In the late afternoon a lonely breath of wind meandered through Ikana, where the gray, unmoving clouds cast the world below into a state of dull semi-darkness, a dusk without sunset. As it passed the massive columns of sepia-brown sandstone that were the kingdom's stone towers, the wind whistled forlornly through their tiny, dark windows, like the shadowy recesses of colossal termite mounds or great insect hives. It caught at Jalhalla's cloak as he sat cross-legged atop the tallest tower and stared out at the distant horizon.
"Where is...?" The king of poes waved a hand vacantly towards the isolated spark of orange burning at the edge of Ikana Canyon, searching for his next word. The nameless Garo standing a few feet behind Jalhalla waited for him to continue, but he did not.
"...Segwu, oh Faceless One?"
"Segwu," he finished. "Where is Segwu? Where is my face? I told him to bring me my face."
"He has yet to return," the Garo answered carefully. "But it has only been a day. Give him more time to-"
A ringing smack echoed through the stagnant air of Ikana, followed by a muffled thump as the Garo's half-corporeal back struck the ground. Jalhalla, now standing, drew his black-skinned, osteal hand back into the folds of his cloak, his expression unreadable behind his smiling mask. When he spoke his voice was flat and steady.
"My face, Segwu. Tell me why you did not bring it."
The Garo scrambled to his feet in confusion. "I told you already; Segwu has not returned."
"Why did you fail me, Segwu? Why did you not do this one simple thing that I asked of you? You said you would bring me a face."
"I..." Beneath his hood, the glowing, blue-green sparks that were the Garo's eyes flickered with comprehension. "I am not Segwu. Segwu has not returned. You sent him away only a short time ago."
"You are not..." Jalhalla's voice grew distant again. "How long ago did I send him away?"
"It was only this morning that he left," the Garo said slowly.
The Lantern Man stood in silence for a moment on the precipice of the tower, his mask turned toward where the sun was sinking behind a blanket of ashen clouds. "That is too long. He has been gone too long. He said he would bring me their faces by nightfall."
"It is not yet nightfall."
"It has been too long." One hand grasped at his mask in agitation. "He has failed to kill them. I should send someone else."
"I could send her."
"Your pet?" A nervous hiss from the Garo. "You are not thinking clearly. She is too massive, and too mindless. Even if she managed to find them, she would merely tear them apart, and their faces would be lost to you."
"I could send her. She would kill them. I could send her."
"Faceless One, your mind is faltering. Please think for a moment. What good would she do if you sent her?"
"I could send her," Jalhalla murmured. "I could send her." He sank to one knee and placed a hand against the gritty brown rock of the tower, and the wind, so very rare in a land of such stale, stagnant air, died away as the king of poes leeched every feeble dreg of magic from it.
"Jalhalla, please reconsider!" the Garo stated warningly, but already the stone around Jalhalla's fingers was blackening with heat, and tiny pings and pops rang out as it warped and buckled. The Lantern Man's stolen magic forced itself down into the heart of the tower in violent throes, making the great, honeycombed structure shudder.
From the ancient core of the tower there came a deep, abyssal moan, like the final guttural sound of a dying thunderstorm.
The Garo turned and fled.
Just beyond the wooden gate of Romani Ranch there was a wide grassy field, surrounded by a natural fence of red-brown rock formations. Between the stolid shapes of grazing cattle, a light breeze caught at the dry grass – knee-high in some places, where the cows seldom fed – and waved it about gently like the ripples of Lake Hylia. In the early evening, halcyon light lay like golden dust across the roofs of a cluster of buildings grouped together in the distance: a barn, a shed, a farmhouse with freshly whitewashed walls. Two children chased each other back and forth in front of them, and their laughter carried faintly across the grass.
Link lagged slightly behind Midna as the two of them made their way down the dirt road leading toward the distant farmhouse, his eyes on the ground to avoid stepping on anything sharp.
"You know, if you'd remembered where you lost that boot I could have summoned it for you," Midna teased him. "It's your own fault if your feet hurt."
"I wasn't complaining."
"No, but you think I can't tell when you're in pain? You get that kicked puppy look; it's embarrassing." Glancing back at him, she rolled her eyes. "Oh, man up and walk like a normal person. Your triforce will heal all those lovely bruises for you, anyway."
