As Alwyn's ghost gradually disappeared, the sword became visible to Saria and the fairies.
"Oh, that's a cool sword," Saria admired the colour of the blade. "But where did it come from?"
Leaving the cave, Link explained to her about Alwyn and how only he was able to see his ghost and receive the sword. Turning to glance at her properly, he noticed her new outfit.
"When did you get those? You look really nice," he smiled.
"Thanks," she returned the smile. "Amber and Alanna persuaded me to-"
"There you are!" Amber's voice echoed up the hill. "Sneaking off for a bit of alone time were we?"
"If only," Link mumbled. Putting a hand in his pocket, he felt the bracelet he had made for Saria a few weeks ago.
"Where did you get that?" Taj noticed Link's new sword as he and Alanna joined them.
After explaining for a second time, they made their way back to the weapon shop so the stolen swords could be returned.
"Impressive," Nadia had been observing the chase from her cloud. It would often be left to her or another Council member to deal with those types of goings on in the city but today she hadn't needed to intervene. It was clear the spell used by the green-haired girl wasn't something an ordinary mage would cast and the boy, there was something about him that she couldn't quite pinpoint. Watching them emerge from the weapon shop, she was looking forward to meeting them in person later that day.
"A new sword and now a free sheath? I'm jealous," Amber commented on Link's new red and gold sheath that the shop owner had given him for returning the swords.
"Not like you don't have enough free stuff of your own," Link half smiled, referring to the gauntlets and shield. Taking out the Gilded Sword, he turned to Saria and held it out. "I believe this belongs to you. Feels like the end of an era to finally have to part with it."
"How am I going to explain this to Mido?" She accepted the sword which was totally unrecognisable as the Kokiri Sword.
"Um, don't?" He grinned sheepishly. "Maybe he'll forget and won't ask about it."
"Good luck, I heard Mido can't wait to get his hands on that sword," Koda informed them.
"How do you know?" Saria asked.
"Kane told me."
"I should've known," Saria thought of Kane, Mido's fairy who was always full of stories about what the mischievous Kokiri was getting up to.
"Here we are!" Alanna interrupted their conversation as the group arrived at the entrance to the Council building.
They were greeted with an extravagant entrance hall which almost rivalled that of the Hylian royal castle. Glistening white tiles lined the floor causing even the slightest of footsteps to echo throughout the room. Numerous enquiry desks were set on one side where various receptionists and other employees of the Council busied themselves with the day's work. A magnificent chandelier hung from the centre of the high ceiling, flames flickering around the edges of it illuminating the room in whites, yellows and oranges. However, the feature that stood out most was the impressive mural which covered the entire eastern wall. Vibrant blues, greens, reds, browns and a sea of other colours melted together to create one of the most stunning pieces of art any of the group from Hyrule had ever seen.
"Oh, how beautiful," Saria marvelled at the painting, admiring the detail of the rolling green hills, red rocky mountains and swirling blue oceans.
"That's Asterlin," Alanna explained. "They say the very first Council members painted this centuries ago."
"So where are we now?" Link stared at the map trying to pinpoint their location.
"Um," Alanna paused for a moment before pointing out what looked like a large grey dot in the centre of the green area. "There's Hollum."
"Looks like someone threw some buckets of paint at the wall and hoped for the best," Amber said crossing her arms, not feeling as impressed with the art as the others.
"One of my ancestors worked on this piece, I don't think they had paint buckets back in those days," a voice came from behind them.
Turning to face the voice they were greeted with an amused Nadia who had her arms folded in a similar manner to Amber, a slight smirk crossing her face.
"I'm sure they had alternatives," Amber huffed. "Who're you anyway?"
"Lady Nadia! It's an honour to finally meet you in person!" Alanna moved in front of Amber and curtsied to a surprised Nadia.
"Why thank you, no need for such formality though, Nadia will do just fine," the woman smiled, turning her attention to the whole group. "The Council has been awaiting your arrival so please follow me."
