Disclaimer: Render unto Nintendo the things which are Nintendo's, and unto me the things that are mine.

Disclaimer applies to this chapter and all chapters afterwards.

The Legend of Zelda: Exoria
By Kei

Dedicated to Aura
To whom I owe my great inspiration
And who has been my pillar of support along the way


It was on a Sunday afternoon that the chief of staff to the Hylian crown princess stepped into the cobblestone path of the Nayru Garden from the vast castle halls within, a move that could've otherwise been considered taboo by means of time and location if one understood the customs of the castle. The maids, standing perimeter around the entrances to the garden, moved in, their faces reflecting disapproval, if not shock, as the chief of staff stepped into the gardens from within the castle, preparing to remind her of the privacy required in this garden behind the castle proper at this time, but a wave of a hand from her, coupled with a stern expression on her face, told the maids that she was well-aware of the rules, but the situation warranted this breaking of tradition. The maids dutifully backed down.

Although the gait of the white-haired, red-eyed, dark-skinned woman was calm, not carrying any particular sense of agitation or urgency, it was also somewhat brisk. It had nothing to do with the fact that even the chief of staff did not often visit the Nayru Garden, but that she had unfortunate news to bear. The colors of her dress, blue and purple, struck a bit of a contrast to the garden around her, consisting largely of white walls, green grass, and a myriad of flowers that were actually more red and orange in color, as if to differentiate itself from the rest of the castle, set in a whitish-blue color scheme.

The woman, however, had no time to admire the beautiful scenery of this well-maintained garden. Rather, she headed straight for the pavilion, the gazebo, at the center of the garden.

The garden was not excessively large compared to the other gardens surrounding the palace. It was, after all, a private garden for the royal family, sporadically visited by the palace staff when the occasion called for it. It was, after all, just less than an acre in size, and the chief of staff didn't need to spend any time trying to reach the gazebo – or trying to distract her own attention long enough with the lavish, natural surroundings, to prolong her journey to the center of the garden, for that matter – whereupon she laid eyes on the single figure seated within the small pavilion, a small, roofed, open-aired deck that served as a place to remain comfortably in the shade and enjoy the view and air around the garden even as the sun cruised in the skies above on such an afternoon.

The princess, her chief of staff observed, always seemed slightly different in this garden when compared to anywhere else in the palace. Perhaps, for the princess, it was the one place where the environment provided solace, a distraction from an everyday life of a crown princess forced to take the mantle of the king's duties, a respite from a stressful, if not antagonizing, lifestyle that would've broke a lesser girl of eighteen years. Of course, the chief of staff knew that such a theory was not necessarily true, not when one also observed that the princess rarely ever set foot in Nayru Garden without a folder of documents in one hand and a pen in another. Still, for one who had accompanied the princess on a journey through years since her birth, she could not help but notice the tranquility that the princess displayed when seated in the gazebo, devoid of security details or servants, surrounded by flowers and aromas while before her on the table were a personal tea set and whatever work-related documents she needed to concentrate on. Blue eyes and delicate features were framed upon pale skin adorned with long, shoulder blade-length blond hair, a golden diadem gently around the princess' head while a multi-layered dress, white, blue, and purple in color, masked her elegant, frail figure underneath.

The princess' head gently lifted as she noticed the approach of her chief of staff, the movement subtle, restrained, even as her eyes betrayed a hint of surprise and alarm, for if her chief of staff had to intrude upon her privacy, matters were likely to be of great importance. Still, it radiated a strange aura of calm, one that was not easily found in an eighteen-year-old girl. It took a moment for the chief of staff to properly reflect that, one day, she would make a great queen, if she hadn't already.

Stepping onto the pavilion, the chief of staff paused just on the opposite of the table of the princess. A curtsy was made, a nod given in return, formal pleasantries exchanged, if only to delay whatever news had to be delivered. As soon as they were finished, the chief of staff stepped around the table, and somberly whispered her news to the princess.

The princess' eyes went wide. Initially, she had been looking only at her chief of staff, but, slowly, as if in slow denial, they drifted, shocked and wide, back to the table before her. She trembled a bit. Her jaw opened just a bit before closing it in an attempt to speak.

The chief of staff, her eyes reflecting sorrow and regret, placed a hand on the princess' shoulder in comfort and sympathy. She recognized the need for her lady to be alone without even being asked. She whispered some form of condolence to the princess, made sure she would be alright, and, with a final parting glance, as if looking for any sign that would inform her of the need to stay with her princess, slowly left the gazebo, headed back for the castle, not looking back in respect for the princess' obvious wish of no one seeing her in such a state.

For the maids peeking out from around the corner of the entrance and out the windows, though they could not see the tears that had begun to flow from their lady's eyes, the face that buried itself into white-gloved hands clearly told of a deep sadness and anguish, and, in shame, they all discreetly looked away.

The first time Zelda saw him, the young man was standing at attention before her even as his hands were folded behind him smartly, dressed in complete black, his shirt, jacket, trousers, ties, and shoes all of the same color – a clear indication of his position with Hylian Joint Intelligence. A pair of heavily-tinted sunglasses, predictably also black, hid his eyes from her direct line of sight, his face utterly stoic and serious. What would've been a somewhat black-and-white color scheme, a combination of suit and skin, was broken by somewhat messy dirty blond hair, long enough to be shoulder-length at the back. An earpiece was in his ear, most likely tuned to a palace security frequency…or one belonging to Joint Intelligence.

"His name is Link, your Highness," Impa did the talking for the two as she gestured in a manner that was not unkindly towards the blond, unmoving young man. "He was personally recommended by Director Leonore to be your interim bodyguard until you can make arrangements for a new one."