"I'm keeping up."
"No you're not; I'm just walking slowly. You know, I don't even wear shoes, and you don't see me making a fuss about it."
"You hover! Half the time your feet don't even touch the ground."
Midna raised one slim leg and wiggled her toes playfully, still gliding along at a walking pace a few centimeters above the dirt. "Well, would you look at that? I guess I'm just superior to you in every way, aren't I, light-dweller?"
"Midna," he scolded, as with a giggle she darted away. With a resigned shrug Link chased after her, registering somewhere in the back of his mind that the crafty little Twili had gotten him to pick up the pace after all. They raced each other up the road, sometimes darting in wide zigzags through the knee-deep golden grass on either side, making it whisper dryly against their legs as they passed, and the two children stopped and watched them run.
At last Link reached the wooden door of the ranch house and paused for a moment to catch his breath before knocking, the sound of Midna's distant laughter ringing in his ears.
"I knew I could get you to move a little faster!"
He shook his head, smiling faintly, and rapped on the door. From somewhere inside there came the sound of sloshing water and pottery clinking together, and a woman's voice called out, slightly muffled by the wood of the door. "Yes, yes, give me a minute, I hear you."
Link waited patiently, balancing in his remaining boot for a moment to see if his bruised foot had healed yet (it had), when someone gave a tug on the hem of his tunic, nearly pulling him over. He righted himself quickly and looked around. One of the ranch children was staring up at him curiously; a little boy of six or seven, with brown hair and skin the color of terra-cotta. "You're on base."
"Oh," said Link, not sure how to respond to that.
"The door's base. If you touch it the Keaton can't eat you."
"Lucky you, Link," Midna said with a small smirk, gliding up beside him and leaning an arm on his shoulder. The little boy gave her the wide-eyed stare of someone too young to know better, and she gave him her evilest, toothy grin.
"You look weird. Are you a witch?"
"Casey, stop bothering people!" The other child, a redheaded girl of perhaps nine summers, had run up to join them. There was a colorful paper mask affixed to her head with twine - bright yellow, and painted to look like some kind of mouse-like animal with tall, lapine ears - and she'd pushed it up over her forehead to bare her face. She grabbed the little one by the back of his shirt and pulled him away with the annoyed look of an older sister. "Sorry 'bout my brother, mister. He likes playing games for little kids."
"It's your favorite game, Pan."
"No it's not. That's dumb. You're dumb." The girl pushed her brother away rather more forcefully than seemed necessary and made a great show of straightening out her summer dress before giving a bobbing curtsey to Link and Midna, her mask flopping around atop her head. "Sorry, he's dumb. My name's Panna. That thing is my brother Caseus." She adopted the kind of respectful, well-rehearsed tone of a child used to houseguests. "Welcome to Romani Ranch."
"I'm Link," the Hero said with a smile, nodding back at her. "And this is-"
"Midna," said the Twilight Princess, and she reached over and slapped Link's hand away from the door. "And you, farmboy, are off base and must be eaten by the Keaton."
Link gave her a flat look, while Casey and Panna's faces lit up at the realization that here were two grown-ups who would play their game. Panna's air of maturity melted immediately, and she snapped the paper mask down over her face with gusto. "I'm the Keaton!"
Midna poked Link's shoulder playfully. "She's the Keaton, Link. What are you going to do about it?"
"You gotta answer riddles!" Casey piped up helpfully.
"Shut up, Casey! I'm the Keaton so I get to say it." Panna straightened up and said in her most official voice, "You gotta answer riddles. The Keaton asks you three riddles and if you get them right I give you my face and you get to be the Keaton, and if you get them wrong you gotta run away."
"I'll help," Casey whispered loudly. "She's real good at riddles but I know the answers to a bunch of 'em 'cause I made her tell me."
"Caseus!" Panna groaned.
"Go on then, ask," said Midna who was having far too much fun.
"Okay, um..." Panna rocked back and forth on the balls of her feet for a minute before deciding, "Oh, I got one! My seas have no water, my forests no wood, my deserts no sand and my houses no brick. What am I?"
