Chapter 13: Poisoned Swamp

Link kept his eyes on the ground as they trekked through the forest. Koume walked ahead of him and Tatl, using the fire in her palm to light the way. The night was no longer young, so the darkness was heavy. Only Tatl's light and the dancing shadows cast by Koume's flame pierced the thick veil. Kotake had trailed behind, hoping to contain the full extent of the dark flames.

They'd made quite a bit of progress since the forest fires. Their destination was the witches' hut, but Link wasn't sure what came next. Sleep, he decided. To rest after all the awful things that happened in these woods. He walked half-asleep already, carrying the heavy weight of disbelief and shock. At the very least, they'd accomplished their task: saving Koume. But that had come at a high price.

"Hey Link," Tatl said. He looked up from the grassy, root-infested floor. His fairy bobbed beside him, floating along at their pace. "What were you going to say? You know, before you lost your breath in the fire."

Link took a moment to respond. Though his emotional exhaustion was extreme, his clothes were also incredibly uncomfortable after being drenched in the rain. The fires had sped along the drying process, but he truly wanted nothing more than to shut his eyes and lie down. For Tatl, he summoned the will to speak. "I wanted to tell you that you're right," he said. "It's my choice to be here. Zelda isn't gone forever, and neither is Hyrule. I'm not sure why a part of me thinks they're both gone, but I think that's what triggered the… uh… trance. You reminded me that I could go back home – if I wanted to. But I'm staying until Termina is safe."

He looked up to see her smiling back at him. The fairy's expression literally glowed in the late night, illuminating their path alongside the witch's fire.

Koume spoke before Tatl could. "That's touchy and all, but I think the more important issue is this so-called 'trance' itself. You're the one who started the forest fire, aren't you?"

Link didn't answer. While the fire hadn't killed them, it had come fairly close. I bet I ruined some of their mushroom spots by the border, he realized. He wasn't sure what to say, so he merely looked away, hoping the dark forest hid his blushing.

Koume chuckled. "Don't worry, I won't shoot fire at you. Kotake, however, would toss you in the poison water if she found out. She's not exactly the understanding one."

Tatl scoffed. "If you already knew he started the fire, then why are you bringing it up?"

"Do you blame me for feeling unsafe around him?" Koume asked, raising an eyebrow. "I want to make sure my hut won't burst into flames in the middle of the night, or that you won't randomly attack me when you have a bad dream. This condition you have – it's fueled by powerful dark magic. Do you know where it came from?"

Link exchanged a glance with Tatl, both asking the same silent question: do we tell her? The boy remembered what Kotake's reaction had been, but he decided against lying. "We think it was Majora's Mask."

Koume stopped walking. Link made sure to stop as well, eying the witch's steady, constant flame. "Majora's Mask?" she said distantly.

"Yes," Link said. "A mask salesman claims to have found it, but the Skull Kid stole it from him. That's probably where he gets his powers from. The Skull Kid struck me with lightning when I tried to get the mask back, and ever since then, the scar has been doing weird things. I think it's the reason I set the forest on fire and almost killed us." When she still didn't turn around or respond, Link added more. "Kotake is the reason the wound didn't kill me immediately."

"Did you tell her that you think Majora's Mask is responsible?" Koume asked.

"Yeah," Link said uneasily. "She kind of overreacted when I mentioned it."

"Overreacted!" Koume exclaimed, spinning around and throwing her arms down. Fire erupted in a wide circle, coming within a few inches of Link. He cowered from the intense heat, but it quickly dissipated and left them in darkness. Tatl's ball of light was just bright enough to reveal Koume's wide, angry eyes. "You don't understand what that would mean if it was true! You can't toss the word 'Majora' around like it's a tranquil flower!"

"Then can you please help me understand?" Link asked, allowing anger to guide his response. He took a step closer to the witch, who seemed shocked by his boldness. "Your sister did the same thing and refused to talk about it! What would you do if Majora's Mask really did come back, huh? You'd never know it had because you're too afraid to talk about it!"

This time it was Koume's turn to be silent. Eventually, she scoffed, shaking her head as she turned around. The fire returned to her open palm, and she motioned them onward again. Link and Tatl agreed, following even closer behind Koume.

"Majora's Mask corrupted an entire tribe of our kind, long, long ago," the witch explained. "They did terrible things to awaken the spirit that would possess it. But they did not create it. No, Majora's origins remain foreign even to us. All we know is that this spirit somehow found itself a powerful name, and that name's strength gave it command of immense darkness. Darkness that the ancient tribe thought it could control.

