eye. As she examined him more closely, she sensed something very familiar about him...

"Hayden?" she suddenly blurted, remembering exactly where she had seen him before. He looked so different out of uniform...but then his uniform...

...was on the boy in front of her, she realized immediately.

"Blaze and Jezabel snuck into the Sages' tent while you chased after him," Hayden explained in a low voice. "We kept Aeria hidden so that no one would suspect. John and Tom were there to make sure that you were alerted and all chased him out of the tent. It won't be long before they get to Castletown."

Impa could hear every word, but none of them really sank in. She couldn't believe it...no...they couldn't have...

"She's not here!" Nabooru shouted in the distance, racing back from Aeria's tent as quickly as she could.

"Neither is the Ocarina!" Ruto yelled as well, emerging from inside the Sages' tent.

Impa could only stare at the boy in disbelief.

"She can't be gone," she said numbly. "We took every precaution...she couldn't have...not alone..."

"She wasn't alone," Darunia rumbled in a dark voice, squeezing her shoulder. "Impa..."

"But why would they help her?" she demanded. "Blaze knows it's suicide, they know how dangerous-"

"Impa...ma'am..." the blonde-haired boy interrupted her, his voice strained with pain. "She wanted me to give you this..."

As he reached into his pocket and pulled out a slip of paper, she felt her heart thumping dangerously fast.

"Aeria, if this is what I think..." she started. But as she unrolled the slip of paper she realized it was nothing at all like what she had thought it was.

It was the handwriting that made her heart stop dead in her chest. She'd know that handwriting anywhere.

Impa,

I've tried to give Aeria every protection I could, but if I don't get there before this letter does, then I'm afraid it's all up to you. They need mine and Link's blood to break the seal, as you know. But they have somehow discovered our daughter, which gives them an easier means of accomplishing their goal. We're taking her out of the Castle immediately through the servant's secret corridors. If they get their hands on her, she won't be able to fight back. It'll all be over.

I've instructed her that if we should get separated, she should find one of the guards and tell them to take her to Kakariko. I gave her the location of one of the Sheikan tunnels that will take her directly there. Look for her in the main passage between the Castle and Kakariko.

When you find her, it is imperative that no one remember her identity. I have enclosed a spell that will erase exactly that from the minds of all except the one who casts it. Hopefully it will keep the enemy from finding her once more.

Hold her hand while you say the incantation, and both of you will retain your memories. The incantation is as follows:

Memorum Erasi

The spell is not entirely temporary, nor is it permanent. It will last until the time at which it is safe for you to undo the curse with a counter-curse, or until your death, which will break the bind. The counter-curse is as follows. Do not use it until she is safe!

Memorum Renovo

These spells have no other control besides erasing her identity. If she is found or you release her identity, it will not erase this new knowledge. You must be sure that she remains hidden and undiscovered. These spells should help you to do so.

Please, keep her safe. Give her all my love.

Love,

Zelda

There was a name. Impa realized in that moment that she had never remembered the name of Zelda's daughter, never read it anywhere, and yet that fact had never concerned her.

As she read, she began to feel dangerously light-headed, and her heart raced within her chest, but she forced herself to stay firm. Now was not the time to fall to pieces. But no matter how strong her resolve, she could still feel the opening of that old wound.

The letter had been meant for her...it was over a decade old...how Aeria could have gotten her hands on it...

Even as she considered it, she noticed Aeria's familiar scrawl at the bottom of the letter, and though she dreaded what it could say, she forced herself to read it.

Impa,

If you're reading this, I'm already gone. I'm sorry that this is all I'll be able to give you before I go. I've missed you more than you could imagine.

The letter was meant for you. It always was. It was Rydin's fault, he was the Sheikah messenger who carried it off, but when he sent me back...I met them, Impa. She was my mother. Link was my father. They verified it in the Castle Records.

At that Impa's eyes widened, her hand covering her mouth as she struggled to take it all in. Her mind leapt to the ancient tome, secretly hidden in the recesses of her home...she should have thought to check it...but she'd believed that none were alive to open it. She had been wrong...but how...?

I was there during the attack. I fought with them in the Castle. I stayed until they told me to run...until it was too late...

She'd watched them die...that's why she'd been so devastated...that explained the age in her face...

Rydin betrayed them. When I went back, Zelda made me a copy of the letter...when she'd gotten me out of there as a child, she'd been attacked, and left the letter with him, not knowing he would betray her. He sent Dark Link to them. He used the spell to make everyone, to make me, forget. But I killed him. I killed him, and I remember everything.

That son of a bitch...

But that means I bear the blood of two triforce-bearers. I know that I have to go and fight. I can't wait for them to take me, and I won't let them have that chance. I have to act now. I can't do this without Christian, Impa. The only way to stop this for good is to set Ganondorf free, and the only way to do that is to go. I have to face Dark Link and break the seal. I have to go after Christian. I have to save him. I can't do this alone, and Hyrule can't take on Ganondorf's endless forces.

I'm the Hero of Time, Impa. Christian needs me. Hyrule needs me. I won't let them down.

I don't know if the spell will work for you or not, but I trust you to know when to use it if you can.

If I don't make it, tell the others that I'm sorry, that I tried my best, and that I love them all. But I love you most.

Love,

Aeria

As she reached the end of the letter, Impa could no longer maintain her resolve. Her Sheikah facade fell, her eyes glued to the letter in horror, and a single tear trailed down her cheek as she tried to piece everything together in her mind.

"What did it say," Nabooru asked in a worried voice, having returned only moments ago with Ruto and Saria. Impa could only hand her the letter, unable to say even a single word. As the Sage of Spirit's eyes scanned down the page, they widened in disbelief. "Sweet Farore, Din, and Nayru..."

"Nabooru," Ruto snapped, visibly irritated by the lack of information.

"She's the princess," Nabooru finally said breathlessly. Ruto, Saria, and Darunia immediately crowded around the letter, unable to believe it without proof.

"There's going to be a lot of monsters coming out of Castletown when she gets there," Hayden said darkly. "If there's any hope of her escaping...she's going to need some back up."

Impa raised her ancient, anxious eyes towards the Sheikah boy, realizing in that moment exactly what needed to be done. She gritted her teeth, trying to force away the shock and the pain of everything she had learned.

She'd lost a girl before. Never again.

"Gather the troops!"


I only let out my breath when we land on the slab of stone, marked with the triforce symbol, just above the Graveyard.