Link stood in silence for a moment, honestly stumped. He'd always considered himself to be pretty good at puzzles, but only when they were physical things, with pieces he could touch and examine and rearrange. Word games weren't really his forte.
It was Midna who answered at last. With a sudden grin of realization, she waved her hands rather showily through the air and let a burst of twilight particles dance around them before resolving into the shape of the map she'd stolen from the pirates' fortress. "I think I know. Seas with no water..." She unfolded it and tapped the Great Bay. "...forests with no wood..." Her finger traveled upward, to the swampland not far from the ranch where they stood. "...deserts with no sand..." The distant wasteland, with its two tall towers. "...and houses with no brick." The large town in the middle. "The answer's a map."
The two children nodded enthusiastically, impressed by her little magic show. "Are you a witch?" Panna asked, echoing her brother.
"Is that the second riddle?" Midna responded teasingly.
"What? No! I still get two more!" The little girl folded her arms indignantly. "What's dark when it's light, gone when it's night, and follows you everywhere you go?"
Midna's grin widened, a competitive glint in her eyes. "A shadow. Come on, Keaton, ask us a hard one."
At the challenge, Panna announced in a solemn voice, as if this was the gravest, most difficult riddle she could think of, "All my life I eat, but when I drink I die. What am I?"
But the game was interrupted, as behind Link the door of the ranch house opened, and he turned to see a short, heavily-pregnant woman in a apron, her orange hair done up in a loose ponytail and her hands still wet and sudsy as she rubbed a washcloth between them in an attempt to dry them. "Sorry about that..." A nod to the room behind her, where a stack of plates and bowls rested beside a large metal washbasin full of suds. "Had to finish the dishes. My little ones aren't giving you grief, are they..." She trailed off, a sudden, shocked look crossing her face as she looked them both up and down. "Pan, Casey, go find your father."
"But Pan's the Keaton!" Casey protested. "We only have one more riddle!"
"Go find your father, and send him up to the house," the woman repeated sharply, and the children, sensing they might be in trouble, quickly darted away across the grass.
Midna called after them with a grin, "You're the Keaton! You told me earlier!"
"That's not the answer!" Panna shouted back.
"They weren't bothering us; we were just getting introduced," Link said, while the two children scurried off. "I'm Link, and this is Midna. We were traveling through and thought we'd stop for supplies."
"Yes, of course, why don't you come in?" the woman replied a little too quickly, her eyes flickering from Link and Midna to the distant shapes of her children. She stepped back carefully to allow them through the door. The interior of the farmhouse was made up of one large room, decorated with cheerful earth-toned rugs and shelves of colorful pottery. A fire burned brightly in the large stone hearth, and Link could make out the shape of a withered old woman asleep in a rocker by the fireplace. A clock hung on the far wall and filled the room with the lull of its quiet ticking.
"I'm Babeurre, and my husband Ostur is around here somewhere." Babeurre gave them an uneasy smile as she made her way over to the fireplace and started poking at the cracking logs within with the long iron fire-hook that had been sitting on the mantle above it. "I suppose you'll want a room for the night, and hot meal. And a new pair of boots," she added, eyeing Link's bare foot. "And from the smell of things you've been in the ocean, so you'll want a bath, and your clothes washed, in your case mended, I guess, and treated for the... the bloodstains..."
For the first time, Link looked down at himself and realized that his tunic was still stiff with dried-on salt and marred with blackened bloodstains - his own and Kalau's - and Midna's own hair and clothes were equally bedraggled. The two of them exchanged looks, both suddenly realizing the cause of Babeurre's apprehension.
"Oh!" Link said quickly, opening his mouth to explain without quite knowing what he was going to say, all too aware that the truth might very well have them sleeping on the ground that night. "It's not what it looks like." You almost killed a Zora. It's exactly what it looks like. "We're not-"
But with a sudden shriek, Babeurre spun around and swung the firehook wildly in Link's direction, it's wicked, hooked iron tip sweeping by inches away from his chest.
"What do you want!" the woman demanded, adopting as menacing a stance as her round-with-child stomach would allow. In her grip, the end of the firehook glowed orange-hot and hissed in the cool air. "Thieves, murderers, I won't have you robbing my ranch or hurting my children!"