"They hoped to use its powers to influence the other tribes. To control them, likely. But the mask didn't just bend to their will. It influenced them, too, and corrupted them. It wasn't long before Majora's will reigned supreme. That tribe, behind secret walls, did wicked things under the influence of that mask, killing and torturing, slowly expanding its territories. No one on the outside truly understood what happened on the inside. It wasn't until they had formed an army and attacked that the other tribes discovered Majora's horrors."

Koume sighed as she continued, looking up into the dark sky. "The war could not have been darker. It's why our existence as a people – Gerudo who use magic – is so scattered. Most Gerudo today forbid arcane practices, for risk of repeating those ancient mistakes. Many Gerudo died, and we soon realized that the mask wanted to annihilate all life. Those remaining formed a resistance and a plan of attack. They decided to seal the mask away into the furthest realm they could reach, rather than breaking it and risking release of the spirit. Kotake and I obviously weren't there, but such a strategy was foolish. Majora should have been destroyed, but our ancestors were obviously too afraid to try.

"If what you say is true, Hero, then there can only be one explanation: Majora broke out of that realm and wants to continue its mission."

Silence guided the next few minutes of their walk. The fire broke it only to light their way with a soft crackle. The trees had thinned; the end of the forest drew closer.

Koume eventually dared to say more. "The mask's magic, its power, its influence... it goes beyond the one who wears it. I fear it has found a home in your scar. It will only continue to grow inside of you the longer you live."

"What do you mean by 'the longer he lives?'" Tatl snapped.

Koume's face remained hard as stone. "If you ever want to rid the world of Majora's influence forever – assuming that the Skull Kid truly is wielding Majora's Mask your friend must die. Otherwise, Majora will return through him once the Skull Kid is disposed of." The witch turned to note their reactions, though Link withheld his. "I only say this because, according to our ancient texts, there was never a way to reverse its corruption. Once an infection began, it didn't stop."

"We have found a way to reverse it, though," Link said hopefully, pulling out his ocarina. Koume's eyebrow rose doubtfully, but Link kept it illuminated in the firelight. He'd opened his mouth to explain, but he closed it when he saw the black mark burnt into the clay. The witch looked up from the ocarina with a look of puzzlement.

"Is that another mark from the Skull Kid?" Koume asked.

Link didn't answer, and the witch shook her head, turning away.

"It still works, though!" Tatl said defensively.

"Works?" Koume scoffed. "Serenading the mask won't stop it."

"No, it can take us back in time," Tatl explained, looking at Link for support. However, he didn't provide it. It's useless, Link realized. Koume's right. The ocarina's just as cursed as I am. Tatl, nonetheless, held onto hope. "Every time Link plays the Song of Time, we appear in Clock Town, rewinding everything to how it was when we first got here two days ago. Tomorrow is the day when the moon crashes into the town and destroys Termina. We've been reliving the same three days, trying to find a way to stop it. And no one – including the Skull Kid – remembers anything that happens in the last cycle. It's a blank slate to begin again, every time!"

The witch didn't seem fazed. "Sure. A time-traveling ocarina. Now I've heard everything. Even if your claim was true, it doesn't matter. If you could relive the same three days over and over again, it wouldn't help you stop the mask."

"Yeah, but that gives us an infinite time to find a way! You and Kotake could help us. I'm not sure if Link and I can do it alone. I mean, you two have your fire and ice powers! Link only has his sword and ocarina. If you came with us, then you wouldn't have to be crushed by the moon tomorrow, and we could all stop the Skull Kid together."

"First," Koume said, "there's no reason for me to believe your time travel scheme is even possible. Second, we have yet to establish for a fact that the Skull Kid is wearing Majora's Mask. Lastly, why do you think the moon is joining us for the festival tomorrow?"

"Because the Skull Kid's controlling it!" Tatl said. "Come on. Are you and your sister's heads both filled with sawdust?"

Koume merely sighed. "I'll talk to Kotake. But I won't make any promises."

That resulted in yet another silent stroll, each entitled to their own train of thought. Link was the first to speak his musings aloud: "I saw through the Skull Kid again."

"What?" Tatl asked. She sounded shocked.

"When I set the forest on fire the first time, I saw through him," Link said. "Remember?"

"Yeah."

"It happened again, but you brought me out of the vision before I could finish it."

"Okay," Tatl said nervously. "What is the Skull Kid up to now?"

"He was still trying to kill everyone in that fortress," Link said. "The ones who survived his initial attack managed to form a resistance, but they're still losing. And the Skull Kid is still laughing, as if it's a game." Link spotted the witches' hut, still standing in the middle of the pond. The thin waterfall loudly and soothingly cascading behind it.

