Chapter 29: Plans

"Midna," he whispered to the darkness, hoping for an answer. This time, he wouldn't mind that chorus of voices, if they only told him where his friend was. His legs stopped running now, and his shaky knees sank to the earth. And in his solitude, he did not mind letting loose his tears.


Midna, Midna, Midna.

"She's gone." Link spoke the words hollowly to answer the others' desperate looks as he slowly trudged toward them. He took in the sight of them: hopeful, then crestfallen as he told him his findings. Zelda was sleeping on the ground, and his eyes softened. Zelda. He couldn't imagine what she was going through, even in the land of dreams. Her sister at heart gone, her royal friend dead.

Rusl sighed heavily. "Where do you think she has gone to?" he asked quietly.

"Aside from the possibility that she's a spirit now," Ashei said with zero delicacy, "she could be a savage now. A wild animal. I doubt she's in the woods if Link searched it for that long, so we might as well just continue to Death Mountain."

Link decided not to mention that most of his time spent in the forest was spent sobbing, and rather contradicted her, his heart aching at the possibilities Ashei had listed. "But that means we are left with only two Heroes!" he burst out angrily. Everyone looked at him with incredulous looks, surprised at his sudden ferocity. "You said it yourself, Ashei: we can't win without all five of the Chosen Heroes. Maybe we could have done with" – he swallowed a hard lump in his throat here – "only four of us, but reduced to two? There's no chance of winning this!" His hopelessness leaked out into his tone and words, and the others were stunned. Never had they seen Link pessimistic like this.

Then again, the death of a friend, the spirit extraction of another, and the newly created insanity of the third friend: those were quite damaging.

"Link," Auru said, "we still have hope." He gestured to the unconscious woman by his side. "Not only her, but you as well." The others nodded their heads vigorously to show their undying support.

The Hero gritted his teeth. "So the duties of five are put onto the shoulders of us two? That is reassuring, indeed! We are even more responsible for our doom!" he retorted. His hopelessness, his fear, and his utter sense of loss were making his chest hurt again. The nightmare he had had earlier that day about a second Link, only evil, spooked him as well. As if that wasn't enough, Zelda felt distant from him, and he felt awkward around her. He hated everything right now; he just wished it would end.

"If you give up, Link, then the duties of five are put onto only this woman's shoulders," Shad spoke softly.

Telma nodded. "We've seen you protect her, Link, with that feral spirit you have. You kill anyone, anything that threatens her, like you should take the danger instead of her. Your eyes–I never see them as fierce as when you fight for her. Honey, can't you do this? For her?"

Link didn't move from his position, well concealing his emotion, but his jaw was clenched tightly. Was their affection for each other that obvious? Would they ever accept Link to be Zelda's suitor? But now was not the time for these questions to be answered, he thought. He stayed silent, and Ashei broke in.

"You have to fight, Link. You were born to," she said, her tone harsh and assertive.

Link didn't listen to them, but rather said with alarm, "Why is there blood on Zelda's neck?"

With a flourish of motion, all talk stopped and they whisked Zelda back to the camps.

Zelda woke to a strong voice. Sitting up from the blankets she slept upon, she realized that a speech was being spoken, delivered by members of the Resistance. But Zelda noted with apprehension that either Link was silent or he was absent. And Zelda knew he would speak if he was there.

Throwing the blankets away from her in a tattered mess with a new alarm ringing in her head, she tore out of the tent. Not a person in sight. Carefully, she sidled along tent walls to the corner, quietly and slowly so she would not be spotted, peeking out at the scene.

The crowd she saw was amazingly large, and Zelda knew that this crowd was likely the whole assembly of the resistors of Ganondorf's army. She noted that almost everyone was solemn and silent, and the Hylians wore black. Some Zoras and Twili were sobbing, and those around them murmured comforting words to them. At the front stood all five of the Council. All five wore black. All five took turns to speak words, and for a few moments Zelda wondered what on earth they were talking about.

And then, with a sensation that her heart had just dropped into her stomach, she remembered.

With a strangled cry, she fled the scene, racing from the huge mass of unearthly quiet people. She ran until her ankles ached, tearing streaming out of her eyes as steadily as any river. She ran past all the tents until tents could no longer be seen. Then the lonely Princess began to recognize her surroundings. Zelda began to slow down to a walk, until she found the tree. With magic coursing through her veins, she felt her body heat up until it began to change into the body of Sheik, giving her the physical abilities and appearance of the Sheikah. Running straight toward the tree, she leapt onto the branch above her, landing on it clumsily, which was very unlike her. But her crying was making her unsteady like a baby deer, and she held onto the branch as if it were the last lifeline. She clung onto the tree and sobbed.