Link's sword was in his hands before he realized he'd drawn it, so quick had his reflexes become. He stared down at it in shock for a moment, and beside him Midna gasped, "Put it down, Link!" As if she was worried he might actually use it. As if she thought he'd become paranoid and jumpy enough to attack a pregnant woman before his common sense kicked in and stopped him. He dropped the blade as if burned and held up his hands quickly in a gesture of placation.
"Wait, we're not thieves! We were attacked by something, that's why we look like this!"
"Then get out now!" Babeurre repeated, the makeshift weapon wavering from Link to Midna. "My family doesn't need this kind of trouble!"
"Aren't we popular today," Midna muttered cynically.
Link began backing slowly towards the door. "We should go. We'll find someplace else to sleep tonight."
"You forget your sword," Midna began, and bent to pick it up.
With a panicked shout, Babeurre brought the firehook down with a snap. No, the part of him that loved Midna shouted, and by the time Link realized that the Twili's own magic could protect her, he had already leapt forward and grabbed the molten-hot weapon in mid strike.
The room was dead silent for a moment, save for the quiet snoring of the old woman in her rocking chair and the ticking of the clock, and the smell of charred skin and burnt leather hung like a fug in the air. After a few disbelieving seconds, Link uncurled his fingers and stared down at his mangled hand.
The firehook fell to the floorboards with a dull thunk, and Babeurre clapped her hands to her mouth in shock. "Gods and giants, your hand!"
Midna gave Link an exasperated look. "Really, Hero? Really? I can't turn my head for two seconds without you doing something stupidly... heroic!"
"She was about to hit you with a fire poker!" Link muttered through gritted teeth. His gauntlet was still smoldering; the glowing metal had burnt clear through the leather. Painfully he flexed his fingers, feeling his triforce flood with heat and watching the burnt skin heal itself.
"I do have magic, you know. I don't need you jumping in every time-"
"Gods and giants, gods and giants, your hand!"
"Oh, would you stop? His hand is fine. If you were going to be such a baby about it you shouldn't have used the thing as a weapon to begin with. Try the fire shovel next time; it doubles as a bludgeon."
"I panicked!" the woman answered frantically. "Look at you, you're covered in blood! You look like criminals, and my children were right outside!"
"So you threatened us with a foot of white-hot metal?" Midna debated. "Because that's not at all hypocritical."
"He drew his sword on me!"
"Well to be fair, you drew your... fire poker thing on him first."
"Out of self-defense!"
"Excuse me, lady? You attacked us."
"Babeurre!" The door burst open and Babeurre's husband Ostur, a stout, coffee-skinned man, stood silhouetted in the dying light, panting as if he'd just sprinted the length of the ranch. His eyes flickered from Link and Midna, to Baberurre, to the sword and firehook cast haphazardly to the floor, and Casey and Panna peeked out from behind him, watching the scene unfold with wide eyes. "What's going on in here?"
"I panicked, Ostur!" Babeurre repeated hysterically, and the room dissolved into shouting.
"You... what? What happened?"
"I thought they were criminals, so I-"
"Criminals?" And then it was too late to simply slip away, because Ostur was standing with his feet apart and his fists raised, barring the doorway. "You're threatening my wife, trying to rob Romani Ranch?"
"We weren't!" Link quickly tried to explain, while beside him Midna rolled her eyes and slapped a hand to her forehead. "We were attacked by some creature earlier today and we just wanted somewhere to spend the night and maybe wash our clothes-"
"-and he just grabbed it out of the air-" Babeurre was still babbling, her words running together with Link's. "It was self-defense!"
"Babeurre, what happened? Are we being robbed or not?"
"We're not robbing you, we just-"
"Would everyone just-"
The last word echoed suddenly through the little room, and the confused argument died out as they realized that none of them had said it: it was the voice of the old woman in the rocking chair.
She was watching them all from her place by the hearth with a faint, laughline-creased smirk, awoken and amused by all the shouting. Now that Link could study her face he noticed how much she resembled Babeurre, though her face was much older and her hair was wispy white instead of orange. "Oh, this is an adventure. All this fuss, and you'd leave poor Romani out of the fun?"
"Auntie," Babeurre began, and the old woman put a finger to her lips.
"Not now, dear. The floor's on fire."