"Home," Koume said, putting her arm down and letting the fire vanish. "You two are welcome to stay the night as long as you don't burn the hut down."

"We would be honored," Tatl said. "But only if Kotake keeps her distance from me."


In the fountain's waters, Link's blue eyes were distorted. He watched his reflection shimmer, hovering just above the decoration's gray, stone bottom. Link sat at its edge, his white, Hylian robes pulled close in the late night. He looked up toward the fountainhead and eyed the stone representation of three triangles: the Triforce. Water gracefully fell from either side.

"It's not too late to change your mind," the young princess said from behind. They stood in one of the castle's courtyards, grass underneath their shoes and an open, stone hallway surrounding them. Twilight enveloped them in a late evening without sunlight.

Link didn't look away from the water. "I don't have a choice."

"You really think you'll find her?" He heard Zelda take a few steps closer. "You think she'll just happen to be somewhere north of Death Mountain? Based off some hunch? It doesn't make sense for you to leave when you don't know what her reasons were or where she went."

"I don't expect you to understand," Link responded.

"You haven't helped me try to understand. You were happy here, with us. I thought you'd forgotten about Navi. I never thought you'd sacrifice our life for such a tiny chance to speak with her again."

Link turned away from the fountain, finally meeting Zelda's eyes. They matched the light blue of her evening dress. "I never forgot about Navi," he said defensively. "All this time, I thought I could ignore what she did. But she… she left me, Zelda. She just turned around and flew away. I thought she was my guardian fairy, and then she just left, right after we'd done what the Deku Tree asked us to. I have to know why. I don't believe she never cared about me. That can't be true. There must've been some secret she couldn't share, because maybe one of us was in danger. I don't know. She… she never…"

"Link," Zelda interrupted. She took a step closer, placing a hand on his shoulder.

"But maybe I was just a tool to her," Link said, stammering on the words. "An instrument that she could cast aside when she didn't need it anymore." He was angry at himself when he felt tears pooling in his eyes. Why does Navi matter so much? Link thought. I have Zelda. I have Hyrule. Why can't I stop caring about the one person who abandoned me?

"Link," Zelda said again, taking a final step. She grabbed his hand, gently pulling him off the fountain side. Link dropped lightly to his feet, keeping his hand in hers. He forced himself to return her stare, despite how hard that was.

"I don't want to leave you," Link said, voice shaking.

"Then don't," she said.

He saw fear in her eyes. He recalled what Zelda had dared to ask just last week: If you go across the mountains, you won't ever come back, will you? Because you're an adventurer. Because you can't stay in one place. All this talk about Navi doesn't make sense. She's just an excuse, isn't she? For you to go somewhere else? For you to find more people to save? If you're going to leave this land of Hyrule, please be honest with me.

Link had managed to convince her that his yearning to find Navi was legitimate. Zelda had agreed to take Link at face value – to believe him that his stated reasons for leaving were true.

But still, that fear flashed in Zelda's eyes. He saw it. And he hated the doubt that crept upward from deep within his chest. "I love you, Zelda," he finally managed.

The princess did not say anything back.


"Link!" Tatl's voice startled him, and his eyes popped open. "Are you gonna sleep all day? Come on and get up. We have visitors!"

He lifted his blonde head from his pillow, throwing the blanket off and turning to his side. Link sighed as he tried piecing his mind together. He was still in Koume and Kotake's hut. He looked over the counter to see that only the blue-gemmed witch was there, brewing potions again. He'd slept on the floor since Koume took precedence; there hadn't been a third bed.

"Link, we can't waste time today," Tatl continued. "We don't even have a full twenty-four hours before we have to play the song again!"

"All right," Link moaned, slowly getting to his feet. His ankles were still sore, but an ointment the witches gave him would soon heal that injury for good. He'd slept in his tunic and only needed to don his boots, sword, shield, and bag. His eyes blinked heavily as he did. "Wait. You said we have visitors?"

"The monkeys," Tatl said. "They want to talk to you."

Monkeys? Link shook his head, wondering why they'd decided to return after everything he put them through. He took a step toward the door, but a thought stopped him in his tracks. Wait. He scanned the floor where his stuff had been lying, searching in front of the counter.

"Are you looking for something?" Tatl asked. "You didn't lose the ocarina again, did you?"

"No, I just can't find..." he trailed off, walking behind the counter. He stopped once he saw the large heaps of clutter.

Kotake looked up from her cauldron, glaring at him. "What are you doing?"

