At first Tatl saw only the mask of humanity he sometimes wears, after all it was the first face she saw him with and for a while she had assumed it was the only genuine one. That all the others were merely illusions that he had somehow produced through painted masks and a haunting melody.
She doesn't blame herself; after all it was only natural for one to take things as they appear, to assume he was a naïve and somewhat stupid little boy who had been travelling alone through the woods. He had been misfortunate and rich but other than that he had been quite ordinary and quite human.
At first it was a curse, it was a curse to everyone, even to him. She remembers how he looked down into that candlelit pool with those glowing Deku eyes and she remembers the high pitched shrieking, the wailing of the forest as its leaves were torn away, his wooden voice had been deafening. All the while his eyes had glowed, two tiny candles trapped within his wooden eyes.
He was a human turned to a Deku Scrub and that was it, nothing more to it. An unlucky, stupid, cursed little boy who had travelled into the woods on the wrong day with the wrong items on his back. She would look at him, the tiny wooden figure and flutter in frustration, seeing only his helplessness as the Termina tormented him and the moon swung down towards them with blood shot yellow eyes.
She saw the reflection, the outward surface, his wooden skin and his mournful orange eyes. A haunted child trapped in an alien body. He spoke little then, just as he speaks little now, back then you thought it was the curse that perhaps he was ashamed of his high-pitched wail of a voice. Perhaps he wasn't smart enough to come up with anything interesting to say, that seemed probable after all he had been dumb enough to get himself cursed in the first place.
Termina saw what she had seen; they saw a cursed mournful thing that scurried about on wooden legs with that horrified look in his eyes. Termina saw the weakness in his wooden puppet limbs and his short stature, it looked down upon him with the skeptical eyes of the moon, unaware of its own doom written across the stars.
She tries to envision his face, but as soon as that thought arrives another is followed 'which face?' After all he has more than one now, more than two even, and he switches between them so often that they begin to blur together. Sometimes he is the Zora gliding smoothly through the water his dark eyes blinking back at her, sometimes he is the sorrowful Deku Scrub holding a dying flower with his hands and looking up at the moon that dangled so precariously above, sometimes he is the massive Goron plowing his way through the mountain snow, and sometimes he is the boy with the cold blue eyes. Sometimes he is that silent haunted boy.
Which face? The thought continues as she hovers above his head, illuminating his path as he makes his way backwards through time, the melody always following behind in the distance as the clocks tick away a future that might have been. She thought it was the human face, after all when the curse was broken, when the Deku Scrub became little more than a painted mask it was the boy's face that remained.
She sees his sharp blue eyes, his thin jaded face, his yellow hair and his bizarre green clothing but she has come to recognize that she can't see him. She sees only a mask, a colorful painted mask that he might choose to wear out of necessity or convenience; she can't decide which, it's all so very confusing.
(It's so easy to remember that moment, thrown back in time by the Deku Scrub's blaring horns, the melody still ringing in her ears as the moon's leering face stole down upon them. It's so easy to remember the mask dropping to his feet and his blank blinking expression as he bent down to pick it up. There was no screaming that time, no horror, no nightmarish wailing only the empty silence and that bitter human smile)
He rides along on the ripples of others reactions to his face, for each face there is a new expression, a new purpose. Humans trust nothing but themselves, they attach themselves to the Hylian face, to those wide blue eyes and that golden hair. To the human they impart their deepest secrets, their fears, their dreams, their hopes, their regrets everything to those flickering blue eyes. They call him Link, they say it intimately as they speak with him, their eyes searching his imploringly. Link, they'd say to him slowly, tell me about where you come from. They would reach out towards him with calloused working-class hands, with noble pale fingers, all the hands of all the people reaching out toward blue eyed hope. Help us. They'd cry as a single person, and as time bent forward and backward each time they would be denied, their bones littered upon Termina field and the moon falls down, down, down.
He never tells them, she's listened every time and he never tells them. He leaves them their little piece of hope to squander. Like a parent at the market he gives his wide-eyed child a red rupee, he looks down at them and says in his careful tone, don't waste it, and they nod eagerly in agreement before running off only to lose it in the gutter. But time moves backwards and there they are again, the parent and his child, always the child drops it, always the rupee is lost and the child comes back in tears. It's gone, the crying child will wail, and the parent will say nothing because he has been there before and his hands are now empty and he knows that there will be another coin and another market and another tearful child.