All eyes, as one, traveled downward and rested on the still-hot firehook, around which tiny tongues of flame were beginning to flicker as it branded its smoldering, sooty outline into the hardwood floor.
They scrambled to scuff it out, while old Romani, still chuckling to herself, watched them with amusement. The efforts of six people at once trying to stamp out the same tiny fire did more harm then good, and total chaos reigned for a few seconds until Panna thought to overturn her mother's washbasin and spill a deluge of soapy water across the floor, sending clouds of steam hissing into the air.
The six of them stood, panting, and the clock ticked away into an awkward silence.
At last Midna gave a small laugh and muttered, "All my life I eat, but when I drink I die. What am I? Fire. Of course it's fire. I win."
"Aw..." Panna muttered.
The tension had drained out of the room somewhat. Ostur carefully raised the firehook by its cooler end and set it back on the mantle. Link retrieved his sword at last from the sudsy floor, wiped it off on the hem of his tunic, and sheathed it. Babeurre shifted her weight uncomfortably, eyeing the ruined floor. "Well, let me see it."
"See what-" Link began, but before he could finish the woman had reached out and carefully grasped his arm, pulling his hand towards her, palm up. The firehook had burned a narrow, banded hole straight through his gauntlet, and between the charred black edges (giving off a faint, burnt-leather odor that only he could smell) Link could see new pink skin, recently healed by his triforce.
"Not a mark on your skin," the ranch-woman murmured to herself, sounding slightly baffled. "The gauntlet must have..." She shook her head and pushed his hand away again. "You can't stay. They can't stay, Ostur. The boy is covered in blood and there's not a scratch on him so I know it isn't his; how can we trust anything they say?"
"Because," old Romani stated simply, "The boy's a friend of Romani's, and I've been expecting him."
Link opened his mouth to explain that they'd just stopped to rest and resupply, that she had them confused with someone else, when he met Romani's eyes and saw her give him a quick wink, as if they were old friends sharing some private joke. The words died away, unsaid.
"The family has shown you such a terrible welcome, Link. I'm ashamed," she continued, and he wondered, for the briefest of moments, how the old woman knew his name. But of course Midna or someone must have said it earlier, and she'd overheard.
"We-" Babeurre tried again, and was once again shushed by Romani.
"Oh quiet, you. Somebody breaks in, you don't threaten them with the firehook. You run upstairs and get the crossbow like a civilized person. Now be kind and invite the poor boy and his lady friend to dinner."
"Can they stay?" Casey implored, looking up at his parents.
Ostur and Babeurre exchanged an unreadable look over their childrens' heads. They were, he assumed, uneasy about letting a pair of bloody and bedraggled strangers into their home. But the old woman had vouched for them, and at last Ostur nodded and held out his hand. "We've all started out on the wrong foot, so let's start over. I'm Ostur."
After a moment's hesitation, Link shook Ostur's hand. "Link, and Midna."
"And you've already met the rest. Well then. Welcome to Romani Ranch. Babeurre?"
Ostur's wife sighed and nodded. "I'm... sorry about this, I guess. I don't normally attack people with fire-irons. But before you travel any further, you might want to wash those bloodstains out of your tunic. It gives the wrong impression."
"We're aware of that now," Midna muttered.
"Sorry for all... this," Link added, feeling an apology was in order for causing so much havoc.
"It was a misunderstanding, I can see that. If there's anything we can do for a couple of travelers like yourselves," the man added, "Let us know."
Midna elbowed Link gently in the ribs, and with the smallest twitch of a smile, he asked, "Could we buy a pair of boots?"
The smile was returned with Ostur's amiable grin. "Of course. We could probably manage to get those clothes washed for you, too. Why don't you stay for dinner?"
In a few minutes it was as if it had all never happened. The faint, clockwork rhythm of the timepiece on the wall ticked on, and the savory smell of baking sweet-potatoes and pot-pie rose from the wood-burning oven in the corner, as Babeurre opened its doors and slid yet another dish into place. Casey and Panna were mopping up the soapy water that had been spilled across the floor, racing to see who could finish first and batting suds at each other when they thought their mother wasn't looking.