"Can we let me go now please?" Navi wastes no time in groaning as she squirms within Jezabel's tight grasp. I realize to my horror that Jez's knuckles are white from clenching her fist and that my fairy guardian, who for once in all this time is actually present and accompanying me like she's supposed to, is rapidly turning a frightening shade of purple.

"Let her go!" I gasp immediately.

Thankfully Jezabel gives a start and drops her before she can shift to red. Navi only falls a few inches through the air before she recovers, fluttering her wings until she's back up to shoulder height. Despite her recent history of neglect, I can't help but feel relieved as she slowly starts to shift back to her normal blueish hue.

"Thank Farore," Navi swears, struggling to regain her breath. "Gently would have been nice," she adds rather irritably.

"Oops," Jezabel returns, very clearly the only thing she can think of to say on the matter. Normally I would grin as Navi rolls her eyes and curses under her breath, but my mood is so heavily weighed down that I can't raise a full smile.

"What did you tell them?" she asks with a hard look.

That catches me off-guard. "What did I tell them?" I repeat in disbelief. "What did you tell the Sages?"

"Not a word of what you told me," Navi answers easily. She looks visibly annoyed now though. "I told you, your secret is safe with me. As if I would turn back on my word," she scoffs. Her tiny eyes flicker back towards the group around us. "So what do they know?"

"Let's just say it's not much of a secret anymore," I reply with an appropriate lack of enthusiasm. "But besides that. Why did you decide to come along?"

"For the same reason as them," she returns. "I've left you alone to fight before, Aeria, and I'm tired of it. I knew that the Sages weren't going to be enough to stop you this time, and I didn't want to be left behind again. I wanted to help." Without another second's hesitation, she flies over to hover over my shoulder. "It all comes down to sides. I could either be on their side controlling you, or I could be on your side, protecting you."

"So remind me again, whose side are you on? Just to be clear, in case I have to call you on it in the future."

Navi blows a wet raspberry at me, but settles down atop my head, so I'm assuming she can't really be as annoyed with me as she's trying to appear. "Yours, dummy," she answers in that deprecating way I'm so used to. "Better to be with you protecting you when you get into trouble than to be left behind trying to keep you out of it. That is my job, you know. Protecting you and all."

At that, I smile as best I can, given the circumstances.

I have my fairy guardian. Just like old times.

Farore how I miss the old times.

"How much time do we have?" I ask aloud, forcing myself to the railing facing the Graveyard. The new graves that I'd struggled to ignore when Jez sent me back are there, joined by even more. The grass is no longer spotty where the witches' flame and ice attacks had hit, but has seemingly grown in better than before...probably fed by the blood of the dead. That's something I don't want to think about, but it remains there nonetheless, a hard fact in my mind.

Almost four months since the battle here. Longer since I first set out for Castletown. It feels like a lifetime...and for me it may very well be what's left of a lifetime...but so it was for the people buried here, and they hadn't let that stop them. They had died so that Hyrule might have a chance of being saved. Of being better.

Never have I understood that better than now.

"A few hours," Tom says quickly, taking in his surroundings. "Should be more than long enough, if we can move quickly. First thing's first," he starts up again, turning back towards the cliffs, where the entrance to the Shadow Temple looms over us. "We'll have to get everyone out of the Castle, to somewhere safe."

"So there actually is a plan behind all of this..." Navi notes a little too earnestly. I let this one slide. I'm just happy she came.

"The Caverns you and Hayden spoke of, do you think they'll be safe enough?" John asks.

"Safer than Castletown," Blaze answers somewhat darkly. "They're definitely large enough. And with the tunnels going directly between the Castle and Kakariko, they're our best bet for getting everyone out."

"So you know a way into the Castle?"

"Um..." is Blaze's uncomfortable response. "Strictly speaking...no, not really..."

"Hmph," Jezabel snorts, crossing her arms. "Some Sheikah you make. Hayden said there were tons, I'd have thought you'd have found at least one by now..."

"Well fortunately I could care less about what Hayden said," Blaze shoots back irritably. But I know him better than that. I can tell from the way he's trying to maintain that cool and collected expression that she's wounded him pretty good. We take great pride in our knowledge of the passageways.

"What about you?" Jez turns to me now with an arched eyebrow. "You're the other Sheikah here. Please tell me you didn't put us through all this trouble without thinking of a way to get us to the Castle..."

"I do," I answer, grinning wryly as I turn back towards the Graveyard. We could all use a little humor. "But you're not going to like it..."

"You're joking," Jez says in horror, staring down into the deep, dark hole at our feet. Moments ago it had been covered by a small headstone, marked solely by the Sheikah symbol, but Blaze, Tom, and John had made short work of moving it aside. "We can't go down there...no...no, absolutely not..."

"Come on Jez," Blaze coaxes her, already lowering himself into the empty grave via the ladder built along the side. "You'll be right behind me the whole time. You trusted me with the water, right?"

"That's not the same," she argues fiercely. But nonetheless, she lowers herself to the ground, biting her lip as she climbs onto the ladder and begins her descent. John gives me a small nod, and I figure that's my cue, so I crawl down right behind her.

"Water, empty graves, what's the difference?" I hear Blaze's voice echoing from further below as I climb downwards. When I look up towards the sky again, John's already made it in, and Tom's halfway there, pausing only to slide the headstone back into place behind us. As the tunnel goes completely dark, Jezabel lets out a groan.

"This is crazy...you're all crazy...living underground...no one in their right mind would ever go down here..."

"Call us crazy, call us macabre, if it's keeping everyone else out, it serves its purpose," Blaze replies easily. "I think I hit the bottom...it's lit down here..."

"Yes, because a little bit of lighting makes being underground that much better," Jezabel mutters sarcastically. But thanks to the torchlight down below, by the time the rest of us finally make it to the bottom of the tunnel we can all see that she's calmed down a little. "Only one way to go now," she notes, staring at the long stone passageway before us.

"About that," I start with a small grin, wasting no time in leading the way. The others don't hesitate to follow suit. "On your right, just up ahead, there's a finicky little part of the wall that looks just a little different from the rest of it." As we pass it, I make sure to point it out. "It's an illusion. That'll get everyone safely into the Caverns once they leave the Castle."

One look at Jezabel's face makes it all worth it.

"We could have gone in through the Caverns?" she demands. "You mean we didn't have to go dropping into some random grave, no, we could have walked in easily from the Caverns?"

"Well, this way was quicker," I answer innocently, but even as I continue, I can't fight back a laugh. "Plus, I really wanted to see your face."

Blaze lets out a chuckle as well, much to Jezabel's irritation. "I hate you," she reminds us both bitterly.