They look up at the moon with scorn on the first day, and they turn to ask him if he really thinks it's going to fall, does it look any bigger than it did yesterday or the day before that. He says he doesn't know, which isn't a lie but it isn't true either. He does know what happens next but he doesn't know what came before, he's a ghost in their world, an outsider that Termina regards with curious and hopeful eyes. He speaks lies through a combination of truths, a tiny crack upon the reflection of a mirror so that only a fragment is thrown out of proportion. His lips speak lies but it is his eyes that hold that fatal moon bearing down upon the world.
(In the gutter their lies a red rupee glittering in the sunlight, trampled as the child searches desperately, tears in their eyes…)
The second day they happen upon the Deku Scrub holding the wilting flower in his hand (and it is only Tatl who notices that it always the same wilting flower, that the purple petals have fallen time and time again, restored by the paradox just as they are destroyed) and they scorn him. They look down into the orange candle-flames that light his eyes and they sneer. They have forgotten that nagging voice in the back of their minds that warns them of the moon's bloodshot yellow eyes. Their lives have returned and they throw him onto the streets, 'we don't serve plants' they say as they slam the door in his face.
He brushes the dirt from his green clothing with his slender wooden fingers, moving the yellow wooden hair from his eyes before turning away from humanity that despises him and returning to the forest temple.
They fear the Zora with his black eyes and his slender form, they fear his blue skin and the way he seems to stare at them as if he has seen their hypocrisy before. They accept his money and allow him to leave, but it is with hesitation for they can see the knives in his arms and the muscle beneath his skin. There is no pretense with the Zora, he is of a dying people and he has traveled far from the dying sea, they move around him always staring wide-eyed backwards as they watch him travel through their city.
The Goron is more familiar than the Zora, and yet he is still massive. They trade with him, they allow him to buy their products and enter their taverns, they see the strength in his arms that could crush skulls and they are wary of that.
There are times when they fear him, it is those other alien faces they edge away from, they can see the power lurking behind that strange flesh. They see the battle scars and those sharp inhuman eyes, they see the way he walks through them, parting them like water. It is only in the unfamiliar that they can catch glimpses of what he truly is, for the danger has always been there even in his childish guise he still holds a sword in his left hand.
By the third day they know they are going to die, the church bells were ringing all morning they'd say as they looked at him, not caring what form he takes this time so long as he listens. They are always afraid on the third day, because it's obvious, people are terrified. They run to the ranch and Link watches them leave with a nostalgic expression, he doesn't call out to them, no matter the face no matter the eyes, he doesn't tell them that it doesn't matter for they'll soon be dead anyway. If the moon doesn't kill them the paradox will.
He is all the masks, he stares out at the ripples of humanity out of all of their eyes watching as they sob into the night and are burned alive. Always there is the Deku Scrub's sorrow trapped within his gaze as he reaches back for them, his fingertips touching theirs for only a brief moment before time and death rip them apart. He is Termina staring back up at the moon with a bitter smile on his thin face, am I to die now he asks the moon but the moon only stares back in agony as it falls down, down, down.
(The child is screaming, dirt all over the hands and clothing as it searches for the lost red rupee, it can't see the glitter among the crowd of feet and it is screaming. All the while the boy in green watches with a bitter expression upon his pale features, watching as the terrified child searches for that lost treasure…)
Help us, they call up to him as he mounts the tower steps, even as they run and panic the moon bearing down upon them, all their lives now meaningless when faced with the fact that they were about to die. Help us, they call to his turned back seeing perhaps for the first time the boy that was not a boy climbing those stairs up into obscurity. They see for the first time the wavering edges of his body, and those flickering blue eyes that look back out at them.
(But Tatl knows that he never calls back and that by the dawn of the first day the paradox has already devoured them.)
Not once has he saved them, always they return to the beginning, blinking into the sunlight as they step out of the clock tower. He says nothing as the sunlight glares upon him, nothing as they walk into the street and away from cursed Clock Town, he says nothing.
(The child holds out the hand once more, it is another day in the market place and there is a new red rupee to be lost in the gutter…)
Once more they cower before him, they laugh at him, they adore him, they fear him, they love him, they despise him once more a new day has begun and they ride out to a new (familiar) setting where the people stare anxiously up at the moon clinging desperately to their faint hopes and dreams.
They are trapped by the illusion of his different faces; a child who plays with masks. They see only what he wants them to see, react only the way he wants them to react, he plays them masterfully as he bends backwards and forwards through time all the while looking at them with his strange inhuman eyes.
He is the masks, he is time, he is the sword, he is the mirror, and he is the flame.
(Tatl doesn't know how much he's letting her see, even now as she flutters beside him shedding light she wonders just how much is still hidden, how many cards are still up his sleeves. How much of his real face can she truly see, or is it his face at all?)