Link, Midna, and Ostur sat around the wooden table in the center of the room and perused Midna's map, spread out before them and weighted down with odds and ends of pottery. Midna was wearing a rather bulky and ill-fitting dress belonging to Babeurre, her hair hanging loose around her shoulders, and Link had on a secondhand pair of boots and one of Ostur's shirts, which was too baggy on him and not quite long enough in the sleeves, but despite the bad fit it was an unbelievable relief to be wearing something clean again. Their old clothes had been left in the washbasin to soak.
Over the map, the Hero and Twili did their best to explain who they were and where they were going. They talked about the Fever, seeking answers from Lanayru, the sandstorm and the Zora and rampant embellishment on Midna's behalf when they got to the part about the pirates, and at last the strange, green-eyed creature that had attacked Link and driven them away. Ostur listened gravely, and out of the corner of his eye Link could see that they had Romani and Babeurre's attention as well.
While Link was finishing the last of the tale, Panna lost interest in helping Casey clean and wandered over to hand Midna the paper mask they'd been playing with earlier and whisper something into her ear. With a grin the Twilight Princess waved to Link to keep going, pulled the mask over her face, and slipped off to play with the children.
"This plague... what was the name of it again?" Ostur asked, and Babeurre lowered herself carefully into Midna's vacated seat.
"Tremoring Fever," said Link.
Ostur exchanged a confused look with his wife. "That's an odd coincidence. Here in Termina we have a disease by the same name, but it isn't nearly as deadly."
"It's one of those childhood diseases that everyone gets at least once," Babeurre confirmed. "Casey was a right little terror when he was sick with it."
"I got to lie in bed all week and eat soup and ice cream, and Pan had to be nice to me or else!" Casey informed them proudly.
Link nodded. "The Zora at the Great Bay said the same thing. But people in Hyrule are dying of it. The goats..." He trailed off, remembering the smell of Yenka, the frantic noises she made as she thrashed around, her fever-hot hide against his arms. One hand idly traced the spot on his chest where his horse whistle should have hung. "It can't be the same disease."
"I'm sorry about what happened to your kingdom," Ostur said, catching his melancholy look. "Something like that, as if the world was ending... I can't even imagine."
"I can!" Romani said cheerfully from her rocker by the fire.
"We'd help you if we could," Babeurre assured him. "But the disease we call Tremoring Fever doesn't have a cure. No one dies of it, so I don't think anyone's ever bothered to find one."
Ostur's hand traced the edges of the swamp marked on the map. "This might help. I've heard rumors about a pair of witches living somewhere in the Southern Swamp, who use the plants there to make medicines. Maybe they know what you're looking for?"
"It's worth a try," Link said gratefully, remembering Midna's plan to seek out a magic-worker who might know what was wrong with the Shadow Crystal. "Thank you."
"Well, fold up the map then, and help me set the table," Babeurre said shortly. "Food's almost ready."
"Let me show Midna first, and I'll get it put away." The Hero stood up and wandered over to where Casey, Panna, and Midna were seated in a circle on the floor, playing their Keaton game.
"'What number am I thinking of' isn't a riddle," Panna was complaining. "You're a terrible Keaton; it should be my turn again."
"You didn't guess the number," Midna stated, from behind the Keaton mask.
"That's dumb. Do you even know any real riddles? Tell us a real one, the hardest one you know!"
Midna shrugged, and then rather sadistically asked, "What lives below the painted sun and moon and has a hundred faces?"
"Midna, that's not really fair," Link reprimanded, pulling her mask off, while Casey and Panna quietly mulled the question over. "Come on, Ostur told me about some witches who might be able to help us."
She joined him at the table and watched as he showed her the swamp Ostur had pointed out. It was marked on the map only by a wide sweep of stylized marshland, with no trails or roads passing through it, and no sign of where a pair of witches might be hiding. Anyone else would have given him a skeptical look and told him to try something else, but Midna was a believer in vague rumors and dubious legends. She simply nodded in agreement; any wild goal was better than none at all.
Panna's voice piped up behind them.
The two of them turned to face her, and Link heard himself say, "What?"