"Ilia," Sheik said into the tree leaves rustling in the wind, "I guess you'll never be back to talk in these trees with me, huh? Will you never visit me again? Can we ever talk like the close friends we became?" Her tears blurred her eyes again, but she made no sound as they fell. She watched her tears fall from her height to the ground, feeling dizzy.

"You can talk to me," said a quiet voice from below.

Sheik nearly fell out of the tree in surprise when she heard Link's voice. When she righted herself, Link was already on the branch across from her. "So you came too," he said softly.

She nodded dumbly, feeling more weak and horrible than she ever had before. "I miss her. Both of the hers." She laid her head back on her tree branch, tearing streaming freely from her eyes. "And both of the hims."

Link was staring off into the distance, seemingly not hearing her words. "It still feels like they're here."

"I know," Sheik whispered, barely heard by Link. "I can't believe Ganondorf could bring himself to…" Her next words were choked off when she imagined Ganondorf raising his sword at Ralis. "And Zant… he may not be completely gone, but he can't possess another body for a long while. Mi–She told me so." She closed her eyes, trying to remember Ilia's laugh, Midna's beauty, Zant's solemn face on Darbus. Time was already wearing away the once-sharp image of them, and she finally realized how long they had not seen the missing Heroes.

Would they ever see them again?

The two of were silent for a moment, until Link's voice broke through the quiet. "Your neck. What happened?" Link said suddenly. Still, he did not turn to look at her.

Even through vague words, Sheik could tell Link was angry. She shifted uneasily on the branch, and her trembling fingers reached up to pull away the fabric concealing her face and neck. Her fingers brushed the place where Dark Link's blade had opened up her skin, feeling only the fabric of a bandage.

"So?" Link persisted, turning to face her with the strangest cloud of emotions on his face.

"I…" Sheik struggled to find an explanation, one that wouldn't arouse suspicion, but a cut on her neck could not be covered up easily. "I…"

"What are you keeping from me?" Link's voice was almost a whisper, and he nimbly shifted from his branch to hers. His face was near hers, his expression as though intent on looking for secrets in her face. Sheik suddenly felt uneasy at his nearness, and in panic from both Link and his dark counterpart, she leapt from her branch to the one above it. She thought she even saw more than a little bit of Dark Link in him right now, and it sickened her even more than Ralis's torn remains.

"Nothing," she choked, leaping again for another branch, intending to go to the top of the tree, where only a Sheikah could stand.

Link gave a cold, bitter laugh, but he didn't move from his position. "How can you even deny that you're lying to me?"

"I just can't tell you," she said with another sob, looking down at him from the peak of the tree. If she looked around her, away from the depths of the tree, she would be able to see her surroundings with amazing clarity. But she continued to stare through the tangle of branches and leaves, just so she could see Link.

Link's eyes didn't look up to meet her own. He did, however, drop from the branch and lightly dropped to the ground. "Then I won't pursue the truth," he said.

And he walked away, leaving her standing at the top of the tree, alone.

The funeral had been so depressing that Telma hadn't even been able to bring herself to say a word to the audience, even with her usually cheery mood. Every time she thought of something to say, her throat closed right up as if it were as natural as breathing. And by the time that the tears stopped, she would have forgotten her words to say.

Ashei had done most of the talking, predictably, and Telma wished someone closer to the three Heroes would have been able to speak, but only the Resistance was left to deliver the eulogies. And from there, Ashei was the only one that could really speak. And her words, though perhaps soft words, were spoken rather emotionlessly: so very characteristic of the mountain-girl.

Once the eulogies were over with a plead of blessing to the Goddesses from Shad (which was in truth a very shaky plead), Telma returned to the stand, the words coming more easily to her mouth now that she wasn't speaking of the dead. "People of the Light World and Twilight Realm," she said, her voice sounding rusty, "we have one more announcement to tell. We have decided to move on to Death Mountain now. With the blow to our strong points, we will quickly become weak. Therefore, if we delay any longer, we will fall. We march to Death Mountain, to rescue the Goron from the Twili, in three hours. Pack up the belongings you can bring, if any, and we will march. Thank you."

Telma stepped down from the podium as the crowd dispersed in complete silence. Walking back to the others, the first tear she had shed in ten years slid down her cheek, those ten years that she had gotten over her parents' death. "What have we done to Hyrule…?" she murmured, flicking the tear away from her cheek as she watched silent rivers pouring down the people's faces, devoid of hope.