"Looking for my hat," Link said.

"Well, you won't find it back here. Get!" She shook her wooden spoon angrily, flinging red goop on his shoulder. Link disgustedly rubbed it off and went back to search the other half.

"I can't find it. It was in my bag last night, wasn't it? I thought I put it there after it got wet."

"Link... your hat is gone."

"Gone?" Link asked, stopping his search. He turned to face his fairy, eyes wide in disbelief.

"I used it to stop the wolfos from eating Koume," Tatl explained. "It was ripped open."

Ripped open? Link thought. "It's..." He didn't have words.

"Link, I'm sorry, but if I hadn't of..."

"It's fine," he interrupted, shaking his head. "Let's just go talk to the monkeys."

"Are you sure?" Tatl asked uncertainty.

Well, there's nothing we can do about it now, Link thought, but he didn't dare say that aloud. His hat had been with him through so much – in Hyrule and beyond – but it wasn't worth Koume's life. He summoned the willpower to swallow his sadness. With less than a day left, now wasn't the time to get sentimental about something so small. "Yes," he finally said. "I promise. We can worry about getting a new one later."

Link didn't give her space to reply, walking past her to open the hut door.

He immediately made eye contact with all three of the small, white creatures from earlier. They sat on the porch – wide-eyed and silent – staring up at him expectantly. Link stopped without fully opening the door. "Um," he stammered. "Hello?"

The middle monkey stepped forward without consulting the other two. Link let go of the doorknob and met them halfway. "You have strange powers, no? Me been watching you! Lately, this swamp, been filled with poison water!"

"Temple above waterfall strange. Brother go to temple," said another one eagerly, jumping to stand beside his brother.

The third one quickly followed suit. "But brother no able to find temple entrance. Temple for Deku only. Brother captured by Deku. Now in palace."

"Help!" the first one concluded, as if hoping this one word would explain everything.

"Help... your brother?" Link said, holding his hand up to shield his eyes from the sun's fierce glare. The waterfall roared noisily behind them.

"Deku execute him!" the middle monkey exclaimed. "Need help!"

Tatl flew beside Link, lowering herself so that his blonde head blocked out most of the sun. "So," Link said. "You're... brother... went to a temple above a waterfall, because the swamp was poisoned. Then he was arrested by Deku scrubs?"

"Going be executed!" the monkey on the left pleaded.

"He speaks true!" said the third monkey.

"What he be do that so bad?" Tatl asked, mimicking the monkeys' poor grammar.

"We no know," the middle monkey added. "Only Deku go in palace. You kill them and go in!"

"Whoa! Kill them?" Tatl exclaimed. "We're not mercenaries. You're barking up the wrong tree if you want us to slaughter an entire palace of Deku scrubs."

"But brother need help!" the monkey pleaded again.

Tatl turned to face Link, whispering, "I'm starting to think we should force Koume and Kotake to come back in time with us. We can talk to the mask salesman, get all of our answers, and then all four of us could go take out the Skull Kid."

"I don't know if they'll be able to stop him," Link whispered back. "He took out an entire fortress of pirates."

"Yeah, but none of the pirates could shoot fire or ice out of their hands, could they?"

"The Skull Kid summoned the moon to crash into Clock Town, Tatl," Link reminded her. "Something tells me shooting lightning at people is only a fraction of his power."

"What do you think these mysterious 'four' will be able to do?" Tatl asked. "Call me crazy, but something tells me they won't be able to create lightning, summon the moon, or shoot fire and ice out of their hands. Besides, how do we even know Tael knew what he was talking about?"

Link sighed, looking back at the monkeys and then back to Tatl. "Are you really going to let their brother die?"

"Here we go again, Link," Tatl said, rolling her eyes. "Anytime I start making more sense than you, you play the morality card. Besides, as I've pointed out numerous times, once we play the Song of Time, it'll be like we never helped the monkeys. Their brother will be executed anyways in the next cycle."

"If I'd listened to you the first time you said that, we never would've found Koume."

Tatl stopped to ponder that for a second. "Touché."

"Besides, I think Tael knew what he was saying. He was with the Skull Kid by himself for three whole days. Poking around the swamp is the best way to find out about 'the four'."

"Okay, okay, we'll help the monkeys," Tatl said. "... under two conditions. Promise me we won't slaughter an entire palace of Deku scrubs. And that we won't go into whatever temple they're talking about. I hate temples. Buildings built to worship spirits are never kind to outsiders."

"All right, Tatl," Link agreed. "We won't slaughter Deku scrubs or worship spirits."