"No you don't," I smile beatifically. "You love us to pieces. You just don't want to admit that you've gone soft for a couple cave-dwellers."

"I have not gone soft," Jez hisses, flexing her fingers threateningly.

"Either way, it'll be easier to get everyone to safety through there than to have them crawl out into the Graveyard," I tell Tom and John, effectively changing the subject before Jez can make good on her threats. After the whole grave endeavor, I won't be the one to test how far she is from the edge. Though I can't help but keep grinning at her scowling face.

"That'll definitely make it easier," Tom agrees as we walk forward. "Blaze, you'll have to lead everyone out...I'm not sure if I'll be able to catch that..."

"Well, Aer will be able to spot it out too of course," Blaze clarifies, shooting me a sidelong glance. "We can't leave until everyone's safely out of the Castle."

And with that one sentence, every bit of good humor within me just moments ago disappears.

We. He said we.

And now I know exactly why they agreed so easily to let me off on this crazy plan. Because they don't intend to let me go off to the Temple alone.

They intend to join me.

And though I'm grateful that they would stand by me against all odds, possibly to the very end...I have another plan entirely.

"Naturally," I answer without hesitation, the lie rolling easily off my tongue. "And then we'll all head to the Temple of Time."

"Yes, but we can worry about that later," Tom says quickly, seemingly eager to keep that topic from my mind. I make a mental note to slip out from under Tom's suspicious gaze as soon as possible. "We can start the evacuation ourselves, but the only way we'll be able to convince everyone to leave will be through Royal order...which is where you come in," he continues, looking directly towards me.

This time I don't have to feign anything. I frown in only too real confusion. "You're not suggesting..."

"Not what you're thinking," he replies. "In fact, we probably don't want to let slip that little detail until after we get through this."

Not like anyone won't know after we get through this, I think wryly to myself.

"What I mean is we'll have to seek an audience with the King," Tom explains, his face suddenly clouding over. Just beside him, John visibly stiffens.

The King...Christian's father...the one I never met, the mere mention of whose name was enough to darken his own son's expression...and my father's greatest friend...

I have a bad feeling about this.

"I don't understand," I frown once more. "Why me?"

"Because the King won't take audience with anyone else," John answers in a grim tone.

"Why not?"

John shoots Tom an apprehensive glance, and I feel my heart slide down into my stomach.

"He's not a very receptive man," Tom begins, choosing his words carefully. "He didn't react well to Christian's...well...being chosen by destiny...been rather hardened ever since..."

"Well the man saw his best friend's family murdered for carrying pieces of the triforce," John points out. "Except for you of course, but he doesn't know that. I doubt anyone would take that very well."

"So he'll listen to me because I carry the other piece of the triforce?" I ask.

"More like he'll allow you in his presence," Tom answers, giving off an air of cynicism.

"But will he listen to me?"

"More than he would to us," John says with a tone of finality, wearing a small, hopeful smile. I can only hope he's right; I have a feeling that my familial relations aren't going to carry over well in this situation.

"What about the Queen?" Blaze cuts in. "Why not talk to her?"

"Because in terms of authority, it all comes down to him," Tom explains. "She's more of the public face of the two, the go-between if you will, but the King is the one with the ultimate say. Remember, he's the one with the political background. It was not through his connections that he rose to be the chief advisor to your father back in the day."

"My mother," I correct him instantly, closing my eyes as yet another ancient memory flashes through my mind.

"What?"

"He was the chief advisor to my mother," I start again. "She was the primary ruling authority, both in my family and in royal matters. My dad was not much of a political type."

When I open my eyes again, the others are watching me with an odd variety of expressions, ranging from curious to concerned. It's the first thing I've told them since the initial revealing of my history, I realize. They don't know how to react.

Almost immediately I regret saying it. Part of me wishes I had never told them anything at all. But regardless of whether I'd wanted to or not, it got me past the Sages. It gave me a chance. And that's absolutely worth it.

Without a second thought, I act as though my last comment was never spoken, ignoring their faces and instead refocusing on the end of the tunnel only feet away. "It's here," I tell them, coming to a stop at the wall. That same wall that, last I saw it, had caved in during the fire...

"Aeria, go..." my mother's voice whispers to me. He's gone. The scary man in black has disappeared, but I don't know when he'll be back. "The Sheikah tunnels, dearest. You remember where they are, don't you?"

I nod, but as I look straight into her violet-blue eyes, I realize there's blood streaming from her forehead.

"Aren't you coming with me?"

She smiles, but it doesn't look right to me. She's smiling with her mouth, but her eyes don't look happy... "I can't go now, but I'll meet you there. I love you."

Slowly, I push back on the wall that's not a wall, slipping into one of the secret corridors. "I love you too mommy," I say, smiling back as best as I can, though I don't think my eyes are smiling either. Then I pull the wall to hide me once more, and my mother disappears from view...

As I walk forward, the air around me gets hotter and denser, but I push on as best as I can. The Sheikah tunnel shouldn't be far now...my mother had used it to take me back and forth to Kakariko, to visit Impa...

It's a wall, marked by the symbol the Sheikah...it's hard to notice unless you're looking for it, but I've taken this tunnel so many times...

I cough as I press forward, dragging my hand along the stone wall in attempts to feel the symbol. Finally, I feel a smooth bump. That's it.

I push with all my might, but I'm much smaller than my mother. I have to slam into it before it budges.

As soon as it moves forward though, there's a loud crashing noise, and suddenly the ceiling just above the entrance begins to crumble. I only leap backwards just in time to avoid being crushed. My heart races as the rubble finally settles, and I leap to my feet, pushing and pulling at the rocks desperately in attempt to get through.

It's not use. It's blocked. I take as deep a breath as I can, turning back towards the servant's corridor. If I can't get out there, I'll just have to get out another way...

So hard to breathe...

Smoke fills the hidden corridor, choking me as I stumble towards the end. The fumes penetrate my lungs, but the exit is just ahead...

I reach the end and fumble with the door, racing to escape the heat and coughing painfully from the effort just to breathe. Finally I give up and throw all of my weight against the wood. It slams open and I fall forward onto the ground, catching all of my weight on the palms of my hands.

"Hey!" someone shouts in alarm.

I look up into the familiar face of a Hyrulian guard. "Damian," I get out weakly, my throat dry and sore from the smoke. He looks back at me in surprise.

"Farore...you're alive!" he laughs in a hysterical sort of way. "By the goddesses!" Gently, he pulls me to my feet. "It's all right...everything will be all right...but we need to get your out of here." Anxiety clouds over his expression once more as he turns his head up towards the castle, now smoldering in flame like a giant torch. "Get on my back," he says firmly, ducking down to my level. "This is no place for little girls..."