"Telma, we've done nothing," Auru said anxiously, never having seen Telma like this before. "It's that bastard Ganondorf, and all his pet monsters. And now, it seems, Marutha."

The bartender seemed to tighten at the mention of the Twili medic. "That two-faced traitor," she spoke with an acid tone. "She just played with us! We can't take that from her!"

"It seems that we have already," Ashei crossed her arms over her chest. "Link reported to us that she only seemed intent on the pureberry rather actually helping Hyrule's situation, so her betrayal is final. Ganondorf has the Skire, and he will implement the Skire into his soldiers, with or without their will. It seems that we do not have enough Sols to slay them all no matter how many the Twili create."

"All we can hope to do right now is lash at Death Mountain," said Rusl grimly. "Find the Princess; I saw her sneak out of the tent."

Shad groaned.

Link sat beside the fire he had made by the flowing river, staring at neither the running water nor the dancing fire; he stared at the tiny Fairy Ocarina that lay in his hands, the holes like eyes staring back at him. What had Saria said when she had given it to him?

"Why did you give it to me, anyway?" he had said, still frowning at the ocarina.

She had hesitated. "I just thought it was right," Saria had mumbled to her feet. And something else, something he had barely caught: "–belongs to you anyway…"

What on earth had she meant by that?

Aside from that mystery and the fact that both Navi and Saria had acted strangely around him and Zelda, he had never even played it, save for the one test note he had blown. He put the ocarina to his mouth and blew more softly than the first time. A pure note resonated in the air, reminding him of the clear ring of the pureberry. He loved the sound, and decided to try more.

Link grasped the ocarina awkwardly, the grooves of it too small for his hands, but he managed to place his fingertips over the holes. He blew once more, testing each note, and delighted himself by playing a consonant melody. It was odd, the way it came to him so easily; it was like he had played it for many years and stopped, and this was his first time after stopping for years.

He played a melody, soft, sad, and sweet in his ears, and he found it reflected exactly his own emotions. But underneath the melancholy was a layer of hope. He kept playing, not knowing exactly how his song would unfold, but each note presented itself out of nothing. He continued and continued until he forgot about the passing of time; twilight was upon him.

And finally, a wrong note crashed down on the song, harsh and dissonant compared to the other notes, giving the song a silly and abrupt ending. Link frowned, pulling the ocarina from his mouth, and stared at it again. Was it his fault that he had played the wrong note? Link wondered.

"You have to build on the wrong note, or you'll never finish the song."

Link jumped in surprise, his hand involuntarily going for the Master Sword, but he realized it was the little fairy Navi. "What are you doing here?" Link asked her as she landed on the ocarina and inspected it, his voice strange after the gentle music of his new instrument.

"It was… too depressing back there," she stuttered, trying to put the words gently, "so I flew off to find you! And naturally, what I found was you playing the ocarina."

Link frowned at her. "What do you mean by 'naturally'?" he asked, confused yet again.

The little Kokiri fairy seemed to jolt in the air, if that was possible. "Um… I don't know why," she said, almost sadly. But then she brushed off the depression, saying in a firmer voice, "But I do know you've got to keep playing that melody! You can't stop playing once you hit a wrong note, 'cause then you'll never finish a song! You just skip over it as if it was never there; that's what all the good composers and musicians do. Do you get it?"

Wondering if she was still talking about the song, Link nodded.

"Well, what are you waiting for, then?" Navi shrilled in her childish voice, even though he knew she was older than him by hundreds of years. She grabbed hold of the ocarina, and tried to bring it to his hand by laboriously fluttering her fairy wings. Link smiled and plucked her away from the ocarina, and before she could protest, he played again.

He started the song from the beginning, and the song brought a smile to Navi's already happy face. She watched his serene face, rapt, as he played. And she winced as he played that one wrong note that he probably wouldn't ever get, but after the slight stumble of hesitation, he continued. The song unfolded, the newness of it making both Link and Navi smile, and it played until the twilight passed into night. The song ended with a lonely note, undecorated, but standing firm and unwavering. When the note stopped, Navi burst into cheers, flying around him in circles, screeching out congratulations. Then she suggested, "How about I… I teach you some songs! I remember them from the… Kokiri Forest!"

Link smiled, and that was the beginning of the bond between Link and Navi.

"Dark Link, report. Then you, Marutha," Ganondorf ordered, his golden eyes staring at them, demanding.