Zelda spared a moment as she looked up from the stack of papers on her office desk. As crown princess, she enjoyed the luxuries of a rather spacious and pristine office, which, in honesty, she felt to be rather unnecessary. All the space was wasted on the space between her desk and the double doors, and the only particular objects that were noteworthy in the room were a pair of bookshelves that flanked her desk on both sides of the room and the aforementioned desk. A regal, throne-like seat with a splendidly tall back stood at the very rear, the back of the seat, facing the window, made of very heavy metallic material to prevent potential snipers from firing a bullet through the reinforced window and the back of the chair in an assassination attempt. The office itself was rather crystalline, its material marble-like and reflecting a light, silver-ish hue bordering on blue, giving the room an almost holy aura. The architect of the room evidently chose to impress the inhabitants of the castle rather than provide practicality or pragmatism over splendor.

Her expression was carefully neutral, showing no particular displeasure or anger, but no care either, as Zelda regarded the young man standing before her, before just as silently dismissing his presence, her eyes going back to the documents before her desk. He was, as far as she could tell, no one that was particularly special. He was younger than everyone else she had seen wearing all black on the castle grounds, probably only a year older than herself, but, otherwise, there was nothing about him that made him stand out when compared to every other black-laden intelligence agent. "An unusual gesture," Zelda permitted herself to say, her voice devoid of any particular emotion or stress. "To what do I owe such consideration?"

Impa worriedly looked at Zelda for a moment, noting her dismissive nature and an unseen, invisible displeasure that only years of experience with this young princess could detect. "Your Highness," Impa continued, throwing a covert glance towards Link to see if he was upset by such a reaction, but he might as well have been chiseled out of stone, unmoving and stoic as he was, "Director Leonore is aware of the background and security checks by Joint Intelligence that are required before a new bodyguard can be appointed to you. She has taken the liberty of undertaking the checks herself for Agent Link, and says she can have him immediately assigned to you indefinitely to fill the hole in your security detail until your new candidate can be screened."

To this Zelda said nothing; instead, she merely continued to look at the documents, occasionally taking a moment to scribble something on it with a pen, likely a signature or some notes. Although she knew better, she had a sudden impulsive hope that the chandelier above, hanging meters above Link, would suddenly come crashing down on him and end this rather irksome topic.

It was after a moment of this awkward silence that Impa understood the implications of Zelda's refusal to speak any further, and, with that, hoping Link didn't pick up as much as Impa did, turned to the young man. "Could you please wait outside for a while, Link?" she said in a quiet, reasonable voice.

Not missing a beat, or even giving a second glance towards the princess, Link unhesitatingly nodded to Impa, then offered a salute to Zelda, one she did not return, before walking briskly out of the room. If he was offended, he certainly didn't show it. Zelda actually counted ten seconds for the young man to reach from where he had been standing before the desk to the door, and reminded herself for what was probably the hundredth time that she still felt her office was unnecessarily spacious. She forfeited another five seconds to ensure that Link was not just at the door outside before finally addressed Impa, still standing where she had been even when Link was in the room.

"I am surprised at the gall of some people," Zelda muttered, her voice thick with concentration and clear irritation even as she continued to scribble away at the documents on her desk, anger articulated through what seemed like an unnecessary amount of pressure being put on the pen, drawing bold lines around where the tip touched the paper. "Does that woman believe she can just take and reassign bodyguards to me like some sort of merry-go-around? And where is she? Why isn't she here to tell me of this change herself?" Without Link here, she was free to vent her frustrations in front of Impa, something that would not have been quite proper in front of a subject and civil servant not directly on a palace payroll.

Impa hesitated. On one hand, she wasn't particularly afraid of the princess' rare bursts of temper and humanity, not when Impa had been her caretaker from birth and not when she was currently Zelda's chief of staff. Anger from the princess was rare, but ultimately not unheard of, and, in light of the current situation, Impa, having watched Zelda's struggles in keeping the kingdom running single-handedly at the tender age of eighteen, certainly wasn't going to blame her. The fact was, however, that Impa did need to convey the truth while keeping the pain and the necessities at clear boundaries, one that was more politically healthy for Zelda.

Chances were that Zelda knew anyways, and was merely looking for a chance to vent, but Impa just had to make sure.

"I have been told that Director Leonore is under the impression you don't want to see her right now," Impa finally said in a slow, deliberate voice. "Seeing your current mood, I cannot help but agree. Furthermore, rumor has it that she is currently making thorough preparations for an administration change before tendering her resignation."

Zelda looked up, her pen coming to a pause, genuine surprise settling into her eyes as she looked back up at Impa. "She's resigning?" she blinked, absorbing this news.

"I'm no spy, your Highness," Impa gave a small nod of her head, "but those are the rumors."

It took her a moment to properly digest this information before Zelda sighed, placing her pen down on the desk before she pressed her fingers gently on her forehead, as if attempting to tame a headache that was beginning to build. This was seriously not the time for her to be dealing with this kind of thing. On one hand, she had expected, even predicted, that this would happen, but that was just a realm of possibilities, a potential factor with a chance – albeit a rather high one – of happening, and now that it did happen, Zelda realized that she had not actually formulated a proper response to react to this situation.

She suppressed a second sigh at this realization. Recent events have really been getting to her.

Zelda ran the possibilities in her head before finally dropping her right hand from her forehead to the armrest limply. "I need you to talk Leonore out of it soon," she said to Impa tiredly. "Preferably just before the conference on Thursday. It'll help her keep that in mind when the conference actually starts and give her little time to think about it; I don't want to touch on this issue formally then, not until I have something more conclusive and preferably when I'm not still feeling horrible about it. And I'd prefer to keep her off-guard and with as few contingencies as possible, at least until I have a few contingencies of my own."

Impa frowned worriedly at her words, wondering if Zelda had gone paranoid. "Are you afraid that she might attempt some form of power play?" she asked. If that was truly what Zelda believed, Impa would have to discourage such a thought; Leonore simply was not the type of person who would go that far, not when duty was such a paramount thing for the current director of Joint Intelligence.

"No," Zelda corrected, as she tilted her head back against the back of her seat and closed her eyes. "I'm afraid that she might really resign. Especially right now."

Impa nodded. "I understand, your Highness," she assured her princess.

Zelda sighed, dropping her pen back onto her desk as she leaned back against her throne, fatigue and frustration clear on her face. "Of all the times this has to happen," she muttered, supporting her head with a hand as she tilted it to the side, her elbow on the armrest her seat, "Leonore timed this particularly well, especially when she knew I would need her the most."