Being led along a corridor to the side of one of the reception desks, the group couldn't help but stop and marvel at some of the artwork lining the walls. Various pictures of landscapes and historical figures greeted them at every corner.
"I'm sure I've seen that before," Saria stood in front of a large painting of a collection of rocks.
"Ah yes, that's a piece by van Goro, the famous Goron artist," Nadia explained.
"Goron?" Link blinked. "There are Gorons in Asterlin too?"
Yeah, they live on the far mountains," Alanna walked past most of the pictures without a second glance having seen most of them on numerous occasions across the country.
Ushering them through a nearby set of double doors, Nadia entered behind the group as they came face-to-face with the Asterlin Council. In contrast to the darkness of the previous evening, the large bay window allowed the morning light to pour into the room, spilling over the table and chairs causing small beams of light to bounce in every direction. The pictures which lined the walls were now clearly visible, each displaying a different region of the country.
"Welcome children," an elderly man greeted them from a seat in front of the table. Standing from the chair, the man was no taller than Saria, his face and head covered in thick grey hair which almost completely hid any other features from view, giving him an appearance of one of the dogs from Hyrule market. However, amongst the hair there could still be seen a pair of dark kind eyes which sparkled with what could only be years of wisdom.
"Hello, sir," Alanna stepped forward to take his hand.
"Sir?" he gave a chuckle. "Bryce will fine. Now, I heard you've already been to my region. How is Magnus?"
"How is he?" Alanna hadn't really thought to ask a spirit how it was doing. "I uh-"
"Never mind about small talk!" Kyron snapped from the back of the room, resting his hands on the table he glowered at the group. "You went to the swamp without our permission, is this how you intend to act for your entire journey?"
"N-no, of course not!" Alanna was starting to feel quite intimidated.
"It was my idea to go to the swamp first," Link stepped forward, "There was some trouble on the way in that direction so I thought it would be easier for us to go there first. And if we-"
"I don't think it matters," Nadia interrupted. "The important thing is that you're here now. Right Kyron?"
"Hmm." The man moved closer, inspecting each of them in turn. "I'm sensing a lot of magical energy from over here," he looked at Link and Saria. "However, I'm not getting anything from this end."
"Hey! We don't all need 'cosmic powers' to be useful," Amber frowned. "And I'm the only one who can carry the shield."
"Yes, why is that?" Kyron tried to get a better look at the shield.
"I um, I'm not sure," Amber rubbed the back of her head.
"Well I'm not convinced you're up to the task of returning it to its rightful place. This should be the job of the Council." Attempting to touch the shield, he got a shock when it scorched his fingers.
"You know we can't do that Kyron, the prophecy says-"
"I don't care what the prophecy says!" The younger man shouted at Bryce. "How can we put our trust in a group of children? No, you'll have to prove yourselves, the strongest of you will have to show me what you're truly capable of. "
Link put his hand on his sheathed sword.
"I told you!" Madi hissed in Saria's ear.
"Alright! I'll fight you!" Amber sprang forward, removing the shield from her back. "I am the leader after all."
"Wha?" Link gaped. "Since when?"
"Since you all voted me to be. Remember that time, in that place, that one afternoon?"
"In a parallel universe maybe," Taj mumbled.
"Well anyway, don't worry, I can handle this guy," she winked, following Kyron outside.
"Amber! Amber get back here!" Link grit his teeth not liking where this was going. Feeling a hand on his shoulder, he turned around.
"Let her go, maybe this is a good way for her to learn that she's not as invincible as she thinks she is," Saria tried to calm him down. "I just hope she doesn't get hurt."
Kyron led Amber outside to the arena the Council used to practice various magic techniques. Glancing up to the balcony above, he saw the rest of the group watching, Nadia with an un-amused expression on her face. Ignoring his colleague, he turned his attention back to Amber who was standing opposite him with an eager look in her eyes.