Link's doppelganger grinned a crimson smile, floating in the air and leaning back at his leisure, and the image reminded Ganondorf of Midna. "Everyone's in chaos."

Ganondorf waited for elaboration, but Dark Link did not elaborate, and Ganondorf sighed in exasperation. "Damn it, Link, why can't you be lazy?" he muttered into the air.

"Oh, so that's the game you're playing, huh?" Dark Link's eyes darkened ominously, making him look ever more frightening. "You want Link to be lazy so I'll be diligent? Well guess what, bud: it isn't happening." He cackled, the dark from his eyes going away, back flipping higher into the air and landing on one of the beams of the throne room's ceiling. "You look so small from up here, Ganny. It's like I can trample you!" he said with delight, making a big show of stomping Ganondorf from up high.

Grinding his teeth in disgust at the shadow's impudence, Ganondorf frowned darkly. The King wanted very much to trample him back into being a lifeless shadow, for it was easily within his abilities, but he knew Dark Link would be vital to winning. Even if he had already won this war, Ganondorf wanted to be sure. Though Dark Link despised Ganondorf, he supported the King's cause, so Ganondorf put up with him.

He turned to Marutha, who stood motionless, awaiting his command. He exhaled a breath of relief; Marutha was like a robot, only obeying commands as she was told and was the complete opposite of Dark Link. "Report, my dear?"

She bowed in the fashion of the Gerudo, her right fist over her chest and bowing down low. "The Council is distraught; they've given the order to march on Death Mountain."

Ganondorf snorted, only amused by the action. "I won't make a move to protect Death Mountain. The Twilight Monarchs cannot do anything to help them, and the Goron-Twili will crush them. Even if Death Mountain is lost, and that's a very slim chance, I wouldn't care."

Marutha bowed again. "Yes, my King. To continue, Princess Zelda is in a similar manner to the Resistance: still in shock. She is safely being controlled by the Council."

"Good. But what of the Twilight Princess?" Ganondorf inquired.

Quite unlike her usually staid demeanour, her full red lips quirked to one side. "I do not mean to offend you, King, but that is a silly question. If Midna cannot be tracked by Link, why should I waste time tracking her myself?"

"You have magic in your hand. He does not."

"Yes, but Fate is in love with Link. If Fate does not dote upon Link, she certainly will not dote upon me."

The Gerudo King frowned. "We do not flirt with Fate enough, do we?"

The smile on her face widened. "Not nearly enough." Above them, Dark Link barked out in laughter, falling off the beam and catching himself in the air just before he landed on the floor.

Rubbing the side of his face as he sat on his throne, Ganondorf sighed. "Continue."

"It is Link who we should fear the most, yet again; the fairy seems to have helped his spirits recover. If only that bitch fairy did not fly out of that wretched forest where she belongs, Link would be ready to be torn right now," Marutha said as Dark Link picked himself up off the ground and melted away into the shadows.

Her oaths surprised Ganondorf, but he did not comment; she would outwit him again, and though he would never admit it, he hated to be ridiculed by that logical woman. "What about that pet of mine who ran away?" he smiled calmly.

Marutha had no need to ask who he meant. "Floating uselessly in his spirit form, of course. He has attempted to take the body of numerous Twili, but his spirit is not yet strong enough to control a body. Because of this, we will not have access to the Twilight Realm for a while. Without a body to hold onto, Zant cannot take another between the realms."

Ganondorf cupped his chin with his hand, deep in thought. "This disturbs me," he said after a moment.

"May I inquire as to why, sire?"

He frowned. "I have long planned to imprison the Hylians who defy me in the Twilight Realm; I would let the darkness settle into them, and they would become Twili as punishment. But now, with Zant's absence of both his physical body and his loyalty, this cannot be done."

"My King, is it not better to focus on the Skire experiments first and perfect the Skire?" Marutha said, and on cue, Dark Link came back into the light with an experimental Skire on his neck. At the first glance, the Twili monster looked like a scarf, but it would occur to the onlooker that the Skire was actually a shadowy, furry creature, with a face like Dark Link's, curled around Dark Link. The creature was biting into Dark Link's neck on the place where the vein would be, where his pulse could be felt, and its frighteningly dark red eyes glowed.

"It feels like a giant mosquito that just can't get enough blood," Dark Link grinned, patting the Skire's fur.

"Stop fooling around," Ganondorf snapped, one of the few times his temper broke, but one of the many times he snapped out at Dark Link. "Instead of using similes to describe the thing, report its progress!"