The chief of staff pursed her lips. "I wouldn't think her timing is intentional," Impa offered some form of comfort. "The simple truth of the matter is that you need to fill in this hole, and she happens to be the best candidate to select one for you in a rapid, impromptu manner. And she's experienced; she had been serving your father as director of Joint Intelligence before…" she trailed off, not quite wishing to finish the sentence. There were enough touchy subjects as was.

A shake of the head told Impa that Zelda disagreed. "It's not just that," she seemed rather adamant. "You're not seeing things the way I am…"

"And pardon me, your Highness," Impa interrupted tersely, but not unkindly, something that probably only she was given the privilege to do as Zelda's closest advisors and caretaker since birth, "but I think recent events have thrown you off your game, and you are not yourself at the moment. I understand your loss, your Highness. Believe me, I do…"

"No one doubts that," Zelda offered, but it seemed to only be a token gesture, and her words seemed tired, half-committed.

"…But the fact remains that I think all of us are being preoccupied by a greater issue at the moment than the death of one bodyguard," Impa continued, heedless of whatever conciliatory gesture, half-hearted or otherwise, that Zelda made. "If you wish, I can have my staff look around Joint Intelligence for any holes, any clues, file a formal investigation if need be, but the fact remains, princess, that Leonore is offering the best choice she can provide us right now."

Many moments of awkward silence passed before Zelda sighed again, leaning back against her throne and closing her eyes. What annoyed her a bit was that Impa made sense; Zelda was tired and frustrated and drained from what had been happening, and this was not something that she could hide from Impa, wise with decades of experience and eighteen years of understanding Zelda, despite her attempts to covering it up behind the cold mask of stunning logic and intelligence that had allowed the princess to govern this kingdom practically single-handedly since she was sixteen years of age. It wasn't ignoble or petty-minded, but after eighteen years, Zelda had hoped that she would somehow be able to impress herself by managing to hide her thoughts from Impa and, for once, leave the chief of staff guessing.

Of course, in reality, she wouldn't have it any other way. Impa's ability to simply know what Zelda was thinking or feeling had been such a valuable asset since she took responsibility as to affairs of state, which was probably why Impa still remained as Zelda's closest advisor.

Still, the annoyance had to do partly with Leonore as well. After everything that had happened, Zelda was looking for the proper pretext, something that could justify her actions, to have Leonore quietly removed from Joint Intelligence. It was, of course, unjustified either way – as Impa said, there were more important matters than the death of a single bodyguard – but that was her emotions speaking, and, for obvious reasons, that had, for the past few days, taken precedence over everything else. Instead of giving Zelda some sort of alibi or cue to have her silently removed, however, Leonore extended the gesture first by offering to resign…then demonstrate her hyper-competence by preparing for an administration change and being thoughtful enough to have an agent ready to complete Zelda's security detail.

The goddesses conspire against me, Zelda thought with a fair degree of irritation.

More moments of awkward silence dragged on.

Finally, Impa decided that long enough a time had gone on, and practical matters took priority. "What about Agent Link?" she inquired.

"What about him?" Zelda replied; her voice sounded vaguely absentminded even as she stared off into one of the corners of that rather large office.

"You haven't decided whether or not you'll take up on Director Leonore's offer on a temporary replacement for your personal bodyguard."

Zelda sighed, rubbing the bridge of her nose as she did so. Stress was seriously starting to get to her, and, for what was probably the thousandth time, she wished that her father wasn't confined to his room, unconscious, unresponsive, comatose, wired to half a dozen life support systems with no real hope of ever regaining consciousness. "What do you think, Impa?" she asked as she finally looked back up to her chief of staff. "Should I accept?"

"Milady," Impa advised, insisting upon her position, "I think, regardless of whatever may or may not be going on under the table, your security still remains to be of the utmost importance. It is imperative that all security precautions remain at full strength."

"And if I accept this offer," Zelda figured, opening her eyes to look at Impa with a rather stoic, unreadable expression, which she hoped would mask her conflicting feelings, "it'll make it easier for you to reach out to Leonore on Thursday and convince her I don't want to see her gone just yet."

Impa nodded. "Precisely."

Zelda formed a grimace even as she turned her attention back to her paperwork, leaning forward on the desk as she picked up her pen again, scribbling notes and signatures. "I don't like this," she muttered, "There's something about this timing that's off." For some strange reason, something based on logic, intuition, or otherwise, something was just nagging at her. A premonition of sorts. She just couldn't let go of it.

Impa did her best to seem sympathetic. "I understand, your Highness," she said, trying to be, for once, the voice of reason beside Zelda. "But, regardless of its timing, I'm sure even you see that it's the best choice available to us right now."

Her hand did not stop scribbling even as Zelda gave a half-hearted reply. "Perhaps," she whispered.

In all honesty, Zelda had been neglectfully professional towards her new bodyguard, but it was not until Wednesday that she decided she probably wasn't going to like Link.

There was the initial frustration that Link essentially followed Zelda like a shadow. It was not at all surprising, considering he was going to be her bodyguard for as long as Impa needed to make arrangements to allow Zelda to select a new one from a candidate list the chief of staff would be preparing – which meant interviews with the candidates, calls to their respective superiors and departments, and, of course, screening and tests with Joint Intelligence – but Link somehow saw fit to follow her wherever she went. It had been somewhat surprising, a feeling of the unwelcome sort, when Link, unasked, stepped into her office right behind her, something that no one else had ever did; most people stopped right outside the door unless asked to come in. Zelda had been too surprised to say anything at the time, so she merely decided to tolerate Link's presence in her office with her this time, where he merely decided to stand by the door at attention like some sort of sentry.