They see nothing, they see the lie and they cling to it, because in their moment of death it is all they have left to cling to.
He eats and drinks little, he sleeps even less. She supposes it makes sense, the paradox after all only lasts three days before it cycles back on itself, it doesn't leave much time for sleeping. He is a ghost, there are tired circles beneath his thin face and sometimes he'll laugh at things that don't make sense.
He'll laugh while staring up at the moon's yellow eyes, he'll laugh at the children as they attack his Deku Scrub form, he'll laugh at the desolate oceans, at the frozen mountains, at the poisoned waters. He'll laugh until he collapses and gasps for air reaching out towards the moon, his blue eyes piercing, and he'll ask 'are you finished yet?'
He always sleeps in the human face, when he checks into the inn on the dawn of the first day tired lines beneath his eyes and a haunted smile on his lips he'll look down at the bed and switch whatever face he was wearing back to that child's face. Then he'll crawl underneath those covers and close his weary blue eyes and simply breathe.
"Why do you do that?" Tatl asked one day as he lay there staring at his outstretched human hand, he looked over slowly that beleaguered expression returning to his face. "Why do you change back into a human before you sleep?"
He didn't answer for a while, the silence speaking for him, "Old habit. I've always been afraid that I won't recognize it when I wake up, that it will have changed overnight and that I wouldn't have noticed…"
Tatl looked down at him lying beneath the covers his eyes now closed and a smile on his face, he was young, she kept forgetting how young he really was. He should have been like those boys in Clock Town, he was around their age, perhaps a little older, but that didn't justify the scars in his eyes.
"So you really are human then?" Tatl asked him, floating down near his face to get a better look. He smiled again, peeking up at her out of his blue eyes.
"Shouldn't it be obvious?" He asked in return before falling silent and returning to the realm of sleep as he did every couple moon-cycles.
She had once thought it was obvious, that first day, no before the first day back in the woods with her brother, the scarecrow, and Majora. He had looked human enough, with his strange blue eyes and his shaking pale hands…
Shouldn't it be obvious?
Tatl isn't sure, even when she looked down at him as he lay there trapped in the dream-world she couldn't really tell. He looked human when he wanted to, his face thin and pale but human, undeniably human. She always has to remind herself that he has more than one face and that she has only seen four of them.
In the morning of the second or third day depending on the amount of sleep he needed he'd wake up and look in a mirror, watching that dull human reflection in the filthy glass, he'd wipe away the dirt and simply look at it with narrowed eyes as if trying to recollect whether it was his face or not. He'd do nothing but stare and finally when Tatl would be ready to reprimand him he'd turn and walk away, putting his reflection behind him for another morning in another paradox.
"It's a beautiful day," He'd say as he looked up at the moon falling down towards them, outside the people would rush past them, the boy who stands still in time, trapped within his own tangled web of time.
It was his reflection that spoke that thin pale reflection of humanity, the boy with the yellow hair and the dark blue eyes that said the words of the immortal child with courage written upon his hand. It was only a mask, a painted Hylian mask that stared back up at her, Link hidden somewhere beneath.
She can no longer see the child behind his multitude of faces, she's lost sight of him in the illusions seeing only what he lets her see, she sees only the image in the mirror that unchanging face that travels backwards so easily.
She sees his nightmare and nothing more.
"Don't you ever get bored of it?" Tatl asked him one day as they waited in the ranch with the insane little girl with fiery red hair and a gentle smile. He looked up with curious dark blue eyes and a strange half smile, he didn't ask for clarification but Tatl gave it anyway. "Don't you get tired of pretending it's never happened? After all we both know that in a couple days she'll be dead and you'll be back here again, dead or abducted do you ever get sick of pretending she has a choice?"
He said nothing when she came rushing back, still laughing and holding out a wilting purple flower, he held it silently and nodded a curt thank you and he watched her run off into the house again. In his hand the purple flower drooped, the same flower from before in a Deku Scrub's hand, and the time before that…
"Would they believe it if I told them?" He asked her softly, still watching as that purple flower wilted in his hands. In a few days it would be reduced to ash, the color washed out of it by the fire that would consume all life in Termina, when the moon finally struck the earth and the illusion was shattered.
"No but at least then you wouldn't be like this…" Tatl said seeing once again the lie that was his face, those frail human features that hid the unnatural power coursing through his veins, power over time and space over shape and form he rode through the land as an illusion of his choosing. He was a cracked and twisted mirror only barely managing to reflect humanity's image on his skin, the flicker of magic always trapped in his blue eyes.