Dark Link shrugged. "It's sucking my dark-blood as you've planned, and it's giving me its venom in return. My blood isn't disappearing out of my body, though; it's only mixing with the venom. My magic is more potent because of the venom in my blood" – he thrust his hand out and blasted a giant ball of black fire at a marble statue at the side of the room, and it exploded into millions of shards, casually demonstrating – "and I haven't given the Skire a test yet. You haven't given me any Moblins or anything to test it on."

Tempted to simply reduce Dark Link into nothing but withholding the desire for after the war was won, Ganondorf muttered a magic command to a Moblin Commander. The Moblin promptly barked out orders to his panicked soldiers, and with a satisfaction at the panic he could not describe, Ganondorf withdrew from the contact. "They're coming here now. I want the Skire tested before dawn, and a report. A full report, better than the stupid single sentences you usually give me. I want to know if the Skire's venom is worth exchanging our own blood for as soon as possible. And, whether your blood in a Skire's body is effective."

Marutha interrupted, "Sire, what of the reproduction of the Skire? Is this the original Skire you are experimenting on?"

Ganondorf rubbed his temples. "The original one, the one from that Ordonian girl, is reforming itself by some strange magic, carefully sealed in a chamber created by my own magic. I think its reproduction is quickening because of the darkness that surrounds it… but no matter. Before long, there will be too many for me to control."

With alarm, Marutha ground her teeth together, her golden Gerudo eyes piercing as she looked at her King. "What shall we do then?" she said, her voice carefully devoid of emotion.

"For now, nothing; we need more than just one Skire. When they get out of control…" Ganondorf smiled, and Marutha already knew things had been planned. "Our friendly group of resistors will have a treat. And they are already getting one. I've dispatched a few of our Hylian assassins, powered with Skire venom in their bodies, to the Zoras travelling back to the main groups. They are not magicians, as I fear the power of the magicians will be too much for even me to handle. But the warriors are enhanced. This will be our first experiment. Not even they know what they are capable of."

Dark Link's smile widened silently, and he slinked away to do the second experiment, to see just how crazy the Skire was with his own blood in its veins.

The Zoras and the Twili travelled quicker than ever before, knowing each minute counted; they had to rejoin the main army before Ganondorf decided to crush them. Nolva grunted in the water, twisting through the river and all the while ordering the water to flow faster and faster. At his side was both Serena and Sybil, the three of them leading the way. Serena eyed the rushing water around them with suspicion, but Sybil's eyes glittered with knowing. Nolva grinned and urged both himself and the water forward.

Even the Twili with all their warping glory had had trouble keeping up with them; after a few tries, both the Zoras and the Twili agreed that they should simply meet at the rendezvous location. With a wish of good luck, all of the Twili had left, leaving the Zoras to journey through the rivers, as the Twili were not numerous enough to take all the Zoras back.

But the Zoras were not discouraged; they were actually enthusiastic to swim the rest of the way back. With Nolva's great unplugging of the river flow and the mysteriously fast river flow, the people of Lake Hylia were all eager to dive into this rapid river.

Nolva put his arms and legs as close together as possible, trying to coax all the speed he could from his body, flying through the water. The water around him squealed with excitement to be swimming alongside this water-speaker, and Nolva smiled even wider. He had found he could spend hours just watching the water and observing it now, and the ability did not drain his energy. He was glad for the fact, else the trip could be twice as long.

As they sped down the river, Nolva began to notice the water becoming more agitated, as if they were none too eager to speed ahead into the unknown. Nolva hesitated, and was about to ask the water what was wrong, when he very suddenly realized just why.

Metal glimmered above the water, catching the little sunlight there was right now.

"No!" Nolva shouted in the water, but no one could hear him through the water.

The spears stabbed into the water, and the screaming began, both screams from the Zoras and the water. The Prince twisted around to look behind him, to see red join the clear water around them. The water screeched to see the blood. Nolva ground his teeth in rage, ordering the water to slow down, and angled his body upward. With a powerful stroke of his arms, feet, and fins, Nolva leapt out of the water and onto land, startling the spearmen so much that one actually fell into the river.

Nolva noticed fleetingly that the spearmen were heavily clothed in black, so that their faces and skin did not show. Ganondorf's men, no doubt. There were about fifteen of them, spears at the ready and deadly sharp. Nolva grinned. This should be easy.

With a fierce war cry, he leapt at the nearest one, knocking the spear out of his hands with a kick. A swing of his arm stunned the man, and his fin shot out to force him into the water.