I let loose a long, ragged breath as I step forward and push my weight up against the wall. I might have barely been able to move it as a child, but I'm a lot bigger now, and it gives way much more easily than it did then. As it slides to the side, revealing the servant's corridors, I take a deep breath and push away all thoughts of that terrible memory, before stepping through.

I've already seen people fall for my sake. I'm not going to let that happen again.

"If you run your hand along the wall on the way out, you'll feel the bump," I manage to get out through gritted teeth, picking up the pace almost as soon as I enter the corridor. I don't want to have spend any more time in this particular passageway than I have to. "It'll give...that's how you'll find it."

"Won't you be able to find it?" Jez asks breathlessly, having to jog behind me with the others to keep up. Luckily they don't have very far to run; we're at the entrance to the main part of the Castle merely seconds later.

"Not if I'm appealing to the King," I point out, this lie coming even more easily than the last. If all goes well, I'll be long gone by the time they finish evacuating the Castle...I just have to figure out how...

"You ought to be the one to see the Queen too," Tom decides to tell me just as I get the secret door open and it seemingly disappears within the structure of the Castle. "Find her first. They don't know their son's been taken. They have no idea what happened. But they know that he was with you, and that you brought him back safely to them the last time. They'll trust you."

And that, combined with the fact that we emerge in the very same room where I saw my parents murdered, sends a fresh stab of pain into my heart and stops me in my tracks.

They died here to save me. Right here. Maybe it's not the exact room, given the necessary rebuilding, but a chill runs down my spine as I locate the place where we'd found my mother, bleeding on the ground...where Dark Link had appeared...where we'd finally been cornered...

I have to tell the Queen that her son is gone because of me. That they could be torturing him because of me. That he could die because of me. And I have to tell her that it's going to be okay, that he'll come back...somehow I have to make her believe me, when I spend half the time desperately trying to convince myself...

No. I'll save him. I won't let him end up like them...I can't...

I don't care what it takes, I won't let him die.

I just have to show her that I mean it.

It all becomes too much, and I have to close my eyes to block out the memories of the place.

He's there right now...in the Temple of Time...

He's so close...

That feeling comes back in full swing, the same feeling I'd felt when I'd run out onto the battlefield at the fortress. Suddenly the King doesn't matter to me at all. Nothing does. I won't let anything stand in between me and that Temple. This is what I've always wanted...what I've been trying to do from the beginning. To fight. To make a difference. If I have to face down a King to get there...to trick my friends to keep them from following...so be it. I'll do whatever it takes.

It's a touch on my arm that forces my eyes back open. Blaze has apparently noticed the hard look I'm sure is on my face, and gives my shoulder a small squeeze, but thankfully he doesn't ask about it. Though I'm pretty sure from what I've told them, he probably already knows.

I don't think that makes me feel any better.

"John, Blaze, Jez...you three should start evacuating as many people as you can," Tom dictates with an air of authority. "Starting with Pike's mother and Jem. Tell the rest of our families next, they'll be the most willing to believe us, and you know how fast they can spread the word."

Blaze and Jez immediately look towards John for direction, having never set foot in the Castle before, thought John doesn't appear the least affected by this newfound authority. "When should we look for you?" he asks, his jaw set.

"Give it two hours max," Tom estimates. "If they move out troops as soon as they're ready, the first wave will be here within a few hours at the most. Even sooner if they've got horses."

At that my heart sinks. I definitely remember seeing a number of black stallions harnessed in the Gerudo camp...

"And I'll find the Queen?" I repeat what I'd been told earlier.

"We'll find the Queen," Tom clarifies, his blue eyes lingering meaningfully on mine. Meaning, I'm watching you, so don't even think about trying anything.

I'm liking this 'we' thing less and less.

"Guess we'll see you all in about two hours," I say, determined to split up the group as quickly as possible now. Once we separate, there will only be one person stopping me from going to the Temple alone. It's clear that Tom intends to be my shadow, being that he's the one charged with my protection, and judging from everything so far it's safe to say that he in no way trusts me to be cooperative.

Of course, his suspicions aren't far from the mark.


A Short Break

"Holy mother of freaking Farore," Pike cursed through gritted teeth as - adding insult to injury - Jahnna firmly tied up his arm in a makeshift sling. "She broke my arm. There I was, thinking, a tongue lashing, maybe a bit of a smackdown, but she broke my arm!"

"Well, she thought you were Aeria," Hayden points out, lowering a hand to pull Pike back up to his feet. The lake was already clearing out around them, and if they didn't get moving soon they'd be left in the dust. "C'mon, let's get you up here..."

"That's even worse," Pike grimaced, struggling to mount the beloved red and white spotted mare that Aeria'd been forced to leave behind. All things considered, they were lucky for the horse. If everything went according to plan, they'd need to get to the rendezvous point just as the armies penetrated Castletown, at which point Aeria and the other should have warped out to safety. And if it didn't...

No. It will, Pike told himself, trying to ignore the thought. Eventually, with Hayden's help he managed to pull himself astride the horse. "Can you imagine? I mean, I've heard of tough love, but Nayru..."

Jahnna simply shrugged, mounting the enormous black stallion on his left so that she towered over him on Fwhynni. "If she were Gerudo, she'd be tried for treason, strapped to a horse, and sent off into the desert."

For a moment, both Pike and Hayden could only stare at her. "You'd let her come back though...if she returned...right...?" Pike asked hesitantly.

She frowned. "Maybe," she answered after a moment of thought. "If she'd learned her lesson. But it'd be more honorable to accept a Gerudo's death." Apparently oblivious to Pike's rising horror, she casually continued, "You all settled there?"

"Yeah...yeah, I'm good," Pike replied weakly. He cleared his throat, trying to ignore the thought. "But Hayden, if you don't get over there, she's gonna take off without you."

Jahnna raised an eyebrow, her eyes dropping towards Hayden. Then she let out a barking laugh. "I ride alone," she said, grinning. "But I'll see you in battle." And with a wink, she blew him a kiss and spurred her enormous mount on.

"Did you see that?" Pike exclaimed, throwing his arms up in exasperation.

"Yeah," Hayden answered, still staring ahead at her slowly shrinking figure in disbelief. "Yeah, I did. So she really was making the moves on you..."

"I told you that," Pike said irritably, as Hayden finally pulled himself up behind him. Fhwynni let out a disgruntled snort at the added weight.