It was awkward enough having someone else in her little office sanctuary, but it was even more so – maybe even borderline unnerving – when Zelda realized that Link seemed to have a special ability to stand there for hours on end without moving. He moved once when he turned to the door, a hand in his jacket as if to reach for some weapon, after Impa was let in through the door after the intercom on Zelda's desk informed her that her chief of staff was coming in, but otherwise, he just stood there, and something about that simply didn't sit well with Zelda, not when his eyes were effectively hidden behind heavily tinted sunglasses that Link seemed to always keep on, basically giving him the appearance of a generic Joint Intelligence agent. With such a stoic demeanor, unmoving posture, and no view to his eyes, Link was, to Zelda, and unreadable enigma.

She didn't like that; two years of running the kingdom instilled her with a need that convinced her she needed to know everything.

The fact that he never talked was also getting on her nerves. Granted, Link somehow possessed an uncanny knack of expressing himself through a mixture of body language and actions if he couldn't respond with either a nod or a shake of his head, but he also seemed very good at not answering questions or leaving it up in the air with a simple shrug that could mean anything. Zelda wanted to foster an impression that she wasn't trying to be unworkable, but by the third attempt trying to get him to say something, if only to place a profile on his voice, she decided that she really didn't want to talk to him at all anymore. In fact, despite Impa's reassurances that all agents assigned to the royal family's security details must not have any major disability, Zelda was beginning to suspect that Link was mute.

And now, she was stuck having to explain to him why he couldn't follow her into Nayru Garden on a Wednesday afternoon without sounding rude and not going into a fully detailed explanation.

"This is as far as you'll need to take me, thank you," Zelda said, her voice clearly not providing any hint that she was being thankful, even as she turned around to face Link at the castle entrance of the Nayru Garden. Around, the maids that usually tended to the garden silently and nervously watched the spectacle between their princess and a Joint Intelligence agent they had never seen before, preparing to intervene if necessary. Maybe with dusters and brooms.

Link did not respond, merely stood there. Zelda wasn't sure, but she thought Link had an "I'm supposed to be protecting you" vibe going on. Or maybe he was going to speak, but was going to go into the usual "your Highness, I can't allow you in here until I have made preliminary security checks to ensure that the premises is safe". That would've been rather amusing, but it wasn't something she was looking forward to right now. Or maybe she was hoping that Link could at least speak and voice his concerns in a rare gesture at using vocal communication, but no such luck for her when Zelda realized he was going to remain utterly silent.

"I can assure you," Zelda said as patiently as she could, although she could detect a bit of thinness in her voice that Link probably wouldn't miss either, "that I have, for the last five years, been in this garden alone every Wednesday and Sunday afternoon. My staff knows that I am to be given privacy during these afternoons, and that I have the garden to myself unless there is an emergency."

Again, Link merely stood there. This time, Zelda couldn't quite tell what he was thinking or what he was trying to say, and those damned sunglasses prevented her from searching for answers in his eyes. She had half a mind to demand that he remove those sunglasses, but that, she felt, would be rather unreasonable. She had all the reason in the world to be moody, but there was a need to maintain a certain composure as crown princess. Losing her cool here, in front of a bodyguard and surrounded by maids, was not what she was looking for in particular.

"Is that understood?" Zelda asked, if only to confirm.

A moment of hesitation, before Link nodded curtly. He didn't seem particularly convinced with that explanation, which Zelda honestly didn't care much for, and she suddenly pondered the possibility that he might walk right in after her anyways as soon as she turned around, but when she stepped into the sunlight and into the gardens, Link had disappeared from the doorway as soon as she had turned around to see if he had followed. Relieved smiles from the maids inside seemed to indicate that Link had indeed chosen to leave. That, Zelda decided, was a small victory by itself, and permitted herself a thin smile.

Her moment of satisfaction was rather short-lived.

It was three minutes into her usual routine in Nayru Garden, seating herself in her usual gazebo, satisfied to find that her tea set was already arranged for her by the dutiful maids even before she ever arrived, and beginning to make her tea while looking through an afternoon's worth of documents that a flash of light caught her eyes. She initially assumed that it was just windows reflecting the sunlight in her general direction – which was still curious, considering that had never happened before – but when it became more frequent, Zelda frowned and looked in the direction of the light, trying to figure out what it was.

It took her some squinting and effort to finally find the source, but when she finally did, she couldn't quite believe what she was seeing.

The "light" Zelda saw originated from the rooftop balcony just above the garden entrance, the result of a lens flare coming from the scope of a high-power sniper rifle sticking out between two pillars of a stone railing which Link was barely concealed behind.

The rifle wasn't aimed at her, of course, but the movements suggested that Link was basically scoping all of the Nayru Garden, as if expecting intruders to come at any point. At one point, she actually wondered from where the young man got the weapon from, but decided to chalk that up to the usual clandestine way all intelligence agents seemed to operate. Despite his obviously good intentions, Zelda couldn't help but feel supremely irritated at the fact that Link seemed to have missed the point of her wanting privacy in this garden. To compliment this frustration, she was not carrying a cell phone, the gazebo did not have an intercom, and, short for shouting for her maids – which was definitely out of the question – she had no contact with anyone else from where she was save the panic button hidden in her necklace. Despite the fact that Link's earpiece was probably on the same frequency as her panic button, not to mention that she couldn't possibly justify summoning twenty armed guards scrambling into the garden and initiating a palace-wide alert because her bodyguard had a sniper rifle on the roof, she was suddenly severely tempted to press it.

All appetite for work lost, Zelda slumped back into her chair as she muttered a small prayer. "Goddesses help that I survive this week."

"Do you mind if I sit here?"

Link paused for a moment as he quietly looked up from the cafeteria table upon where he was sitting. It was everyday in his work shift that two thirty-minute intervals were taken out for him to eat lunch and dinner in the palace staff cafeteria unless, of course, attention to the princess, which always came first, dictated otherwise. Of course, while "palace staff cafeteria" sounded somewhat impressive, Link could never make out the difference between that and every other staff cafeteria he had ever been to, which tended to be underground, plain, and unadorned. Not that he minded, but it was somewhat ironic that, despite this being practically the center of the Kingdom of Hyrule, there was little improvement here over the common cafeteria.

Regardless, however, there wasn't really any way Link could tell his direct superior that he did mind if she sat here, so he merely shook his head; it was the truth, anyways, although he did wonder why she had specifically asked to sit with him, considering the cafeteria, being half-empty, was in no way short of empty seats.