The water screamed in fear as the Zoras jumped out of the water in giant splashes, fins out threateningly. With a strange, regal elegance, they rushed as one at the men, but only then did Nolva realize they were probably each as skilled as Link himself. It seemed the Zoras were being outmatched even by such a small force of men. Nolva gave a shriek of frustration, wishing he could summon the water to handle these bandits, but Sybil had counselled that he revealed not his secret yet.

There were so many Zora warriors throwing themselves at the men and being horribly speared that Nolva could not do anything; the men were crowded. Shouting orders for a battle formation, Nolva strafed a spear jab, and felt his breath being knocked out as the wood of the spear hit his side. He fell to the ground, dazed, and as he picked himself up, he realized both Sybil and Serena had come back to his side.

"Alright, Prince?" Sybil yelled, punching a man right at his neck with her arm fins out.

"Always!" Nolva responded as he lunged at the man Sybil had punched. The man was too fast; he sidestepped Nolva's kick and gave the Prince a kick of his own.

"Nolva, stay back!" Serena hissed as her fin shot out. She gave a screech as she stabbed her fin into the man's abdomen, clean through. Her son stared, awestruck by Serena's lightning speed.

The man released a feral howl, and he staggered backwards from Serena's outstretched fin, which she retracted in satisfaction. Nolva watched the man warily, struck by the fact that the man had been torn open and yet he was not yet dripping in blood.

Then, his eyes widened.

He had expected to see a dark red blood pouring out of the spearman's abdomen, but what had happened did not exactly match this. Nolva watched, mouth open, as a strange thick liquid seeped out of his torn body. The liquid was certainly not blood, for it was too thick. And it could hardly be blood when it was a bright purple, pulsing with light, with swirls of black, looking like purple paint being mixed with black. The purple-black fluid flowed out slowly, and the water screamed louder at Nolva than ever before as it watched the pulsing liquid approach the river. Everyone around them stopped fighting momentarily, even the spearmen, confused by the sight of this strange liquid.

Nolva couldn't help the water though, as he had to seize this distraction. With the authority of his family's blood, he shouted, "Strike!" as he tried to stab another with his fin as his mother had. Instead of landing a blow, he received one, and he leapt away, cursing. Another Zora attacked the man to distract him as Nolva righted himself, and the Prince joined his helper, the two Zoras grappling with the spearman and stabbing the man mercilessly with their razor fins. Before long, the liquid had begun to spout out again.

But this time, it had seeped onto the other Zora's hand.

The Zora screamed with agony, shaking his hand like there was a deadly insect on it. He screeched incoherently, staggering away from everyone around him, and Nolva found himself dumbstruck again as he realized that the liquid was eating through the Zora's hand, leaving nothing behind, not even blood. The Zora continued to scream even when his skin stopped disappearing, and the deadly liquid dripped onto the ground, seemingly harmless.

The Zora was alive, but without a hand. The end of his arm ended with ripped skin, muscle, and bone covered completely in blood that still oozed out as easily as the river beside them.

Nolva was knocked out of his reverie by a swing of a spear. The Prince staggered, overwhelmed by everything, everyone, everything, everyone, everything, everyone. Then Sybil shouted his name, and he realized he was still in battle. Dazedly, he swung his arms and fins at the man who had struck him, catching the man in a furious onslaught. Even in a daze, Nolva excelled in battle.

Enraged that this young Zora was besting him, the spearman roared and suddenly crouched, transforming into something animal, and leapt at Nolva with inhuman speed. Caught off guard, Nolva yelled out as he was tackled off his feet. They rolled backwards, each trying to a shot at each other's necks before the other could get a chance. Before long, however, the spearman had Nolva pinned to the ground underneath us, and as Nolva struggled, the man grinned. The Zora Prince screamed in shock at the sight of the man's smile; the man's lips had pulled back to reveal dagger-sharp teeth, dripping with saliva.

Then, all at once, the man was no longer man, but a twilight beast on all fours.

The monster was furry and massive, and he sniffed Nolva, snout right above his face, the beast's grin widening at the scent of blood. Looking at him, Nolva saw that it was in the form of a giant wolf with a black coat. Its breath smelled of blood and raw meat, the pungent smell bringing tears to his eyes. A snarl resounded from deep within the beast's throat. The monster's eyes gleamed a fierce crimson, which bored into Nolva's own eyes, and out of pure instinct alone Nolva violently tried to jerk away from this abomination. The paws that held him down were too heavy for any one man to throw off, however.