"You've got guts, I'll give you that," he grinned. "But you're way in over your head this time." Lunging toward her, he stopped inches from her face before disappearing completely from sight. Seconds later, he had split into several copies and formed a circle around the girl leaving no way to escape.
"Five against one isn't fair," Amber pouted. "Or six, or seven, or however many of you there are." Watching the movement of the clones carefully, she hoped to spot one with a subtle difference but it was no good, they all looked exactly the same and were all preparing to fire an orb of purple energy in her direction. Throwing herself to the ground, she narrowly avoided the attack as the spells met above her head in a clash of light.
Merging back into one, Kyron walked towards the girl and grabbed her by the wrist, pulling her up until her feet were barely touching the floor. Attempting to sling her across the battlefield, he got a shock when he found he couldn't move her an inch. She was somehow pouring all her strength into pushing against his hand.
"Good thing she stole those gauntlets after all," Link was impressed with how the Gerudo was making use of her extra strength.
Reaching around with her free hand, Amber went to grip Kyron's arm to pull it away from her own but then decided another strategy would be more effective. Changing direction before he noticed, she sent a fist into his face which threw him completely off balance and gave her time to free herself from his grasp. Not waiting for a response, she ran forward, sending out a foot aimed at the centre of his chest.
However, the man was too fast. Recovering from the unexpected blow, he gripped her foot and sent her flying a few feet in the opposite direction. Closing the distance between them, he grabbed her by the shirt, using his other hand to run a finger along her cheek.
Amber winced as something sharp caught her skin, noticing that Kyron was wearing a golden ring with a small, spiked stone in the centre which looked strangely like the spiked edges of her shield.
"Okay! I think that's enough," Nadia appeared beside the two in a sphere of wind. "She's still alive so she's proven herself more than enough."
"I was going easy on her," Kyron muttered, letting Amber fall to the floor. "Why didn't you use the shield to defend yourself?"
"Because if I had I would've destroyed you!" Amber growled, touching the scratch on her cheek which had started to bleed.
"I apologise for Kyron's behaviour," Nadia said as she cleaned Amber's cheek. "Our country has waited a long time for the shield to be returned and now it's finally here he just wants to make sure nothing goes wrong."
"So how are Council members chosen?" Saria asked while admiring the artwork around the room. "Is it a family thing?"
"Pretty much. My brother Hiro and I are descendents of one of the oldest families in Asterlin. All of the Council members are actually… although Kyron's is a bit of a mystery."
"How come?" Alanna asked curiously.
"Well, the one who used to hold his position was an uncle of his but then one day he just disappeared. Later we were informed by Kyron that he had been ill for a while and hadn't wanted anyone to know so being his only living relative, Kyron took his place. It may sound suspicious to an outsider but trust me, only a rightful Council member would be able to perform the type of magic Kyron can." Finishing with Amber's wound, Nadia turned her full attention to the group. "So, apart from granting you official permission to access the shrines of Asterlin is there anything else I can help you with?"
"We were hoping to travel east next, to a place called Canarfon," Link explained.
"Ah, that's good timing since there's been a lot of trouble there lately," Nadia glanced toward the picture of Tyson on the wall. "If you leave through the east gate of the city and travel straight through the grasslands you'll eventually arrive at the mountain railway. Once through there it's not far to the town."
"Thank you so much," Alanna bowed. "We'll be sure to let you know if we have any more problems."
"She seemed nice," Saria commented as they left the city. "So did Bryce."
"Yeah, shame we can't say the same for all three," Link frowned at the thought of Kyron's glaring face. "You'd think he'd be politer considering we don't have to be here."
"Hopefully the others are nicer," Taj joined the conversation as they all watched Amber running on ahead.
"Does she ever run out of energy?" Alanna felt exhausted just by watching the girl.
"The Gerudo are an active race," Taj recalled his childhood living with them as he slowed down to match Alanna's pace while the others walked ahead.. "They pride themselves on agility and stealth and are always encouraged to keep busy."
"Interesting, what else do you know about the races of Hyrule?" Having never been out of Asterlin the girl had always wondered what other countries were like.
