Hello! I'M BACK. YES. I HAVE DECIDED TO RETURN. Do you ever have those periods of time (like...long ones...) when you simply can't get ANY inspiration? Well I have been going through that for the past, like, year. So that's why I have been gone. Not to mention school. If any of you know what the IB program is, you know what I'm talking about. ANYWAY, I really hope you haven't forgotten about this little story of mine, and I hope you don't hate me for being gone for so long :( SOWWY. Anyway, enough rambling, here is what you've all been waiting for: CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE! Enjoy, I love you all!

Chapter Twenty-Five: Focus

Zelda could do nothing but stare, awestruck, at the back of her right hand. The triangle continued to shimmer incessantly, emanating a slight blue glow.

It's not a triangle, she finally concluded. Her head was about to burst. It's the Triforce. Sure enough, there were three different triangles, stacked upon one another, creating the legendary symbol of the Royal Family and the story of the hero...the symbol of Hyrule itself, and its complete and utter devotion to the goddesses that created it.

Everything was hazy now, and Zelda couldn't think clearly enough to deduce the reasons for the Triforce's sudden appearance on her skin. She had heard of this happening, and she had read about it in her books...but never in a million years had she expected this phenomenon to pop up in her own being. The surprise of it boggled her mind to the point that coherent thoughts were impossible. She just sat there with wide eyes and a racing heart.

What does it mean?

"Zelda! We've been looking everywhere for you!" Sheik gushed as Zelda stumbled into camp. "Where have you been? You should be sleeping. You have a big day tomorrow."

The princess couldn't say a word. Sheik and Link stood, side by side, in front of their tent and watched her with concerned expressions. She hid her clenched fist behind her back.

"...Princess?" Link began.

"Geez, what happened to you?" Sheik cried, putting his hands on her shoulders. "You're shaking!"

Zelda could not stop herself from trembling. Each time she closed her eyes, she saw the boy's face beaming at her from the picture, and relived the appearance of the Triforce on her pale skin, and a chill came over her once more. The symbol was the same one in the patterns on her dresses, and the charm on her necklace, and her earrings, and the tapestries hanging throughout Castle Town...Sheik felt her shudder, and began rubbing her arms frantically.

"Zelda, can you tell me what happened? Where did you go?"

The princess simply shook her head, turned, and walked back to her tent, tightening her fingers around the picture in her hand. She didn't want to forget his face, or his smile; she wanted to know he was real. And for that reason, she had stolen the picture from the tree house, and now put it inside of her knapsack with the folded tunic.

"What do you think happened to her?" Sheik asked, following Link back into the tent. He just shrugged, sitting back on the bed and burying his face in his hands.

"I knew it was a bad idea to bring her..."

"Link, you haven't even left yet."

"And look at how she's acting! What if she's just been thinking about it, and she realizes how dangerous it is, and—"

"I don't think you realize how brave she actually is," Sheik interrupted defensively. He sat cross-legged on the ground, staring up at Link with flashing eyes. "Look at her situation. And she's never once faltered in her decisions."

"She's brave, but not the kind of brave I'm talking about here," Link snapped. "I need someone who's not afraid to fight."

"When the time comes, she won't be. Trust me. She puts up with you, doesn't she? That makes her almost fearless."

"Stop joking around."

Sheik chuckled, "That wasn't a joke, Link."

"Really funny." The irritation was evident in his voice.

"Seriously! If she has the courage to travel across the kingdom with you, who have been the biggest jerk to her, then she's brave enough for anything."

"Oh, shut up." Link ran his hands through his hair guiltily as Sheik giggled to himself, lying back against the ground. There was silence for a few minutes as Link tried to convince himself that he had made the correct decision. Sheik could almost read his mind.

"If it's distraction you're worried about—"

"I won't get distracted!" Link surprised even himself with the defensive outburst. He and Sheik both knew that was exactly what Link was worried about: losing sight of the goal.

"Down, boy, down!" Sheik put his hands up. "Well. I guess that's proof that that is what you're worried about." He raised his eyebrows expectantly as Link looked away in anger. Sheik saw right through him.

"Look, I can see how it's easy to be distracted. She's beautiful, and she's charming, and...you know, she has all that princess jazz. And I mean, come on. You guys will probably be sleeping in the same tent...But remember your goal: to protect her. If you get distracted, you won't be able to do that."

"I won't get distracted!" Link cried out again. He wanted more than anything for Sheik to stop bringing those ideas to his head and reminding him of how utterly astounding the princess truly was. He didn't want to think about that, and he certainly didn't want Sheik to know he was thinking about that.

"Touchy. Well, all right then. Good luck, I guess," Sheik sighed, lying back down.

"The only thing I'm worried about is getting the Gorons and the Zoras on our side," he mumbled, just to prove a point. Sheik was being annoying again.

"Whatever," he said leisurely, "do what you think needs to be done. You're the boss. Let's just hope you can actually remain focused enough to do it."

Link didn't respond. He just stared his fists, and tried to think of ways to keep his mind focused.

The soft chirping of the songbirds shattered the early silence, announcing the break of dawn. Link rolled over in his bed and clung more tightly to the covers, though he was awake and had been all night. The paranoia, combined with the image of Princess Zelda's traumatized face, had driven away any hope of sleep. His eyelids were drooping, yet they refused to close. Frustrated and paradoxically exhausted, he finally jolted up in bed and thrust the blanket to the ground. Almost at the exact moment he stood up, Sheik poked his head into the tent.

"Oh, you're awake," he smiled. "How are you feeling?"