"Thank Nayru!" Tatl exclaimed, turning back to the monkeys. They looked up at her in confusion. "Um. Right. Please disregard the irony in me thanking a spirit right after I bashed temples."

The monkeys didn't seem to understand that either. "Help brother?" the middle monkey asked hopefully, wide-eyed and high-pitched.

"Fine," Tatl sighed. "We help brother." A wide grin spread across the middle monkey's face, and then all three jumped in jubilation. "Whoa, don't get too excited now." The monkeys paid no attention to Tatl, and then they filed one by one down the ladder back into the swamp. They ran off into the forest without another word. "Hey, wait! Where's the Deku Palace? How're we supposed to get in?" Tatl scoffed. "Well, isn't that just great! Not even a thank you!"

"We could always ask Kotake," Link suggested, walking back into the hut.

"Oh, yeah," Tatl said. "... Stupid old hag..."

"I heard that!" Kotake shouted.

"How?"

"By actually listening," she said, flipping through some massive book without ever turning to face them. "You can't get to the Deku Palace."

"Listening?" Tatl exclaimed. "More like stalking!"

"You're on my front porch," Kotake snapped back.

"What do you mean by 'we can't get there?'" Link asked, willing their mind-grating bickering out of existence.

"Unless you can swim through rivers that'll burn your skin to a crisp, you can't reach the palace. You'd better learn to walk on water, fly, or live without skin."

"Can we take a boat?" Link suggested.

Kotake stopped rummaging through pots and looked up, as if completely dumbfounded. "Yeah, I guess you can do that." She then immediately returned to her chores. "Do you have a boat?"

"Yeah, we always carry one around in his bag," Tatl said dryly.

"No need to be a snarky fool," Kotake said, finally pulling out an empty cauldron and putting it on the counter. "I'm sure Koume would be more than happy to give you a free boat ride after you... 'saved her.' You remember the hut you fainted on after getting attacked by a wolfos?"

"Yeah," Link said.

"That's where you'll find her."

"Where exactly is that?"

"Do I look like your slave?" Kotake exclaimed, lifting her cauldron and slamming it on the counter again. "I healed you and fed you last night – for the second night in a row. Then I had to go into the forest and save you after you set the whole thing on fire! I'm not helping you any longer!"

"Like we'd want to ask you for help anyways," Tatl said. "Come on, Link. Let's get out of here."

"Kotake," Link said, sensing that something else was up. He ignored his fairy's sarcastic remark yet again, hoping the witch had too. "Are you all right?"

"I'm fine," Kotake spat, looking away from her work. "You two just showed up, and suddenly..." She didn't finish.

"We'll come back when we've hit another dead end," Link offered. "We can save you from the moon, and then we can all stop the Skull Kid together."

"I don't want to talk about that right now," Kotake said. "Take your crazy time-traveling, Majora's Mask theories and get out!"

Link didn't bother protesting any further. He left the hut, and Tatl eagerly followed. Soon, they were down the ladder and following alongside the winding waterway. The banks on each side were small, quickly giving way to dense forest. They remained outside of the tress, expecting the channel to eventually connect to the other hut. They soon left Kotake's pond behind, beneath an orange, newborn sky with an infant sun.

"I can't stand that woman!" Tatl exclaimed – though not until they were a safe distance away. "Not only is she crazy and evil, but she's totally stalking us!"

"It's a good thing she's stalking us," Link said. "Otherwise, we'd be burnt to death by now."

Tatl scoffed. "Okay, sure. Maybe. But sometimes it's really annoying."

"Kotake's probably just upset about all the bad news we've brought. I bet she's lived here for years without anything changing. Now, we're claiming some all-powerful, dark deity from her ancestors' past is here to kill everyone. That's enough to make anyone crazy."

"You always give people the benefit-of-the-doubt, don't you Link?"

He shrugged, smiling slightly but unable to think of a witty response. He tried his best not to touch the clear water on his right; it was possible the poisonous water did not look any different.

Tatl spoke a few minutes later. "You sure you're okay about losing your hat?"

"Of course," Link said. "It's just a hat."

"That's not true. It was important to you. I could tell." She paused, waiting for a response. When he gave none, Tatl unsurprisingly resorted back to jokes. "I'm not sure if it's an improvement on your appearance though. This whole rebellious, untidy hair thing is a little extreme. Do they even have barbers in your dimension?"

Link didn't grace that question with a response.

"But on the other hand, you did look like a dweeb with your pointy green hat all the time. How long has that been your fashion choice?"