Do you think Alanna likes Taj? Saria mentally asked Link.
Sure, they seem to get along and chat a lot, why wouldn't she like him?
I meant like like! You know, the liking sort of like.
Um, you're making me imagine a lot of like-likes here, Link grinned. But I get what you mean. Why do you think that though?
The way they are together and she bought him clothes earlier today, sure, she bought them for me and Amber too but I don't know, it was like she purposely went out of her way to find something for Taj.
Yeah, she obviously isn't interested in me since she didn't get me anything and neither is my girlfriend because she didn't get me anything either, he joked receiving a playful whack on the arm.
We both know you'd act grateful for any clothing bought for you then stash it away and we'd never see it again.
Good point and that's just one of the reasons why I love you so much, he took her hand in his as they continued their silent conversation.
"It must be nice, to be so in love," Alanna sighed wistfully. "Just look at them, it's as if they know what the other is thinking without even saying it."
"Uh," Taj was thrown off by her comment, not sure how to respond. Waiting until the pair in front had walked further enough ahead, he leaned in closer to Alanna. "You want to know a secret?"
"I guess?" Alanna looked a little anxious.
"Well, don't tell Amber but…" He whispered about how Link and Saria could speak to each other telepathically. Since it was the second time she'd commented on their actions he figured it was fair to let her know.
"Oh!" She exclaimed a bit louder than Taj would have liked. "Now it all makes sense."
"What're you two whispering about?" Link asked the pair who both shot him innocent glances.
"Uh, just the weather, it changes so often but once Taj explained how it works it makes way more sense now!" Alanna nodded, almost believing her own cover story.
Having gained quite a distance on the others, Amber stood by a lone tree to catch her breath. Madi and Koda hovered over her head attempting to make small talk with the Gerudo.
"You two didn't have to keep up with me," Amber said in reply to something they had asked about her favourite type of desert horse.
"We know," Koda replied. "But we wanted to keep you company, all the others seem paired up after all."
"Uh, maybe Link and Saria but the other two aren't."
"They look pretty cosy to me," Madi chimed in.
"Are you kidding me? Alanna is clearly into girls and Taj has the emotional range of a stone wall." Folding her arms Amber slid down the side of the tree until she was sitting in the grass.
"Alanna's into girls? I don't get that impression at all," Koda landed on the girl's head. "And I know girls."
"Believe me, every girl is into girls, they just haven't realised it yet since someone has to take interest in guys."
"As logical as ever," the male fairy sighed, he missed his group of adoring girls back home.
Ignoring the fairy, Amber leapt up and approached the rest of the group who were finally catching her up.
"Hey, do you guys want to play a game?" She figured she would get an activity going to pass the time.
"Sure, what kind of game?" Saria asked.
"How about guess the famous Gerudo? Me and my friends at home play it all the time!"
"Um, but we don't know any famous Gerudo, not any good ones anyway," Link stated.
"I'll fill you in!" Amber muscled her way in between the two so she didn't feel as left out as the fairies made her out to be. "There's Natala, she was the first Gerudo to wrestle a sand golem with her bare hands! Then there's Isami who discovered the purple leever, oh and Malosa who found out that the sun is at its hottest when it's at the highest point in the sky."
"I'm sure there's one more," Amber tried to remember. For the last twenty minutes she had recited at least thirty names and their achievements. "Oh yeah! Katanu, she designed the uniform all Gerudo guards wear."
"Wow, I think I lost track after number five," Saria was impressed at the girl's knowledge of her culture.
"You want me to start over?"
"No!" Both Link and Saria shouted.
"I'm sure we'll remember them if we go over them in our minds," Link assured her.
"Alright, well I'll think of one and you two ask me questions about her, but I can only answer yes or no and you only get twenty questions in which to guess my person." Amber quickly thought of a name. "OK, go!"
"Is it a girl?" Link asked lamely.
"Is she a Gerudo?" Saria joined in.