Leonore seemed to have caught his look, and she gave a wry smile in return as she settled down her tray of food on the same table as Link, sitting down; years of having worked with and trained this young man, complemented with many factors – one of them being able to deduce thoughts from even the most stoic of persons – allowed her brief glimpses of what he wanted to say…without him actually ever opening his mouth. "You've become a rather important person, Link," she noted in a mockingly patronizing voice, "becoming the princess' personal bodyguard. It goes without saying, but I have to keep an eye on you."

Link rolled his eyes in what had to be quiet frustration, if not exasperation, of Leonore's behavior, and concentrated instead on his spaghetti, deciding to ignore that. Still, it was as "rude" a gesture as he would ever really allow himself in front of Hyrule's director of Joint Intelligence. Despite already being in her fifties, Leonore had distinguished herself as the first female director of Joint Intelligence in Hylian history, and earned a reputation, to which some might describe as "notorious", as exceedingly competent and professional – often jokingly emphasized behind her back by others by a rather tight expression that sufficiently hid the few light wrinkles that were finally forming on her skin – which, by itself, was enough to earn Link's respect. That said, however, despite keeping most of her staff at a respectful, professional standard, she also seemed to, contrary to initial impression, keep a rather genuine interests in their lives, families, and well-being, something that previous directors had failed in, and something that made her rather popular amongst the members of Joint Intelligence. This was often shown in her being unafraid to mingle on a more personal level with her subordinates…precisely what Leonore was doing with Link.

Although Link often reaffirmed to himself that Leonore probably wasn't one to play favorites with her subordinates, he sometimes wondered why Leonore always acted especially motherly towards him…although, then again, it probably had to do with the fact that he was one of the youngest, if not the youngest, field agent of Joint Intelligence.

For now, though, his eyes wandered over to her attire, a rather smart business suit that was all white. Not a particularly wise choice of colors when one remembered the stains spaghetti can have on fabric, despite Leonore looking near ethereal with it when combined with her pale skin, dark blond hair, and blue eyes. Then, again, Link knew Leonore would've considered that as a factor already; it was popularly believed she knew everything, from military authorization codes, backgrounds of suspected terrorist masterminds, weapons development in Gerudo, even which closet Chandler and Cecilia were making out in every Friday at five in the evening. Chances were that she probably knew a week ahead of time what the cafeteria food was going to be too. No, Link wasn't going to be judgmental; his observance was largely a force of habit from having been trained as an intelligence agent. He also couldn't help but note a folder that Leonore had brought in with her, which was suspiciously thin; her folders, whenever Link saw her carry one, were usually rather well-stuffed and thick.

"My letter of resignation," Leonore explained, again catching Link's gaze as she forked at her own spaghetti. "Although I suspect, with Impa wanting to visit me before this afternoon's conference, I would think her Highness wants to talk me out of it without actually having to talk to me."

Link continued to look at Leonore stoically. She smiled; the young man was just as silently inquisitive as he was silently observant. She took a small bit of pride in that, noting the youth in him despite what intelligence work had done to him.

"If I had to guess," she explained after taking a bite out of her spaghetti, no longer quite looking at Link as she concentrated on her plate instead, "she thinks removing me right now would cause too much of an upheaval in Hyrule's intelligence community, and would create a power vacuum. She's also waiting on me to procure intelligence on Valent that military intelligence has failed to do for two years…" there was a pause, before a small, amused, almost sadly whimsical smile crossed her lips, and she looked up at Link with eyes that seemed to reflect hints of tragic irony and brutal truth, "…And I guess having me gone for a human resources issue would be a rather unpopular move." Leonore was, apparently, not at all uncomfortable with admitting she knew how popular she was with the Hylian intelligence committee.

A light grunt came from Link's throat, almost defensive, even as he stuffed more spaghetti down; that, Leonore knew, was usually as close to an amused chuckle as Link got. Having exercised the initial pleasantries, the two, for several minutes, concentrated on eating. Link was not at all talkative, and Leonore, knowing this, respectfully accepted that. It was not until moments of quiet contemplation – Leonore didn't touch her plate after taking her third bite of lunch – that she spoke once more.

"I hope the princess isn't giving you a tough time."

This time, Link actually did look up seriously at Leonore as he paused what he was doing. He caught himself too late; the lapse in his stride told Leonore as much as he wasn't willing to say, and not only was she intelligent, she was very perceptive, and, Link would feel sometimes, this was especially true when she concentrated on him. Shaking his head wouldn't do, for that was an outright lie, and he didn't want to give off the idea that he was insulting her intelligence. Rather, his mouth twitched into a slight grimace before he dropped his gaze back to his spaghetti and pointedly wolfed down a large portion of it in a show of exaggerated annoyance.

Leonore smiled in a kindly amused manner at Link's expression, and gently reminded herself, as well as himself, that Link was, indeed, still quite young, no matter how he masked it. "Girls can be like that at her age," she tried to assure Link. "I myself, I think, was worse when I was her age…" she paused, noting a very skeptical look that Link was throwing her way, then smiled, adding, "…Even boys like you have your own strange mood swings sometimes, or act sullen all the time."

Again, a grunt from Link, although Leonre noted that it was one more of disgruntled annoyance this time. Her smile grew even more in what was definitely a bemused expression, although, after a few moments, it turned somewhat sad, regretful, and melancholy, one born out of realization that a bit of her fears had, indeed, come true.

"Be honest with me, Link," Leonore whispered, and Link noticed that, this time, his superior was looking distantly away from him. "I need to know the truth, especially since everything is my fault. Was reassigning you to her Highness my mistake? Is it an unnecessary burden for you?"