Link decided to answer that one. "I'm honestly not sure. I got my first one when I was seven or eight, but I lost it one day when me and Saria went into the woods. I got another one after that, so... maybe ever since then?"

"Whoa, hold on a second. Into the woods with Saria? What happened to Zelda?"

"That was before I met Zelda," Link said, feeling his face flush red. "Besides, we were just playing... as friends."

"Mhm, sure. 'As friends'."

Link shook his head, stopping when they reached a fork in the path. He decided to follow his bank around the corner, since going any other way would require him to wade through water.

"Any who," Tatl continued, "you really should change up your wardrobe every now and then. Wearing a green hat and tunic every day has to be socially unacceptable no matter where you're from."

"I don't always wear this," Link said. "I had three tunics. This one, a red one, and a blue one."

"You've gotta be kidding me," Tatl sighed.

"You don't ever wear any clothes!" Link pointed out.

"They don't exactly make clothes my size," Tatl said. "I prefer my bright ball of light."

Eventually, the grassy bank ended at a vertical rock face. A new pond started off to his right with no walkable path around it. The swamp water changed from muggy-green to dark purple as it emptied into the basin. His options were to turn around, wade through the violet water, or run back into the forest. Across the pond, there was a cave halfway underwater, promising to lead further through the swamp. Large, red mushrooms bloomed from the water's murky depths. They didn't start until closer by the cave, surrounding a floating tree trunk. The debris and fungi could probably serve as steppingstones, but they were too far away from Link.

Earlier, Link had been afraid to touch the clear water. Now, he realized the poisonous water was visibly different from all the rest. The violet waters were unnaturally still, appearing thick and heavy.

"Purple," Tatl commented dryly. "The color of evil. I'm guessing you won't swim through that?"

"Uh, no. But you can if you want to."

"How about I fly across it? I could see what's through that cave. It might be the palace or Koume's boat place." She flew off to scout ahead and left Link behind on the bank. The hero looked for a sign of life in the water and was terrified to actually find one. A dark blob was obscured beneath the pond, gliding slowly away from the bank. Link gulped, looking up when Tatl returned.

"It's the palace!" Tatl announced happily.

"Nice," Link said. "Any sign of Koume?"

"No. We should probably follow the path we didn't take earlier. I'm starting to remember how to get there a little better."

"You forgot?" Link asked. "Weren't you the one who went to get Kotake when I passed out?"

"Yeah, but I was kind of freaking out the entire time. I wasn't sure if you were dead or unconscious. And besides, I'm not the one who completely forgot my best friend."

Link tensed at that remark, but he let it go. She was right. My memory loss still doesn't make any sense, he thought. And he didn't feel like talking about it again right now.

They turned around to retrace their steps. Eventually, they reached the fork again; he felt more comfortable trying to cross the muggy water now that he'd identified the purple spots. Still, he dipped a finger to make sure. It was slimy, but his skin didn't burn. Link carefully let himself into the water, wading deeper as his boots led the way. The water ended up only coming to his neck, and he held his bare head and bag above the water. When Link climbed out on the other side, his tunic was soaking wet again.

"It really must suck not being a fairy," Tatl said. "You know, having to actually walk and eat food every day."

"At least they make clothes my size," Link remarked, as the forest on their right gave way to a small field of grass. Link recognized it as where he'd been attacked by the wolfos. The wooden pier was still there, leading out to the building on the raised platform. The ladder, however, was gone. Some of the debris was scattered on the pier, though the rest was lost to the water. "… But it would be nice to fly."

They walked toward the pier regardless, stopping beneath the deck. "Hello?" Link called up. There was no answer, and Link turned to Tatl.

"Fine, pathetic human. I will fly up there to see if anyone can help." Link waited once again, watching her disappear from view. It wasn't long before someone peered over the edge to see him; it was a large man with a familiar face and a thick, black beard. It only took Link a few seconds to recognize him. He was the man who'd found him collapsed at his doorstep as a Deku scrub.

"You need to see Koume, eh?" he asked.

"Yes," Link responded. "Is there anyway I can get up there?"

"Yeah." He disappeared for a moment, returning with a rope ladder in his arms. He tossed it over the edge, allowing it to unravel before Link. The man didn't hold onto its other end, so Link assumed it was nailed down to the platform's top. It swung back and forth as he climbed upward. "A wolfos tore it to pieces the other day, so we keep it rolled up here. We had a Deku scrub running up trying to get away from one. The poor thing probably died, unless Kotake found a way to heal it."

"Darn those pesky Deku scrubs," Link heard Tatl say. He climbed onto the platform and met the man who'd let down the ladder. His fairy was just beside him.