"What lives below the painted sun and moon and has a hundred faces. It's a clock." She pointed up at the clock on the wall, still ticking quietly away. "A clock has a face, but it's changing all the time because the hands keep going round and round, so I guess you can say it has a bunch of faces. And the hands are on top of the face, and they have a sun and moon painted on them to tell you what time of day it is. So the answer is a clock."
"Told you she was real good at riddles," Casey reminded them.
Midna looked at Link with wide eyes. "So when Lanayru was looking for the cure, it saw... a clock?" She spun quickly and slammed her hands down on the table, her eyes skimming the aged paper. "I've seen a clock on here, I know I have! There!" She pointed to the town in the exact center of the map, surrounded by what looked to be a wide grassy field. Sure enough, rising from the little stylized drawing that marked the town's location was what looked very much like a clock tower.
"Clock Town," Midna announced grandly. "That's where it was sending us."
Link could hardly believe it. They were so close already; it would take them half a day at most to walk the rest of the way. His heart was hammering from the sudden rush of excitement that flooded through him. Ilia would live, they'd succeeded, they'd almost found it. "Well, let's go! We know where it is now, so-" He was interrupted by a groan from Midna. "What?"
"Really, Hero? After everything we've been through today? I was chased by pirates. You were almost drowned, dismembered, and eaten by Gyorgs. I don't think either of us could go that much farther tonight."
Link looked at her with frustration. "But we're so close."
"And we're not getting any further away. Come on, let's get some sleep and something to eat, and then we'll be able to travel that much faster because we're not dead tired."
He wanted to protest, but... What could it hurt? said the part of him that loved Midna. As soon as we find the cure, the magic that brought her here will send her back. What's one more night with Midna?
Link had the uncomfortable sensation that he was supposed to have an argument for that, but Midna was right. They were beaten and tired, and they needed a little time to recover. At last, he sighed reluctantly and started to fold the map up so Midna could spirit it away. "Alright. But we're leaving first thing tomorrow. As soon as it's light."
"As soon as it's light," she echoed. "I know, Link. It's happening to my kingdom too. I wouldn't make them wait."
In silence he helped the ranch family set the table, feeling oddly detached from what he was doing. Restless and apprehensive, like he'd been back on the beach. They were so close.
One more night with Midna. One more night to be happy.
I just want this to be over with. I want to go back to Hyrule and see Ilia again, safe and healthy and alive.
The sun sank slowly below the horizon, and a bluish twilight settled over the Southern Swamp. Seated on the porch of her squat little hut and nodding off as she was lulled by the sloshing of swamp water and the hum of insects in the canopy overhead, the witch named Koume blinked sleepily.
Something was coming. There were ripples on the water.
She blinked again, slowly, watching them lap against each other in the gathering darkness, grow larger, more spastic. Something was coming. Something big.
It hit the little hut like a shockwave, a wall of thick, brackish water three feet high, swept along by the roiling ground beneath it. It coasted past, below the tall wooden stilts the held the squat witches' hut above the water, and as it passed they shuddered violently, as if the mud they were embedded in had angrily shifted, and the whole hut was shaken, prompting a crash of breaking glass from inside. The stooping, twisted swamp trees all around Koume shook, once, and went still.
Squat little Kotake stuck her head out of the door indignantly, her face spattered with a slurry of different colored potions. "Did you feel that, Koume?"
"Of course I did, Kotake. You think I could sleep through it?" answered the other witch, who'd been flung from the porch and wound up on her back in the mud. Kotake climbed down the ladder leading up to their hut rather nimbly for her age, and helped Koume to her feet. "An earthquake, do you think?"
"Here? The ground's all mud, Koume. It just isn't natural, shaking like that."
"It could be her, Kotake."
They made their way back up the ladder and stood on their wide wooden porch, looking out across the water, dark with churned-up silt and mud, and watching little wavelets splash wildly across it in the darkening night, as elsewhere in the swamp another seism shook the distant trees.
"Could be," Kotake agreed. "Could be. But what's Jalhalla thinking, setting her loose?"
"She's gotten lost," Koume commented knowingly. "He sent her through the swamp, and now she's confused by all the mud and water. She's stuck."
"Not good for us, Koume."
"Not good at all, Kotake."
The deep, guttural wail of something massive echoed through the darkness. Jalhalla's pet was lost and confused. And she was getting angry.