"Is she one of the famous people you just told us about?" Link gave a small yawn.
"Yeah! You two are good at this!"
"Hey you three, maybe we should find somewhere to camp for tonight," Taj interrupted their game.
"Hmm?" Link looked around to realise the sun had almost set, Amber had been a decent distraction after all. Looking to his left he spotted a cluster of trees not too far from them which looked like a good place to set up camp.
"Here you go," Amber handed Link his new sleeping bag as they set up camp in the clearing they had found within the woods.
"You got me a pink sleeping bag?" Link took the thing, eyeing it cautiously.
"We got them for everyone!" Amber gave a wide smile. "Apart from Taj, Alanna got him the last blue one in the shop."
"Whoopie for Taj," Link grumbled. Looking at Saria he caught her smiling at him as he was reminded of their conversation that afternoon.
"Quit whining, you need to get more in touch with your feminine side anyway," the Gerudo stretched her arms lazily.
"Is that why you got a pink one too?" Tossing the bag aside, Link knelt in the centre of the clearing and used Din's Fire to light a fire.
"I'll ignore that," Amber spread out her blankets to sit on. "Now let's eat!"
"Someone tell me a bedtime story," Amber yawned as she snuggled into her sleeping bag.
"Is that what your mother does every night?" Taj asked from his own sleeping bag.
"N-no," the girl denied. "Well, maybe sometimes. Hey! I find it hard to sleep okay?"
"You didn't have any problems last night," Alanna could still hear the Gerudo's snoring in her mind.
"I've got a story," Link said from his position at the base of a nearby tree where Saria was sitting on the lowest branch overhead. "So there was once a hero called Mipo and his two friends Malone and Starla."
Saria gave a loud cough.
"It's not that bad!" He reached up and grabbed her ankle in an attempt to pull her from the branch but instead ended up with her shoe.
"Sounds boring and I've already heard it," Amber mumbled.
"That's impossible! This is a one of a kind creation."
"You can say that again," Saria tried to grab her shoe from Link, only to fall off the branch and land in his lap.
"Anyway, the three embarked on an epic quest to save the kingdom…"
Ten minutes passed.
"And then!" Link was about to continue when he heard loud snoring from Amber's direction and it appeared that Taj had fallen asleep too. "It's not that boring, is it?"
"Hmm? What did you say?" Saria yawned still sitting on his lap, her head resting against his chest.
"I thought it was great, the part about the rat was my favourite," Alanna gave a genuine smile. "Why don't you two get some sleep? I can take first watch."
"I'll stay up with you," Saria volunteered.
"If you're sure Alanna, we're the ones who're meant to be 'guarding' you and all that," Link didn't want to neglect his duties, especially after the meeting with Kyron.
"It's fine! It will enable me to be useful for once," taking out one of her sketchbooks, Alanna started scribbling the scene before her.
Shifting across to where Alanna was sitting, Saria watched her with fascination.
"Here, you should give it a try," Alanna took out a blank book and handed it to the other girl.
"I'm no good at drawing…" Saria stared at a blank page as she was given a pencil. Looking back at Alanna's picture she noticed how she was using her left hand. "You're left handed? So is Link."
"Really? I don't meet many left handers. It does make writing a little messy though, when my hand smudges the page." Finishing a rough sketch of the campsite, she started adding various colours.
Drawing a series of lines and shapes on her page, Saria shaded in some parts before showing Alanna. "What do you think?"
"Um," Alanna had no idea what the picture was meant to be. "It's… nice."
"You have no idea what it is, do you?" Saria sighed, putting the book down. "It's my Pepeckeri, Perri, but I suppose my art skills don't represent him very well," she laughed.
Alanna couldn't help laughing as well, there was something infectious about the Kokiri when she was happy, it was a comforting feeling.
"What's a Pepeckeri?"
For a while the girls chatted about the various adventures Link and Saria had been on along with some history of Hyrule.
"Wow," Alanna breathed, still trying to take in the wealth of new information.