That made Link hesitate for a moment before he sat up straight in his seat, dropping the fork back into his half-finished plate of spaghetti as his face donned a somewhat uncomfortable frown, symbolizing a bit of inner conflict within him. There was, of course, the awkwardness in realizing that his situation had just troubled his superior, so there was a bit of preprogrammed sheepishness there, a natural bureaucratic reaction. He knew that Leonore wouldn't hold it against him – she just wasn't the type to be petty – but it didn't make him feel less guilty. And his feelings of guilt aside, he was just as equally divided as to how he saw Princess Zelda. He really didn't want to nod; not only would it be a half-truth, but it was something he just didn't want to do in front of Leonore, to let her know that he felt uneasy and frustrated by this assignment. On the other hand, shrugging was just as bad; it was simply dodging the question.

That really left only one option left. Link shook his head. There really wasn't much else to tell her, and even with his aversion to speaking, there was no way he could sort out how he did feel and explain it to Leonore in any logical way. That shake of a head would have to do.

Leonore merely smiled at Link's gesture, and although the regret was still there, a bit of it was placed with a more familiar bemusement that Link was accustomed to seeing from the older woman. "You're a horrible liar," Leonore teased half-heartedly. "That could be fatal in this job. Remind me why I hired you again."

That, Link decided, was the Leonore that he wanted to see, someone that sounded rather like a patronizing parent; anything else under casual circumstances, aside from maybe her strict spymaster mode, was a bit strange for him. At, with that, Link entertained Leonore with a roll of his eyes, just a bit more exaggerated than what was usual. Leonore merely smiled at this display of silent mutual understanding; there was something special about this young man and his unabashed mentality of being close and compassionate towards his superiors, unafraid to express his views through body language, even if it is silently broadcasted.

With that in mind, Leonore stood up, preparing to leave the cafeteria. "Please tell me if anything comes up," she encouraged Link to continue to be open with her, "even if that means leaving memos on my desk."

There was some hesitation, but a rather short moment later, Link simply nodded his head in compliance, although his gaze didn't quite leave Leonore's plate; aside from the three bites she had taken from her plate, her spaghetti had been left relatively untouched, and it very evidently looked it.

"I wasn't really hungry," Leonore admitted with a shrug, looking just slightly guilty at what was definitely a waste of food, "and I never enter a conference with a full stomach anyways. Makes me feel sick later on." A grin surfaced on her lips as she decided she was going to tease Link a bit more. "You, on the other hand, need to eat everything you can."

Link gave a bit of a scoff; Leonore knew that was his version of a devil-may-care smile. More notably, however, Link swiveled his head slightly towards the cafeteria stewardess, who was covertly shooting Leonore what definitely seemed like a displeased look at the fact that she was leaving and wasting what was practically a full plate of spaghetti. Leonore decided she didn't want to deduce exactly what the woman was thinking, that it was a waste of food or that Leonore did not appreciate the woman's cooking.

"Looks like I won't be coming back here for lunch for a while," Leonore smiled futilely at Link.

An equally futile shrug from Link told Leonore that it was her own folly.

"Would you stop that?"

Link did not make any vocal response to the statement to indicate that he had heard the statement; he left that to the swiveling of his body as he turned to face the person who addressed him on the gazebo, his demeanor strictly professional and official.

It was a cloudy Sunday afternoon, the clouds above neither dark nor gathered enough to be decisive about whether or not there shall be rain, and although a single week had not yet completely passed since Link became Zelda's personal bodyguard on a temporary basis, there was an unspoken undertone between them, and potentially those who were close enough, that the two were not making the best of pairs. For one thing, Link was doing a splendid job for an agent who had not yet protected the princess from any immediate danger, at least where both at maintaining security protocols and frustrating Zelda were concerned.

"Please do not think that, just because you have sunglasses," Zelda said in a coldly dignified manner as she turned around from where she was sitting, her face coming to bear with the black-laden agent right behind her, a motion that was very well-timed in conjunction with a confused, inquisitive expression on Link's face as his head tilted to the side in confusion, and Link – for just a moment – wondered about the possibility that his employer was psychic, "I can't tell that you're glaring at me from time to time."

For the most part, Link didn't feel that this accusation was fair. It was true that he was somewhat frustrated at the strained relationship between employer and employee – for the most part, being an intelligence agent meant dealing with a few department heads and Leonore, and they have moreorless treated him with professional respect – but his covert looks at her had largely been what he considered to be protecting her and watching her well-being, not quite the "glares" she had been insinuating. Still, he knew better than to argue with a princess.

"I know what you're thinking," Zelda continued, turning her head back towards the documents on her desk, her voice thick with eerie concentration, as if she was somehow unnaturally expanding her attention span to both read documents and address Link with astounding fluency. "You're thinking that I must be the most irritating, stuck-up, arrogant girl you've ever met, and you feel very unfortunate having been assigned to me as a bodyguard instead of being out in the field, where you feel more comfortable, where you feel it'll make you more important."

Link would've been forced to suppress a grimace if he had much of a general desire to make faces to begin with. There was the initial indignity that pervaded his mind as he was tempted to just quietly shake his head in a clear "no, that's not at all what I'm thinking". But he caught himself for a moment, and decided he would just remain silent and unmoving. The truth was that he was, albeit, to be fair, only a little, thinking about such a thought, but that had been suppressed by the fact that, for all of Zelda's attempts at self-security through near-offensive distancing, she was the crown princess of Hyrule, and Link had to concede that she was a calm, regal, and intelligent one at that, one who would one day become a good queen. Besides, he also had the feeling that, even if he denied thinking of such, Zelda probably wouldn't believe it. As such, just as he had decided, he remained silent and unmoving.

That, unfortunately, also seemed to irritate Zelda as much, if not more, than denying her accusations outright, which was immediately evident after a few seconds, Zelda gave an exaggerated sigh as she dropped her documents back on the table, swiveling her head to Link in what was clearly a displeased, frustrated expression. "Can you even talk?" she demanded of Link; there was the potential possibility that Link was indeed mute, but Zelda was not in a mood to be particularly polite at the moment, and she figured the mute probably would not be able to find field jobs in Joint Intelligence.

Link, expressionlessly, nodded without missing a beat.

"Well," Zelda commanded impatiently, "say something."

"It is my belief that you are not at all ready to accept a new bodyguard, your Highness. It is also evident that your Highness and my predecessor were close."