"I've thought about it, but they don't want to know. If they really needed to they'd simply look up and know that they're all going to die, but they won't because they don't want to." He sighed and then looked back up at the moon, that dark and looming moon that drew ever closer, and he looked back to the red-headed girl laughing in the fields and he smiled.
"But you know." Tatl whispered to him knowing he'd say nothing in response, that he'd walk towards the girl and promise that everything would be alright and that he'd come back after the festival and that he'd bring her souvenir.
She'd look at him and laugh commenting on how pale his skin was and that it sure was nice weather. He'd nod in agreement still smiling down at her. He'd say nothing of the aliens that would abduct her or of the death that awaited her apathetic body later, instead he would smile and then leave trotting off on his horse towards the wall that separated him from the ocean the illusion maintained all the while beneath the moon's yellow eyes.
"It's all a lie and you know it." Tatl would say then, disgusted at the thought of her bleeding and broken body charred upon the once golden fields. He would shrug and not look at her, he would never look at her after these moments consumed perhaps by his own berating thoughts.
She had once pitied him, when they had stolen his most prized possessions and abandoned him in the woods, when the scarecrow had stolen his human face and left him in the guise of a monster. She had pitied him then, but now, now things are different and she doesn't know who's worth pitying.
Only every once in a while does Tatl see Link, that she sees behind all the masks and all the magic to see what he truly is. He's alien, he doesn't belong to Termina and deep down everyone knows it. Just like everyone knows that they're going to die, that the bells of the festival will be Termina's funeral dirge.
But they lie to themselves all the same, after all, Termina never asked for a prophet it already knew that it was doomed.
It's the third day again, that last morning and last evening that haunts him so deeply. On these days he is always a ghost, there is an empty glaze to his blue eyes and it is evident that the end is near, he always stalls on these days even in the depths of the temples and looks up in fear as if he can see the grim face of the moon bearing down upon them.
He becomes the still ripples of the ponds and Tatl can no longer tell what direction they are headed in because it all leads back to that clock tower, to the slow pulse of the bells and the fireworks lighting up the apocalyptic sky in the distance. He's never once stayed to watch the moon fall.
He's only seen the shadow of it, a shadow of the death and fire that followed him as he leaps from last midnight to first dawn. In the morning light he'll stare backwards with glazed eyes at the pale fire through the white realm of clocks until it is lost and there is a new world he must save because the old Termina is dead and has never existed.
Tatl believes that he will save them, that one day he will find the four giants and he will save Termina. Yet there will always be that pale shade of death that haunts his memory, those forgotten might-have-beens that linger in the distance; dead and forgotten as he traveled backwards so he might save a different reality.
They'll cheer for him or they'll forget he ever existed, forget that their moon nearly fell upon their heads and they'll be back at the beginning again Link and his fairy standing at the base of the clock tower looking up at the yellow eyes of the moon. She doesn't know, how can she? She tried once to keep track of all those what ifs but in the end it was only the moon that was left in her thoughts.
Perhaps she is already there, in that other paradox, and that Tatl has quite forgotten the other Tatl with the other Link in that other Termina with the moon that was falling down. She wonders if he is in all the paradoxes, if he remains aware of each one simultaneously or do they slip from him as well? She can't tell, time is a warped and twisted thing and it's all so very complicated.
She only knows that nothing is what it seems and that the moon is falling and that somehow she is still alive.
She's seen the world through his dark blue eyes, seen the snowfall in the mountains and the harsh desert sands, she's seen the bright blue sky of the morning and the deep purple of the sunset, she's seen more than she's ever imagined and yet she understands none of it.
(And in the distance there is the tolling of the clock tower and the yellow eyes of the moon…)
They stand at the bottom of the clock tower and she imagines that they've changed, they're not the same fairy and boy that they were in the woods. He's sharper than he used to be, his face is drawn and pale and his eyes are shrouded in shadows, in the beginning he looked much younger and she's changed more than she can imagine.
They're different than the fairy and the Deku Scrub at that first clock tower on that last midnight years ago, staring up at the moon's yellow eyes in fear.
She can't remember what they used to be, not exactly, she only knows they've changed at there's no going back to the way things were. Time has changed them and she doesn't know if it's for better or for worse, the world used to be a straight path and now it is a maze and she is so desperately lost.
(And once again the clock is tolling away and the third midnight has come for their souls…)
Author's Note:Yet another Legend of Zelda one-shot, I should really stop getting distracted by these. Oh well I thought it was worth writing to some extent.
Thanks to readers, reviews would be lovely.
Disclaimers: I don't own Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask or Simon and Garfunkle's 'Flowers Never Bend with the Rainfall'