"And she still punched you in the face...mental, I tell you, the lot of them."

"Not just Gerudo," Pike shook his head, taking up the reins in his good hand. "Women, man. They're all psycho, I tell you. Ugh. Come on girl, let's get going."

At that, Fwhynni turned her head back towards them, giving Pike the most undeniably irritated look he'd ever seen on a horse.

"Not you too," Pike groaned. "Come on, please?"

She didn't budge an inch.

"Take it back," Hayden advised from behind him.

"It's a horse!"

"Just do it!"

Finally, Pike just let out a sigh. "Fine, I'm sorry, and I take it back," he mumbled, feeling absolutely ridiculous. But oddly enough, Fwhynni was looking a little more satisfied now, and she turned forward again, starting at a walk and slowly speeding up to a steady trot.

"So what are we supposed to do now?" Hayden asked quietly as they moved alongside the troops.

"She's going to warp him out of the Temple as far as she can," Pike answered, staring hard at the Castle far off in the distance. "But she doesn't know how far she'll be able to get."

"Down to luck again." Hayden took a deep breath. "And we'll meet up with them wherever they end up?"

"Pretty much," Pike replied. "At worst, they'll only get out into Castletown. At best, Kakariko."

A grim look crossed Hayden's face. "Better plan on Castletown then."

Pike frowned. "Because...?"

"Because if they make it to Kakariko, they'll be safe enough on their own. Castletown, and they'll need us right then and there if they have a prayer of getting out. Count on the worst, hope for the best."

That was a dark thought. Pike swallowed hard. "You think they'll make it...?"

Hayden didn't answer for a moment. "Let's just focus on getting there," he finally changed the subject. "We're not going to be any help if everyone gets there before us."

"Good point," Pike noted. At Fwhynni's slow pace, the armies were passing them by the minute. The Gerudo had long since ridden off, and the Gorons, despite their size, were amazingly quick to follow, curling themselves into boulder-like balls and hurtling just behind. The Sheikah followed on foot, though the teleportation trick they did kept them from falling too far back. And now that the Zora had reached the rivers that wound to the Castle, they were moving even faster than the Gerudo. "Let's go!" he shouted, giving Fwhynni a sharp kick in the sides.

She let out another snort, keeping at a brisk trot. Pike scowled.

"Come on, I'll give you carrots!" he said. "Mmmmm, carrots, right?"

"I think you've gotta talk to it again," Hayden said, as this last attempt came up fruitless.

"This is ridiculous," Pike rolled his eyes, but the stakes were too high not to try it. "If we don't get moving, we're not going to be able to help your girl," he hissed to the mare.

Before either of them had time to react, Fwhynni took off like a shot.

"This horse is nuts!" Hayden yelped as they tore forward, snatching the back of Pike's shirt and yanking hard to keep himself from flying off. "What the hell is wrong with this thing?"

"Girls, mate!" Pike only shouted back, before he found himself unable to do anything else but scream.


"Where in Farore's name could she be?" I ask Tom between gasps as we slow down in what feels like the hundredth corridor we've searched. I don't know how long we've been racing through the castle, but it feels like too long. Every passing second is one that Impa and the Sages come closer.

"How should I know?" he exclaims, falling back against the wall to take a breath. "I don't know where the Queen goes each day."

"Meetings?" I propose desperately, pacing back and forth as I try to remember the layout of the castle - with little success. The last time I was here, I only saw a few rooms, and for all my wanderings as a six-year-old I still don't have a clue where to look. "Is there anywhere we haven't checked?"

A dark look passes over Tom's face. "This castle is huge. There's a lot of places we haven't checked."

"Dammit!" I groan loudly, and slam my fist against the wall, effectively taking my frustration out on the castle structure.

"Whoa, easy now, there might be people inside there," Tom warns. Too late. Hardly a second passes before the wooden door just a few feet to the right down the wall bursts open and expels a tall, well-dressed man who I have no doubt is some sort of noble. I swear I can see right past his oily black mustache and up his nose, it's turned up so high at us.

"If you don't mind," he hisses, "Some of us are trying to have an important conversation, and her highness has much-"

"Her highness?" Tom blurts out, before we turn to look at each other, thinking exactly the same thing: the Queen!

"Yes, her highness!" the man snarls, narrowing his beady eyes. "And she has much more important things to do than listen to your small-minded nonsense!"

"What's going on?" I hear from deep inside the room. That's definitely the Queen's voice.

"We need to see the Queen," I say firmly, trying to edge around him, but he just heads me off, blocking the door.

"The Queen is otherwise engaged," he retorts, raising a challenging eyebrow.

Anger starts to well up in my chest. I did not come this far for this. If the Sages and Dark Link aren't enough to keep me from that Temple, an arrogant prig sure as hell isn't going to stop me either.

"I guarantee this is ten times more important than any business you've got going on in there," I growl, having left my manners behind a long time ago. He just keeps glaring me down.

"Please," Tom cuts in more politely, "it's urgent. It's about the Prince."

"Who's out there?" The Queen speaks louder this time, more tension in her voice. "Lord Elridge!"

I finally can't take it anymore. "Your highness!" I shout above the noble in front of me, before I try to physically push him aside. "Your highness, it's Aeri-"

Smack!

I hear the back of his hand slamming into the side of my face before I feel it. Stars explode in my vision, and I stare blankly ahead as I raise my fingers to my stinging cheek. Wet. The top of my cheek is bleeding.

Tom's immediately at my side, helping to steady me. I come back to my senses just in time to see Lord Elridge readjusting the enormous ring on his index finger.

"I'll teach you to put your dirty peasant hands on me," Lord Elridge snarls.

It's not my first run in with nobility by a mile. Hell, I deal with Christian every single day, and he's a goddess-damned prince. But I have never experienced anything like this. As much crap as I give Christian, he would never treat me like that. And that's without him knowing who I am.

What was anger quickly turns into rage as I curl my hands into fists. Seemingly one step ahead of me, Tom takes a firm hold on my arms.

"Lord Elridge that is quite enough!" The Queen suddenly appears in the doorway. Whether it's due to my presence, Lord Elridge's behavior, or some combination of the two, her hazel eyes are wide in panic. "This woman is an honored guest of the Royal Family and she will be treated as such!"

This doesn't seem to affect Elridge too much. He takes a step back, wiping my blood off his ring with his cuff, but he doesn't go through any great pains to mask the contempt in those eyes that remain trained on me. He doesn't have to say a word - I can read the warning message in those eyes as clearly as if it were written on his forehead: "Cross me again, and no one will be around to save you."