Zelda had to blink twice. She was honestly caught by surprise. She hadn't expected Link to actually speak, although she had conceded to herself beforehand that were he to speak, it would only likely be a word or two, an indicator that he was not mute before falling back into his sullen silence. He did not stutter, speak slowly, or possess any sort of speech impediment that was immediately audible. In fact, as far as Zelda could tell, Link possessed excellent voice control, his words soft and gentle, but still hinting at strength and resolution beneath a rather softspoken demeanor. The crown princess did not expect that from this silent agent. And if there was anything she hadn't expected, it was the fact that this agent was as bold as he was intuitive. Not only had he the gall to speak his mind, it was clear his mind had already contemplated exactly why he was receiving the cold reception.

Admittedly, Zelda wasn't entirely sure how to deal with him now. Should she accept a bodyguard who seemed to possess a keen mind? Or should she feel threatened by an agent who presumed too much? She wasn't sure, but, for some reason, something about Link allowed her to relax slightly as she visibly leaned against the back of her chair, and the edge left her voice when she spoke once again. "You're probably right," she spoke with a bit of a huff, but her voice was softer, more reasonable. "As princess, I'm not supposed to particularly favor one subject over another, and overcome my personal qualms for the sake of the greater national good, but…" a wistful, almost melancholy smile crossed her lips, "…I admit I still have problems trying to accept the fact that your predecessor is dead."

Link tilted his head slightly to the side, betraying the most minimal amounts of curiosity.

"No, it's not what you think it is," Zelda gave a small, bitter laugh in response as soon as she noted Link's expression, looking upwards to the skies as if searching for her memories from the expansive azure. "He was my illegitimate half-brother. When my mother was still pregnant with me, my father had a one-night stand with a recently widowed noblewoman. It was, by all accounts, a sudden, spur of the moment thing, but when the pregnancy became known, the truth was revealed…" she paused, then closed her eyes as her fingers rubbed the bridge of her nose, a sound like a mixture of a chuckle and a scoff escaping her throat, a clear indicator of contempt and ridicule, "…My father became the first king in Hylian history whose genitals were described before a Senate investigation committee in front of the mass media when the old men threatened to force him to abdicate, my mother refused to talk to my father for a month, and the noblewoman committed suicide in shame after the entire debacle. The only thing that saved my father was that, before the fiasco reached its climax, the headlines moved onto the civil war in Valent, and his affair became a thing of the past. He privately adopted my half-brother eventually, probably out of guilt, and he was raised in secrecy, his true identity fading from public knowledge over time. By the time he became my bodyguard, with a new name and background, no one knew who he really was."

If Link was particularly moved by, or had any strong feelings for, Zelda's story, so far as she could tell, he didn't show. The slightest parting of his tightly-sealed lips, one that lasted for only a second, was the only hint that he might have been preparing to say something, but, otherwise, he remained silent, and did not speak when Zelda looked at him inquisitively and gave him a few seconds to voice his mind. When she was certain that Link wouldn't even try, however, she sighed and continued.

"So, if you must know," she finally said, and, once more, an edge came back to her voice, perhaps a hint of annoyance towards having to deal with the wordless bodyguard once more, her speech filled with increased bite with every word she spoke, "No, it doesn't have to do anything with you specifically. Because I am upset that I was not able to repay the family debt that we owe him for bringing him about his wretched, cursed existence of being my illegitimate half-brother. I am feeling displeased about my half-brother's death, especially because it was your superior, Director Leonore, who rotated him from his bodyguard duties to a mission in which she insisted personally that it had to be him for the objectives to be accomplished."

By the time she had finished what she had to say, Zelda had become slightly short of breath, forcing her to close her eyes and inhale deeply once both to catch a breath and to calm herself, dissipate an unpleasant pressure building up in her head. When the exercise was completed, she opened her eyes once more, looking up at Link with a slightly accusatory look. It was difficult for Zelda to figure out what kind of expression Link had – the tinted sunglasses, easily one part of Joint Intelligence apparel Zelda would like removed, hid any glint of emotion that might've shown in Link's eyes, something that might not have shown in his stoic expression.

In this case, Link seemed to stare right back from behind his sunglasses, his face unreadable…and, suddenly, moments later, without warning, he simply turned around, and walked briskly away from the gazebo. Zelda could only watch, wide-eyed, bewildered, and flabbergast, as Link silently left the gazebo, moving for one of the garden's exits, before disappearing behind one of the corner walls, out of Zelda's sight.

The gesture itself surprised, if not shocked, Zelda. Part of it was because no one had ever suddenly turned their back on her before – her royal station was to thank for that – and part of it was because she had never felt this irritable before in her years as crown princess, but none of those reasons diminished the shock factor by any extent. Did I go too far? Zelda wondered if she was too harsh, and, for a long moment, a pang of guilt struck her and remained there. Had she, a crown princess, really been inconsiderate enough to turn one of her subordinates away like this? There was the painful realization that she, too, was human and flawed, and even she could not always maintain that mask of regal composure all the time.

So she was rather grateful, even if she did strive very hard not to show it, when Link, only a few minutes later, finally reappeared. Zelda figured that Link probably felt a bit guilty about leaving the crown princess there like that. She would make sure that those thoughts were dissuaded immediately; it was she who needed to apologize, not him. But her thoughts were interrupted as Link stepped back onto the gazebo, not a change of expression on his face, and Zelda realized that there was an umbrella in his hands.

"Is it going to rain?" she asked.

Link wordlessly nodded. It was back to silent stoicism for him again. For some reason, Zelda rather wanted to hear his voice again, if only because it allowed her a moment of triumph and satisfaction to hear the normally silent agent talk.

"How do you know?" she persisted.

"I'm told you're likely to be here for another hour and a half," Link simply stated, his voice level and calm, and tapped his earpiece twice, pointing it out. "I had agents a bit west at headquarters inform me if they had any rain. If they got rain, we'll be getting it soon here." And, as if the heavens wanted to punctuate that point, a soft crescendo of rainfall, the sound of raindrops falling across leaves with an ambient pit-pat, suddenly became audible as it began to drizzle, and, as Zelda looked out the gazebo, she realized that it was, indeed, slowly but decisively becoming a bit of a shower.