"Do not test the Skire-men," the monster snarled into Nolva's face, saliva escaping its mouth and dripping down onto Nolva's face. Luckily, the saliva did not seem as deathly as the purplish liquid. He swung his head around, trying to get away from this thing, and realized that they were too far away from the others for aid to come. From the paws came claws, and they dug into Nolva's chest, drawing blood. Nolva clenched his jaw, his initial fear fading away into adrenaline as he felt the pain. "If we decide to kill someone," he spoke in a growl, "they will be killed. You are no exception."

"I am an exceptional Zora," Nolva said, thinking of his water-speaking ability.

The beast seemed to be amused. "Resistors, resist as they may, will go unsuccessful, as the enforcers shall enforce."

Nolva spat into the wolf's face, causing the monster to roar at him. "Stop speaking in riddles, beast," Nolva demanded, eyes cut. "Tell us who you are and who sent you!"

The creature raised its head in authority, looming over the poor Prince. His tail swished in the air. "My name is Striker. I am the commander of this group of Skire-men," the beast said. "As for who sent us… who is to say someone sent us? Could it not be I who decided to grab a snack from the river? Or do you think everyone against you is under the control of the Dark Lord?"

"The fact that you are Skire alone tells me you're from his army, idiot."

Striker's jaws snapped right before Nolva's face, but the Zora did not flinch. "Your heart is right underneath my claws, Zora Prince. Do not resist, or I will enforce."

Nolva stared up at Striker's fearsome face. "What do you want from me?"

"Is it so obscure to understand? Are you not one of those who are foretold in legend?"

This sent Nolva in shock. "How could you confuse my father and me? He's the Chosen Hero, not me! And besides, you should know that he's dead. Your master killed him! It's grief enough for me that I must face his death!"

"Fool, you–" Striker began, but a shout from the battle back at the river caught his attention. Nolva turned his head, only to go into shock once more; a woman with a dagger, running towards them, was pulsing with shadow, and once again a transformation brought her into the form of a tigress, orange and black coat reduced to gray and black. Her eyes were the same red as Striker's, and before long she was upon them.

"Striker, we've got to flee," she said, her tone urgent, her eyes flicking to the Zora that Striker had captured, then ignoring him. "The Dark Lord miscounted; he didn't send a force big enough to reduce their numbers drastically."

"How many have we taken?" Striker demanded, Nolva forgotten for the moment.

"Perhaps ten. Just a hundred more to go."

"Hell!" Striker cursed, his claws slashing Nolva's chest, leaving ten scratches, which drew a cry out of the Zora Prince.

"Striker," the tigress asked, her fiery red eyes back on Nolva, "who's your friend here?"

"He claims he is the son of the Hero," Striker explained, his gaze swinging back to Nolva's face. He stared back. "I think we should take him back to the Dark Lord. He will be pleased by any bounty that is related to the Heroes."

Nolva's chest was bleeding badly, and he knew he wouldn't last if he didn't act now. Striker did not seem one to easily forget his rage. As Striker conversed with the tigress, Nolva's mind made its way down below in the ground, scanning for reserves of water that would help him. The water seemed worried to see a water-speaker be in such mortal danger, and Nolva's eyes scanned the area, wondering how best to attack. Then, finding a good place, he gently urged the water to rush to a focal point in the ground. Then, with a sharp command, Nolva forced the water out of the ground just behind his head, sending a blast of water and dirt right into Striker's furry snout.

With a howl, Striker was blown off of Nolva, and the Zora breathed in a sharp gulp of air, readying himself for battle as Sybil had always instructed him. Then, he leapt to his feet, positioned so that both Striker and the tigress were in his sight. The tigress raised an eyebrow, a sight Nolva never thought he would see, but she managed it. "And you claim you are not the Hero?"

"Yes," Nolva said, and another jet of water fired out of the ground directly underneath the tigress. Yowling, the tigress was lifted into the air, and in his rage, Striker did exactly as his name told.

As he lunged, he roared, "The Skire do not fail! Whoever is decided to be killed shall be killed!"

Nolva felt the adrenaline again, watching the Skire beast race towards him. The water rushed through veins in the ground, frantically trying to please the water-speaker, but there wasn't enough time. Striker was upon him. Teeth flashed, and Nolva ducked, practically dropping to the ground. The claws on Striker's paws missed by an inch as he leapt over Nolva, and he snarled in frustration, twisting around snapping his teeth at the Zora. Nolva's fin struck the beast's snout, and the Prince was careful not to cut through the skin, as he knew what would happen to his fin. As he launched a barrage of kicks, punches, and fin blows, Nolva was aware that the tigress was coming back as well, now recovered.