I don't know if it's to hold me back or to protect me that Tom's grip on my arms tightens.

"My apologies," Elridge says, though it's clear that this is directed fully to the Queen and in no way expresses any regret for the impact of his actions on me. "I was not aware that was the case."

"Now you are," the Queen replies, suddenly breathless. Her face is paling by the second as her eyes dart around the hallway, around Tom and I. Looking for something. And not finding it. "We will have to continue our conversation at a later time. You are excused."

Irritation flashes in Lord Elridge's eyes. "As you wish," he answers in a chilly voice, bowing respectfully to her but never removing those beady eyes from me. Pursing his lips, he turns around and makes his way down the other end of the hallway.

The Queen watches him very carefully as he leaves, waiting for him to disappear around the corner before she turns back to us. In those few seconds, what's left of her composure falls away.

"Where is he...?" she asks in a quavery voice, her hazel eyes searching mine desperately.

Though I can feel my expression growing dark, I don't put up the classic Sheikah face. The carefully composed mask is good for hiding your emotions, but people still notice that you're carefully composed, and it's awfully hard to not suspect the worst when someone who's trying to comfort you looks like they're trying too hard to hide something.

I've lost my mother and my father, and though I don't know what it's like to lose a child, something tells me it's not much better. I'm sure she's as worried about Christian as I am, if not moreso. At least I know he's still alive.

"He's alive," I assure her. I can see her unwind just a little bit, but she still doesn't look anywhere near relieved. I wouldn't be either if that was the only thing I'd been told. "He...he was captured..."

I have to force myself to stay steady as I watch her eyes widen in horror, disbelief, and start to fill with tears. Tom places a hand on her shoulder. Hard as I try to give her a moment to let the news sink in before speaking again, I can't help but burst.

"Your highness, I'm here because I'm going after him," I exclaim in a stream of words. "I know where they're keeping him and I know what they want. I'm going to save him."

Her hazel eyes are on mine instantly, but now I can see traces of hope in them. Funny...in this light, they appear a bright shade of amber...

Almost immediately I feel a sharp pang in my chest.

"I'll do whatever it takes," I tell her, trying to push back the pain as I force myself on. Behind her Tom looks somewhat satisfied, but he gestures with his hand for me to continue. "I'll save him. But your highness...you need to leave."

"Leave...?"

"Regardless of whether I succeed or fail..." I start slowly, "the Castle will be at risk. John and two other friends of ours are here to evacuate the Castle before anything can hit. You need to leave, your highness."

She pays careful attention to my words, but even still, a confused frown comes to her face.

"What is it that they want?"

Me, I answer easily in my head. I take a deep breath and swallow hard as her eyes search me once more in a very familiar sort of way...

With a deep breath, I tear my gaze away. That's for me to worry about.

"You need to leave, highness," I only repeat. Tom gestures with his hand once more, and I add, "As does the King."

I can feel her watching me as I wait, but I refuse to meet her gaze again. I'm afraid that if she's anything like Christian, she'll be able to read me easily. But if she does, she doesn't say anything, instead, pulling herself to her feet.

"Come with me."

She leads me through the hallway and up a long, spiraling staircase until we come to a large pair of wooden doors guarded on either side by two men in Hylian uniform. Despite all my memories, I just can't seem to recollect this place. With a heave she opens one of the doors, and beckons for me to follow her through.

It's a throne room.

It's the kind of room you wouldn't forget being in. Tall columns spiral up to the ceiling along the sides, and full, stained glass windows glitter from behind them along the walls. A lush red carpet runs across the room, up to a golden throne, decorated by elaborate golden statues of the goddesses holding the triforce high overhead.

There's no way I could have been here before. Perhaps I was too young...

"Tyran," the Queen calls aloud as we make our way forward.

In the throne, is a man.

He looks tired. His head, topped with graying dark blonde hair and a full golden crown, is buried in his hand, so that I can't see his face.

"Tyran..." the Queen speaks again, her voice shaking. "This is the girl who saved Christian..."

I hold my breath as the King simply sits there, not even moving an inch. I'm nervous to begin with, and with every moment that passes, my anxiety heightens. I don't have much time. I look back towards Tom for direction, but he just nods, his face grim.

"Your highness," I say, turning back and quickly dipping into a curtsey, "I-"

"Your name, girl."

"Aer...Aeria, sir," I stutter.

"Aeria..." the King says slowly, pausing a moment take take a deep breath. "I've heard of you. You're from Kakariko. You're Impa's ward."

"Yes sir."

"What's your purpose."

"Tyran..." the Queen says, her voice strained with desperation, as she slowly makes her way towards the throne. I can see the effort it's taking to her to hold back her tears. "They took him...they took our son..."

For the first time I've seen, the King visibly moves. I watch anxiously as he stiffens, and his hand clenches itself into a fist.

"Come to torment us with events on which we cannot act?" he growls viciously, causing my heart to race even faster in my chest.

"No sir," I answer firmly, taking a deep breath. "I've come to warn you. The Castle is in grave danger."

"Consider me warned."

My eyes narrow as a flash of irritation shoots through me. "Your highness, you must leave the Castle."

A chilling, humorless laugh fills the air. "So now you try to make demands of me?"

"The Sages ride towards Castletown as we speak, with the armies of all of the other races," I inform him. "They'll be able to hold off the onslaught, but not for long. If you don't leave, you will be overpowered. My companions are already spreading the word and evacuating as many people as possible as we speak."

The King lets out a low growl. "You, an orphaned, half-trained little girl from Kakariko, enter my home, and dare to supercede my authority?"

"Tyran..." the Queen warns, but the anger is rising in my chest too quickly for me to let her finish.

"I've come because I'm going after your son," I hiss through gritted teeth. "They've captured him, but he's alive, and I intend to save him. And I know he'd want me to ensure that both you and Hyrule will be safe when I do."

"If my son is still alive, it is only because there is something they still want," the King snarls. "And if the Sages are indeed riding to Castletown with their armies, then saving him should be none of your concern. There's something you're not telling, girl."

I hold firm, glaring at him. "The choice is yours to make. I came to warn you, and I have. My time is limited, and I will not waste it on what cannot be helped."

At that, the King lets out an even more furious growl than before. "Come here, girl!" he demands.

Pissing off the King is probably the worst thing I could possibly do, but I'm too angry to do otherwise, and I've long since pushed back that little voice in the back of my head that tells me when I'm about to do something incredibly, outrageously, and impossibly stupid. I stalk my way down the red carpet to the throne.