"I'm the guide for this tourist center," he said, scooping up the ladder. "Koume deals with the boat rides. You can go in and talk to her about it, mate."

"Thanks," Link said, as he walked by him and entered the hut. It was about the same size as Kotake's, except the counter was off to the left instead of in the middle. An open window revealed a backroom on the far wall. Koume stood behind it, head in her hand and elbow on the sill. She perked up at their appearance.

"Look who it is!" Koume exclaimed. "Come over here, and we'll talk about that boat ride your fairy mentioned. I owe you one after you... well, I wouldn't say you saved me, exactly, but you did find me so that Kotake could do the rescuing."

Link approached the window and ignored her insult. "The boat goes past the Deku Palace then?"

"Of course it does," Koume answered. She bent out of sight and returned with something in her hands. "But before you go, I'm required to give you this." The witch placed a small wooden box on the windowsill. It was thick and had a cylindrical lens protruding from one side.

"What is it?" Tatl asked, as Link picked it up and turned it over.

"A pictograph box," Koume said. "You see, this building is the Swamp Tourist Center, and we like to do something different each week. Usually this is when we have the most tourists, so we host a photograph contest. But, seeing how the moon is all scary looking and there are monsters everywhere, our plan kind of failed. You're our first participant."

"I don't know," Link said skeptically. The pictograph box would be rather heavy and bulky in his bag. "I have to carry everything with me, and we're going to be traveling a lot."

"I insist," Koume said. "It'll make up for you burning down half the forest and almost killing us. I have hundreds of these things in the back." Tatl almost spoke out against it, but the witch continued before she could. "Go outside and ask the big man to set the boat up for you. You'll be steering it on your own."


Link paddled the small boat smoothly across the water's surface. The day was still young and clear, though he found himself staring at the moon for most of his journey. It was facing the swamp. Its eyes – the eyes of the mask – bore down on him as they had in Clock Town. He wondered if those eyes defied even time, somehow seeing beyond their three-day cycles. What's happening with the pirates will be nothing compared to what the moon does, Link thought. Everyone he'd ever interacted with in Termina would be dead. The eyes of the moon showed no remorse, only ever-staring with some great, dark wisdom behind their cold demeanor.

"Link, are you going to steer the boat?" Tatl asked.

Link turned away from the moon, blinking the trance away. He'd been slowly drifting toward the bank. Link redirected the boat into the swampy stream, leaving the Swamp Tourist Center behind. The sail-less rowing boat was rather small in width and hardly large enough for one person. The fairy flew alongside as he guided the vessel toward the poisonous waters.

"Sorry about that," Link said. "I just can't help but think of the Skull Kid's mask every time I look at the moon."

"Yeah, I can hardly tell the difference between the two," Tatl said sarcastically.

"So, this might be a good time to tell you that I saw a massive creature swimming around in the pond we're going to."

"Um. What do you mean by 'massive creature?'"

"It might be friendly..."

"Yeah, because we have a lot of luck running into friendly creatures."

"It might not even be there anymore," Link said. "I told you so you'd be prepared."

"Thanks Link. Glad I can always count on you for a heads up."

Link made sure to be prepared himself, keeping his equipment nearby as he rowed. Within a few minutes, the pond surrounded by rocky cliffs came into view. The forest on either side disappeared along with the banks. Link pulled the paddles back toward him one more time, and then the boat passed over murky-green and into the still, purple poison. Link feared for only a moment that the water might disintegrate even the boat, but it didn't. Its wooden material clearly wasn't as vulnerable as human skin.

As if in response to the thought, his right hand suddenly screamed in pain. Link drew it back to see a strip of his flesh now gnarled and red. Without thinking, he'd kept paddling like normal, and a droplet of water had splashed onto him. Then he realized he'd let go of the paddle in shock, turning to see it already drifting away.

"Link!" Tatl exclaimed. "Look what you did!"

The boat drifted closer to the mushrooms, and Link attempted to use his only paddle to push them to the cave wall. He only ended up spinning the boat, sending them closer to the fungi. The three mushrooms were grouped together; their surfaces were flat and more spacious than even his boat. Not the worst place to end up, Link decided. He accepted their fate and laid down his remaining paddle. He cradled his raw right hand as they drifted.

"What in the name of Nayru made you decide to dip your hand in that water?" Tatl asked.

"I didn't dip my hand in," Link said. "I accidentally splashed it. That's all."

"You've gotta be more careful than that."