"Is it that shocking?" Saria tilted her head to one side. "I'm sure Asterlin has its fair share of stories."
"Well yeah, but none of our stories involve evil kings and a holy artefact that can grant wishes." Signing her name on the bottom of her finished sketch, Alanna put the book aside. "So, if your talent isn't drawing what is it/"
"Music, I can play a few instruments but the ocarina is my speciality. I'd offer to show you sometime but I don't have an ocarina at the moment," she glanced towards Amber before looking back. She was still annoyed at what had happened but it didn't bother her as much as it had.
Sensing something was wrong, Alanna quickly changed the subject.
"How long have you and Link known each other?"
"What? Like ten years or something?"
"Yeah, give or take a few," Saria didn't feel like explaining how the Kokiri race worked, especially how Link wasn't a full Kokiri and how she had chosen to age.
"Hmm," Alanna stared at the ground then back at the other girl. "You should get some sleep, I'll be alright for another hour or so."
"Are you sure? Do you want me to wake Link?" Saria had to admit she was getting a little tired.
"No need, I'll wake him before I go to bed."
After Saria had turned in, Alanna occupied herself by watching the campfire flames dancing in the light breeze. She couldn't believe how far she had come since the times of sitting on the shorefront, even if it had only been a couple of days. Stretching wearily, she rubbed her eyes as sleep threatened to take over.
"Shouldn't hurt if I rest my eyes for a second," she mumbled, lying down and letting herself relax to the point she was slipping in and out of conscious thought. A moment later and the girl had drifted off to sleep.
The snapping of twigs echoed throughout the woods, however, no one around the campsite heard a thing.
"Shh!" A voice hissed. "We don't want to wake them before we get there. Remember, go for the shield, the staff and the book."
A group of three bandits surrounded the camp. Draped in travelling cloaks with knives at the ready, they encircled the sleeping group before attacking.
"What the!" Amber screamed as she was dragged from her sleeping bag by a big, burly stranger. "Get off of me!"
"Quick, tie her up over there and get the others!" The one who appeared to be the leader commanded.
The man carrying a kicking Amber was about to comply until he was thrown back by a gust of wind with such force that he had no choice but to let her go. Not being given a second to recover, a series of vines ripped from the ground and dragged him high into the treetops before sending him plummeting back towards the earth.
"Get the shield!" Saria yelled, ducking as a fiery spell flew in her direction.
"Right," Amber lunged for her weapon and threw it on her back. "Now let's kick some ass!"
"No, you two get out of here, they're obviously after the shield," Link instructed. "Taj and I will take care of Alanna."
"Humph, no fun," Amber grumbled as she was ushered out of the clearing by Saria.
Emerging into the fields, they were greeted with two more bandits.
"They must have known we'd try to escape," Saria summoned a blast of forest magic before they could get an attack in.
Using the blast as a distraction, Amber ran forward and rammed one edge of the shield into the nearest attacker. The intense heat of the burning metal burned right through his cloak into his skin causing him to crumble to the ground in agony. Being so pleased with her mini victory, the Gerudo didn't notice the second man sending a deadly burst of ice in her direction.
"Yikes!" Amber squeaked, raising the shield just in time to take the brunt of the attack.
Moving behind the man, Saria uprooted a withered patch of grass from nearby, turning the dying plant life into razor sharp blades that pierced the man's hands and face as they flew around his body in an emerald cyclone.
Running into the fray, Amber put her fists to work and punched the man square in the jaw before spinning on one heel and kicking him in the chest. Dusting her hands off as he fell to the floor, she was about to congratulate herself when a scream came from behind. Turning her head, she saw the first man had managed to recover and was now holding Saria in such a way that it was impossible for her to cast spells. Slipping a knife from his jacket, he held it against her throat.
"You make one move and she gets it," he growled at Amber who wasn't sure what to do next.
A/N: If anyone is interested in the origins of Mipo, Malone and Starla take a look at my oneshot Once Upon A Cliche.