It took Zelda a moment to register the thoughtfulness and loyalty in Link, the dedication upon which he was taking his role as a bodyguard – and perhaps a bit of a caretaker – despite her less-than-ideal treatment of him thus far. She had, in fact, noticed the subtext, the undertone, in Link's voice, which spoke with the insinuation that all bygones were bygones, and anything she might've said about the earlier spat would've an incurred an "I've already forgotten about it, your Highness" answer. She realized that she had misread Link; He was an agent that was not easily put off, and Zelda found that trait to be rather admirable. She still didn't find herself accommodating of Link's overbearing methods…but they suddenly became a bit more tolerable.

The crown princess of Hyrule did not smile, but a slight inclination of her head in Link's direction, a nod of approval, clearly showed that she accepted his gesture with a sense of gratefulness, and this was confirmed with the words that she used to address the agent. "Thank you, Link."

The silent, wordless nod Link offered in return had a clear flavor of "you're welcome".

A small tinge of satisfaction manifested in the form of a small, invisible smile of triumph as the doors closed behind Zelda's office, effectively sealing the crown princess in her workplace along with her chief of staff. With no one else present. It was less about alienating Link than it was a sudden, whimsical, and playful thought, but this time, Zelda remembered to turn to Link just as she had opened the doors to her office, and say, "This is sufficient, thank you. I would like you to take your position outside until I am ready to leave." Link fidgeted once – or, at least, seemed to – when Zelda had finished her words, clearly debating whether it was actually safe to do so. But a raised, inquisitive eyebrow from her, a silent inquiry as to whether or not Link really wanted to disobey the crown princess of Hyrule, did the trick, and Link nodded in an equally silent manner, taking up post outside the office.

Although she did not notice Zelda's smile, Impa did note the manner in which Zelda had left Link outside. "I see you have finally managed to bring yourself to convincing your interim bodyguard to leave you alone in your office," she remarked.

Zelda seated herself on her chair behind her desk while Impa stood on the other side. "Simple problems often require only simple solutions," she said in a voice devoid of humor despite both women knowing full well the humorous intent.

The Hylian chief of staff matched Zelda's demeanor with a slightly deadpan tone. "And I now know not which of you two is being blunt and rude."

"My mother always delighted herself in remarking how my generation had no manners."

And with the pleasantries exchanged, they quickly moved onto business. "Major General Morgan is reporting that OL…OLR…OLRER…" Impa scowled at her inability to fluently pronounce that acronym even as she squinted at the five letters on the document, as if looking hard enough would help, "…has new intelligence that requires out immediate attention. He's requesting that we move the next conference from next Thursday to this Thursday."

A pause; Zelda knew that if Major General Morgan, a rather easygoing military leader despite his rank and rarely ever made requests for any form of change, was requesting for a schedule change on behalf of OLRER, then it must be rather important. "Tell him that a reschedule will be made," she said with a straight face, "as soon as he can find a better way to shorten Office of Long-Range Electronic Reconnaissance into something more pronounceable for my chief of staff."

Detecting the near-invisible humor, Impa responded in kind. "Would you like me to contact the rest of the Joint Chiefs and Director Leonore after General Morgan confirms that the new acronym will not torture my poor old tongue?"

Zelda shot Impa a mock dry look, pretending she was irritated and impatient with the question, which the chief of staff decided to interpret as a "no". A pen scribbled away at her clipboard. "There's also the matter of your meeting with Director Leonore. She has prepared a selection of candidates that she has screened and would like you to personally ratify before she can reassign a new permanent bodyguard for you. She's requested Friday afternoon, although she notes her schedule is very flexible over the weekend."

That Zelda did not immediately reply to the mention of Director Leonore was, for Impa, completely expected. What Zelda said next, however, was less so. "Actually, Impa," Zelda said slowly, deliberately, contemplatively, but relatively softly, and Impa, through the voice, could somehow tell that, for the most part, Zelda has begun to move on, "please inform Director Leonore that a sudden matter has come up that requires both our attentions, and that neither of us will be able to meet with her to discuss her new security arrangements until sometime after the conference on Thursday. Thus, for now, we will rely on current arrangements and make do until a more appropriate time."

Impa nodded dutifully at the lie. "Of course, your Highness," she replied, and although she lifted a document up to her face as if looking for the timetable on it, hiding her face partially, Zelda could still tell that Impa was secretly smiling.

Zelda found herself doing the exact same.

Author's Note: "Exoria", the title, comes from the Latin word "exorior", which roughly translates to "to rise, to come forth, to advance". In this way, I have "advanced" this alternate Zelda continuity in various ways, foremost of which is that the world is now in a modern-day setting. Not sci-fi; although I will be utilizing some science fiction elements (as well as fantasy ones to stay, in some way, true to the Zelda universe), this is essentially a modern day Zelda universe with an average technological level of the early twentieth-century. I say "average" because they have some technology we don't, and vice-versa. For example, they do not have space-faring technology yet, not even a rocket sent up to space...while they will make up in ways revealed to you later in the story.

I write without following any particular Zelda game. I do borrow obvious plot elements from various games, and, for one, I do try to stay remotely connected to canon, but, for all intents and purposes, I am not trying to limit myself to writing a specific sequel. In this I cite the example of Turn A Gundam. The symbol "∀", otherwise known as a "turned a", is a symbol representing universal quantification, meaning that it is "all in a set" and "true for everything relevant to it". Thus, the show Turn A Gundam is essentially what is known as a very distant sequel (by several millennium, no less) to all Gundam shows prior to its broadcast, a show that is canonically true to everything...or, more specifically, every Gundam show aired thus far. This is what I have in mind when writing Exoria: This story is a very, very far off sequel to all the Zelda games released thus far. It's probably the only way I can ever get things to make sense, anyways, especially when Nintendo is particularly fond of creating a different world for every Zelda game to confuse us with the official statement that all the games are somehow canonically connected.