"I was actually thinking about how the boat is immune. Maybe there's a way I could get across on my own." He eyed the wooden tree trunk, which sat just in between the mushrooms and the cave.

"Did you figure out how to turn into a piece of wood, Link?" Tatl asked.

As the boat bumped into the mushrooms, he carefully got to his feet. Losing his balance would be fatal. "No," Link answered. "But I can turn into a Deku scrub."

Tatl didn't seem convinced. "But you'd sink right to the bottom, wouldn't you?"

Then he saw it: the dark shape, moving beneath the poisonous pond. "Tatl, get away from the water."

The fairy noted his urgency and immediately spun around. Link stood, frozen in an awkward, half-standing position, and he watched as the crown of the beast's head emerged from the water. It swam straight toward them.

"It's the thing you saw!" Tatl exclaimed. She flew over to the mushrooms as Link scrambled to the boat's far end. His erratic movement caused the vessel to spin in the wrong direction – away from the mushrooms and toward the creature.

The beast remained mostly submerge, wrapping two long, purple tentacles around the boat. One grabbed Link's foot just before he could leap for safety. His face came an inch from plunging into the poison as his chest slammed into the boat's rim. The tentacle started dragging him across the boat back toward itself.

Link pulled his sword from his scabbard, turned over onto his back, and slashed through the tentacle holding him. A gurgled shriek could be heard beneath the pond as the severed arm flopped into the boat. The vessel rocked dangerously, but Link paid no heed to that, already returning to his feet. Droplets of the poison water freckled Link's legs as he ran, stinging him with a fiery bee's fury. He leapt. The mushrooms offered safety mere feet away. Behind him, the creature hoisted its entire body atop the boat.

Link barely landed on the mushroom's squishy surface, pulling himself up without touching the water. He turned to face the beast, sword readied and Tatl at his side. The creature ripped his boat to shreds with its remaining three tentacles. The creature was an octo – and a big one, at that. Its skin was squishy and purple, and a large, flimsy snout protruded underneath its glowing, green eyes. Its head's hard, white, spiky top glistened with poison water, clearly immune to its burning powers.

Link tread carefully on the shroom's slick, fleshy surface. The big octo tossed the damaged boat aside and brought up a tentacle to smack Link from afar. The hero met it with his sword, though he only managed a gash instead of cutting it off. The octo roared in terror again, looking away from the wound to Link with wild eyes. Link took the chance to ground himself, planting his feet firmly and steadily on the fungus.

Unexpectedly, the octo filed a projectile. A round, white ball flew from its snout, and Link only had time to widen his eyes in shock. It slammed into his stomach and shattered, though its force still sent him airborne. Thankfully, he landed on the mushroom behind him, but he'd been disarmed. His sword remained lying on the first mushroom, only inches away from sliding into the water.

Tatl flew swiftly to his side. "Get to your feet and get your shield out! It's coming back!"

"No, I'm not using my shield," Link said, as the octo rounded the mushroom to fire again. Just as it launched another ball, Link pulled the Deku mask from his bag and put it against his face.

Unlike on the clock tower, the change was instantaneous. There was hardly time to blink before he was no longer a human. Link was once again in oversized clothes; they appeared exactly as they had when the wolfos attacked him: bootless, a hole with black scorch marks at his chest, and no sword and shield on his back. The bag had also disappeared, but his hat had returned. When Kotake removed the mask, the mask salesman's magic must have saved his physical condition and apparel for the next time he wore it – effectively duplicating the clothes on his person. Thankfully, the ill effects of the scar were still gone. Though he once again had wooden-textured skin, glowing orange eyes, and a snout. The octo's white ball flew right over his shorter head.

Link fired a projectile of his own, jumping toward the purple water and leaping out of his oversized tunic. His green bubble whizzed swiftly into the octo. Link's Deku feet hopped across the water's surface, just like in the sewers. He skipped three times before landing on the mushroom with his sword. The octo, meanwhile, shrieked in anger yet again now that it was covered in green goop.

Link summoned a bigger, stronger bubble next, taking advantage of the octo's temper tantrum. In moments, the beast had another reason to scream, and it fled in confusion and agony, disappearing beneath the purple water.

Content with his victory, Link looked down to examine his Deku scrub body again.

"What was that?" Tatl asked, flying over to join him again. "Since when can you walk on water and turn into a Deku scrub instantly?"

"Ee-ack," Link coughed, clearing his throat and remembering to talk correctly for his form. "I've been able to hop on water for a while now. The instant transformation thing I kind of gambled."

"Well, look what it did! You even have your hat back, Link. Congratulations. You're a dweeb again."