Shoving Striker away, Nolva sent the water out of the ground, creating a giant dome of water over both of them. Then, as the water dome was complete, Nolva froze it, and the beasts were trapped inside a gleaming dome of ice. The ice was easily a foot thick, and as night had fallen, the ice would take long enough to melt to let the Zoras escape. Nolva gave the dome an experimental punch, and when all it did was shudder, Nolva stood back in satisfaction. But just to be sure, Nolva urged the water to soak both creatures, both of which roared in indignation loud enough for Nolva to hear outside the dome. Then, Nolva froze the water again, leaving the beasts frozen in ice.

Then, Nolva scurried away to order everyone down the river, saving his story about the Skire-men for later.

"Striker!" shouted Eshira into the empty area, leaping into the air and taking the form of a giant black hawk with a glow of shadow and the familiar feeling of searing adrenaline rushing through the venom in her blood. She had been satisfied that the venom had burned the hand of a Zora, and guessed that the venom became acidic once the body it was in was dead. But everything else that had happened that night was far from satisfactory.

She flapped her wings, gaining altitude to see more ground. She rose on an updraft, riding it up as high as possible, and then leaving it to soar away from that damned river. The Zoras had made such a quick escape that not even one was killed as they fled. Eshira had never seen such failure from her own squad; perhaps fifteen Zoras were killed. This hadn't even been worth it.

"Dammit Striker, where the hell did you go?" she muttered. Her flaming red hawk eyes pierced the land, searching for her second-in-command.

The rage she felt was purged by the sudden sight of a shiny dome of ice, painfully unnatural. She swooped down to the ground, and in the blink of an eye she was human again, trying to peer through the ice. Feeling rage taking hold of her again, her body morphed into the great scaly, winged form of a black dragon. She released a great fire from the bottom of her throat, letting it roll off her wet tongue, and within seconds the dome was reduced to a mere puddle. In front of her was just the man she wanted to kill, in the form of a wolf, and his partner Aria in her signature tigress form. And what Eshira saw brought out the disgust within her. They were frozen like useless ice cubes.

Trying to suppress her anger at their outright failure, Eshira simply breathed out a hot plume of air over the frozen Skire, and that alone melted the ice. Gasping, Striker and Aria fell to the ground, panting for the air they had been deprived of.

"Fools!" Eshira spat into their faces, wisps of smokes escaping her nostrils in anger. "You let them get away! Why do I call you second-in-command, Striker?"

"Eshira, there was nothing to be done. We had encountered one of the Chosen Heroes," Aria spoke, her purrs turning into a rusty voice as her body pulsed with shadow, then morphing back into a blonde woman.

The words brought disbelief to shine on Eshira's face; she stared at them, wondering if they were joking or not. Striker responded with a cough, and Eshira knew if Striker wasn't arguing, it was true.

"Is it true?"

The two nodded weakly, wondering what Eshira would do to them. They waited for her to explode.

But, no explosion came. She released a sigh, turning to the river. Then she released an ear-shattering bugle, her call to the squad.

Within seconds, all Skire-men were present and looking at Eshira questioningly. Eshira grunted, her massive, scaly claws moving over the ground as she walked majestically in the opposite direction of the Castle Town. "There is no way we are all heading back to Ganondorf, not when we have nothing to show for. We are the first of the Skire-humans, and if we fail, he will replace us…"

"What will you have us do?" asked a Skire-man she did not remember.

Her eyes travelled through her squad, wondering who was the most expendable of each of them. Then, her fiery red eyes fell upon Striker.

He tensed. He knew what she was going to force him to do.

"I won't."

"But you must. Would you have us all killed, or simply you?" Eshira glared daggers at Striker. "Besides, you have just failed. Tell Ganondorf that the squad still has work to do. Report our morphing abilities, report that our venom becomes acidic once we die. Report whatever he asks of you. But do not report that we failed this mission. If you survive Ganondorf's reaction, you may return to this squad, and your honour will be ensured."

Striker stared back at the dark dragon that stood before him, unmoving. Then, he turned around, breaking into an inhumanly fast run, and he leapt into the air, fur transforming into feather, and then he was gone.

Eshira turned back to the others. "We're heading to Death Mountain," was all she said, and in a flash of motion, the dragon was soaring through the air to the south, flying even faster than Striker.

Her squad exchanged fearful glances, but they all followed, bound to Eshira by their fates.