I've had way too much practice disregarding royalty from Christian. I realize just how idiotic I'm being but unfortunately, I honestly don't care. I have greater concerns than a stubborn King. I have Hyrule to worry about. I have Christian to worry about. I have facing Dark Link to worry about.

I stop barely inches from the throne, seething with rage.

Without warning, his hand snaps out towards my wrist, snatching it in an iron grip and pulling it back towards him. He wrenches it in his grasp, turning it so the back of my hand faces him. The triforce symbol glares up at him as he pulls his face out of his other hand. I still can't see his expression as he takes it in.

"I might have suspected..." he mutters under his breath. Christian's mother only looks towards me with worried eyes.

"You're the other Child of Destiny..." she breathes.

Looks like Christian forgot to mention that tiny little detail...

"That's why the Sages are riding to Castletown," the King voices aloud. "They're chasing after you."

I grit my teeth and wrench my arm from his grasp, my hand instinctively flying towards my sword.

"We gave them warning to ensure they would be able to protect the city," I say firmly. "My duty is to the people of Hyrule, and to the Royal Family, not to myself. I will not be held back from my responsibilities and I will not watch Hyrule fall when I can make a difference."

Both the King and Queen are silent for a moment. Christian's mother can only watch me with wide, uncertain eyes, though his father keeps his head bowed.

"That's an interesting sword you carry," he finally says, taking a deep breath, before slowly raising his head to look at me. "Hero of Time."

My heart catches in my chest as I see his face for the first time. Deep brown eyes regard me beneath his knitted brow, which furrows even more as he continues to watch me. He has very much the same facial features as Christian...the only differences are the lines across his face and his thick, gray peppered beard. He looks...familiar...though I suppose, if he were my father's best friend...

In his eyes, I can see the same sort of age that I had seen in Nabooru's, looking out the window...

"You're very young," he observes, his expression grim.

"You're old," I shoot back defiantly. And then for the first time I wish I still had that little voice.

Stupid! Stupid, stupid stupid! I mentally berate myself, as the King's intense brown eyes stare me down. I swear those eyes are boring holes in me as we speak, and that in a second, there will be nothing left of me but a heap of ash. It feels like years pass as I wait for him to strike me down, to kill me on the spot, and no matter how I try and justify my behavior in my head, I still can't seem to blame him because I know all too well that I've finally gone that one step too far...

It's a low chuckle that makes me stop dead in my tracks.

I blink for a moment, almost unable to believe what I'm seeing. The King is...grinning. He looks amused. And every moment that passes, that mere chuckle becomes heartier and louder until the throne rooms echoes with his roaring laughter.

"You're trouble," he chuckles, his eyes twinkling with amusement, but a kind of sadness too. As his laughter slowly dies down, I finally let myself relax. "Just like the last Hero," he adds, his voice suddenly bittersweet. "I see you also have a fairy companion."

"The very same," I confirm. His eyes rise back to Navi where she hovers above beside my ear, examining her with curiosity.

"Navi?"

"Your highness," she does a polite little curtsey in the air, speaking in a hushed voice. "It's been a long time."

"A long time indeed," he agrees. "You have a new partner?"

"Have for almost a decade now," she nods. "It seems I have a particular expertise when it comes to Heroes."

Surprisingly, the King gives her the smallest of smiles. "I suppose you would," he agrees, before his dark brown eyes shift back towards to me. "Tell me," he continues, still addressing her though clearly examining me, "is she always so stubborn and reckless?"

"Always," Navi says in a sympathetic sort of way. I narrow my eyes, but remain silent.

"Very much like the last Hero, it would seem," the King then says, observing me as though in an entirely new light. "I suppose that it is also not very easy to stop you once you've made up your mind."

"Not particularly," I agree.

"You must give Christian hell."

"On a regular basis," I nod.

A small chuckle rises from his chest. "You must forgive me. I'm afraid I have grown old and tired, and I am not as well-tempered a man as I once was. You've saved my boy once already, for which I thank you. And I pray the goddesses show you a kinder fate than the last Hero who crossed my path. But I must remain here."

"But-"

"I know very well what lurks beyond the realm of Hyrule," the King cuts me off firmly. "And I will not leave the throne empty and waiting for the taking. I must fulfill my duty also, Hero. My guards will take up a defensive position and lock the gates. Hopefully they will give you and everyone else the time they need. I ask only that you take my wife with you and look to her safety."

"I won't leave you behind," the Queen suddenly speaks up, her voice thick with tears, as she races to the throne. "Tyran-"

"Go with her, Anjean," the King says. "If any harm befalls me, it will be you and Christian that Hyrule will look to. Go now, while there is still time."

As the Queen leans in towards the King, whispering to him, I turn away, leaving them to share a private moment. I can hear their quiet whispers, but instead I focus all of my attention on the enormous stained glass window above the wooden doors.

I can see a dark tide of shadows against the long green grass of Hyrule Field.

It's almost time.

"Be careful," the King finally warns, and I turn back around to acknowledge him. The Queen makes her way over to my side, her jaw set in determination as she tries to keep her composure. "May the goddesses watch over you both."

"And you," I return, a grim feeling settling deep down in my chest. I have to face Dark Link. And I have to go now.

Only when I turn, I see Tom watching me expectantly and realize I've forgotten something crucial.

"Your highness," I start again, quickly looking back to the King and walking towards him. "There's one more thing," I add, looking directly into his brown eyes to try and communicate what I need.

Tom apparently takes a step forward - no doubt suspicious of whatever it is I'm about to say - because the King raises a hand, directing him to stop where he is. But Tyran doesn't look away. He just keeps searching my face for explanation. I take a deep breath, forcing myself to stay firm.

"Your highness, I can't..." I stop, knowing that Tom must be about to snap behind me. I will my thoughts to reach the King, attempting to force them into his mind with my eyes. But the King only frowns, so I just go ahead and say it, preparing myself to fight Tom off if it comes to it. "I can't let anyone else die needlessly for me."

As expected, Tom practically leaps forward, his eyes wide with panic and frustration. "Your highness, don't listen to her. She doesn't know what she's thinking. The rescue will go much better if I accompany her, she's just being stubborn..."

But the King never removes his gaze from me, his eyes inspecting me even more closely than before. My heart pounds furiously in my chest as I wait and pray for him to answer. I've come so far...if they come with me, it will ruin everything. I gaze intensely into his eyes, begging, pleading for him not to deny me. He stares back just as intensely, searching for any sign of doubt or dishonesty in me.

And in that moment, without saying a word, we're finally able to understand one another.

"Guards!" the King calls out suddenly, looking back towards the doors. The two guards from outside the room come rushing immediately, and for a second my heart stops beating. Maybe that wasn't understanding. Maybe that was the end of any hope I might have.

Tom looks relieved. All I can do is stare in horror at the guards and try not to completely fall apart.

"Seize him."

That wipes the calm expression off of Tom's face in an instant. This time I'm the one who feels relieved, watching as the guards grab hold of him from behind and wrench his arms behind his back.

"No!" he screams, struggling to break free of their grasp - but an instant later there's a click, and his hand are chained together. "Don't do this! Your highness, he made me promise - under royal command!"

"Promise what?" the Queen asks, her eyes flickering between Tom, the King, and me, taking in all our expressions.

"He made me swear to protect her at all costs!" Tom continues to shout. "You don't understand - don't let her go - he'll never forgive you!"

The Queen's head snaps around to face the King, who all the while hasn't moved an inch. His expression has grown grimmer.

"If I don't let her go after him and try to save him, I'll never forgive myself," he answers, glancing towards me. "Like she'll never be able to forgive herself if something happens to you."

He understands. Thank Farore, he understands!

But even still, Tom just keeps on fighting.

"You know where she's going! You know what's there! Dark Link will kill her! You can't let her go!" The King just ignores him, and I take a few deep breaths of relief until he screams again. "Your highness, he loves her!"

And just like that, the ground falls out from beneath my feet.

He loves me. I try not to show just how completely and totally shocked I am, but I have a feeling it's not working. All eyes are on me in a heartbeat, and it takes all of my effort to force myself to stand upright. I clench my hands into fists and immediately throw up the Sheikah face, but I still can't keep my hands from shaking.

He loves me...it's not just attraction, not just falling for me, he actually loves me...I don't know if I knew it already or not...I don't know what my own feelings mean...I don't even know how to respond, so I simply try to pretend I never heard it. He's probably just saying that to get the King to stop me.

I don't know if that thought disappoints me or not. But I try not to focus on it. I have a job to do. I can't get distracted. And I definitely can't look weak in front of the King.

"It makes no difference," I say as firmly as I can manage. "I have to go whether he likes it or not. It's not just about him. It's about Hyrule"

The King's expression grows darker as he realizes what I'm saying. "That's why evacuation is necessary whether you succeed or not. There's no other way, is there," he says, not quite a statement, but not quite a question either.

"No," I reply easily. "That's why we came to warn you."

He nods. "That's what I've been telling from the Sages from the beginning."

Tom's face turns a pale shade of green now, his expression filled with mingled rage, frustration, and horror. "Well, if that's not enough, then your highness, she's the l-"

I realize what he's going to say as soon as he starts speaking, and I unsheathe my sword without even thinking about it. Just before he manages to reveal who I am, I leap towards him and hit him hard in the head with the hilt of my sword. He immediately falls unconscious.

"You're the what?" the King asks, his voice suddenly tense. I search my mind for an excuse - it comes surprisingly easily. Apparently I'm getting better and better at lying as the day goes on.

"I'm the reason they took him," I reply, keeping my gaze glued to the floor. It's a different admission, but an admission nonetheless. "He was captured because he came to save me. It's my fault." When I raise my head, I am resolved. I take a deep breath and gaze back determinedly at the King. "And I'll bring him back."

His expression is hard, and I don't know exactly what he's thinking. His gaze flickers back to the window. "You don't have much time."

At that, a humorless smile flutters to my lips. "I control that," I whisper to no one in particular. But this time Christian's not here to smile, to ruffle my hair, and tell me everything will be all right, and even the memory has turned to something painful. "I need to go," I answer audibly this time, gripping my sword tightly in my hand.

He nods in recognition. "Evacuate him and the Queen with the others," he commands the guards. "Look after her. From this point on, she is your chief responsibility."

The guards' faces are just as grim, but they answer back with nods of their own.

"They're exiting through the servant's corridors," I inform them, as I try to mentally prepare myself for the next step. It seemed so easy in concept...so simple, just confronting Dark Link and getting it over with...but now I'm starting to feel numb. Death. I'm facing death. There's every possibility that I will die today.

My hands are shaking again.

The Queen looks over at me, her hazel eyes soft and sympathetic, and I wonder if I look as unprepared and afraid as I feel. However I look, it must not be as composed as I'd like, because she walks over to me and, to my complete surprise, pulls me into a tight embrace. It's been so long since my mother was alive, and Impa was never the physically affectionate type - I barely remember what it's like to feel a mother's embrace, but if there's anything like it, it must be this. Part of me feels completely awkward and out of place hugging the Queen of Hyrule, but another, stronger part of me just wants to abandon myself to this woman standing here and offering me compassion even though she barely knows me. She smells like lavender...the scent sends my mind grasping for memories from long ago, so long ago that I can't recall them clearly.

"Thank you," she whispers, and then kisses me on the cheek.

I'm not ready for her to let go, but it happens anyway. She doesn't even look back before she passes into the corridor, forcing herself to keep her gaze ahead of her as the guards follow after her with Tom. As they disappear, that feeling of unpreparedness, of terror, of realization of exactly what I'm up against grows in the pit of my stomach.

I knew the risks before I got here. And I decided to come anyway. I go over the decision once more in my head, remembering why I'm here. Hyrule is at stake. Christian's life is at stake. The possibility of a future is at stake.

It doesn't fully get rid of my fear - I don't know if anything could - but it's enough. Hope. Hope is what I'm fighting for. And hope is something I could die for.

With a deep breath, I reach blindly for the ocarina in my pocket, retrieving it, and then look back towards the King.

"Good luck," he says softly, his expression mournful. I can tell that he's looking at me and thinking about my dead father. But I can do this. I will do this.

I close my eyes, and take a deep breath..

I didn't tell Blaze how much he means to me. I didn't tell the others how grateful I am that they stuck with me through all this hell. But I think it makes it easier.

I can tell them later. Because I fully intend to live through this.

When I open my eyes, I'm ready. That invisible force is back, drawing me to the Temple of Time - to where I'm meant to go - and I embrace it willingly. This is where I belong, and this is what I was meant to do. I won't let Hyrule fall. I'm ready to fight, more than ever before.

Without another thought, I draw the Ocarina to my lips. As soon as the notes to the Prelude of Light softly float up into the air, gold, shimmery light begins to glow all around me, and I feel my feet lifting off the ground. The King never takes his eyes off of me, but even as I ascend both he and the throne room fade away into white.

I am the Hero of Time.

And it's time to live up to the name.