Link just shrugged and aggressively stuffed clothes into his bag. With a sigh, Sheik entered the tent of his own accord and helped Link with his ill-prepared, last minute packing. Outside, camp was stirring earlier than usual. Link tuned out all of the noise, and tried to concentrate on the steady sound of his own breathing.

"Are you ready, Link?" Sheik finally said. "Are you really ready?"

The leader straightened up and stared at Sheik in cold, hard silence for a couple of moments. Then he nodded.

"Yes. Is Zelda ready?"

"She's getting dressed..."

"Okay. We'll leave in half an hour. Are the horses ready?"

"Yeah, but are you sure you should be taking two horses?" Sheik scratched the back of his neck.

"Why shouldn't we?"

"I mean, wouldn't it be more discreet and less of a hassle to just take Epona?" he continued. "Just an idea."

"I still don't understand what's wrong with taking two horses."

"Okay, fine, forget I said anything," Sheik said in exasperation, and dropped a pair of breeches into the bag. Link stared distantly out of the tent, his eyes narrowed in whirring thought. He was trying his very hardest to convince himself that he was not afraid. He was not afraid of leaving camp. He was not afraid of taking Zelda with him. He was not afraid of what would happen on the trip. He was not afraid of Damita.

The only problem was that he was afraid of all of that.

The inhabitants of the camp were gathered at the edge of the forest, murmuring and shuffling among themselves. The sun had just barely risen, yet the entire camp was stirring. Some, interrupted from sleep, were still rubbing the exhaustion from their crusty eyes. Others, early risers like Link and Sheik, were awkwardly twirling their weapons. Zelda and Link stood at the front of the group, on the very edge of the forest, with their backs to the dense array of dark trees. Last minute preparations were being made; Malon was fetching the horses, Sheik was checking their bags to make sure they had sufficient food and water in case they needed it, and the travelers themselves were testing their weapons.

Link cringed as the sound of Zelda's plucked bowstring resonated beside him, and anxiously sheathed his sword. When he looked over at her, he saw that her eyes were glued to the blue hilt of the sword, as if there was a secret code written on it. Her unwavering gaze made him a bit uncomfortable, and he shifted on his feet. Finally, the princess turned away hastily and began absentmindedly double-checking the sturdiness of her arrows.

"Excuse me, coming through!" Malon's voice broke the strange silence that had been permeating the atmosphere. She led two horses through the crowd, a shaky smile on her face, and made her way to Link and Zelda. Epona walked majestically on her right side, and a white gelding by the name of Flare walked on her left. Aside from Epona, Flare had grown the closest to Zelda during the past few months of her presence at the camp, and the princess had made it clear that he was the horse she would be taking.

"Here we go. Two clean, strong, well-fed horses," she smiled, handing Link and Zelda the reins of their respective horse. "And they better stay that way."

"Of course." Link managed a meek smile; to the rest of the camp, he seemed just as confident and courageous as ever. Even Malon could not pick up on the hint of his fear. Zelda was much too involved in her own mind to notice, and Sheik—though he could easily read the mind of his best friend—hid his own thoughts, as well.

"Be careful, Link." Malon gave Link a warm, encouraging hug, which he distractedly returned. Then the ranch hand turned to the princess. "Princess, it has been an honor spending these past few months with you. Please be careful, and make sure Link over here stays out of trouble," she winked. Zelda smiled nervously and hugged the girl that had come to be one of her best friends.

"Hey, you," Sheik whispered. He had approached Link from behind, and had his arm around his shoulders. "You stay focused, got it? It's not just your life on the line anymore."

He was speaking just quietly enough that nobody else could hear him, but to Link, his voice was too loud for comfort.

"...Got it."

"And Link?" His voice rose to an audible pitch. "Don't die, please."

"I'll try my best."

As Link stared into the shimmering red eyes of his best friend, he felt his heart skip a beat. He didn't know whether to shake Sheik's outstretched hand, or hug him, or not do anything at all. Luckily, he didn't have to do anything, because Sheik pulled him into an affectionate embrace. He repeated in Link's ear, "Don't die."

Sheik moved to Zelda. Before he could even open his mouth, she let a small whimper escape her lips and threw herself into his arms. Sheik was the closest thing she'd had to family ever since the attack at the castle. He held her tightly, gently shushing her and cradling the back of her head. Her face was buried in his neck, and Link watched with an awkward envy beginning to bubble up inside of him. There he was, Link's best friend, a friend to all...even the princess. He was paying such close attention that, beside Zelda, he was the only one could make out what Sheik said to Zelda.

"Trust him. Take care of him. And let him take care of you." The princess nodded and held onto Sheik for a few more precious moments.

"Be careful, please."

"We'll be waiting for you right here!"

"Good luck, we know you can do it!"

The voices and cheers of the Loyalists began to die down as Link and Zelda moved deeper into the forest.

"Where are we going first?" Zelda finally spoke. Her gaze was rigid, facing forward.

"Lake Hylia," he replied. "The Gorons will be more difficult to persuade, so we'll deal with Princess Laruto first."

"How long is the ride?"

"Two days, perhaps a two and a half."

"Is Castle Town on the way there? Or perhaps any kind of little village?"

"Kakariko, I believe."

"Can we stop there? I need to find newspapers. I need to know what's going on in my kingdom. I've had no idea for too long."

"Fine. Perhaps we can stay at the inn there."

"Very well."

Their conversation was tense—admittedly less tense than it once was. Their long nights in front of the fire, open books on their laps, had given them more comfort around one another. In this situation, though, no matter close they were, tension was inevitable. Link didn't want to say it, but he was thinking it. And he knew the princess was, too: there was the possibility of death on this journey if they failed.

But what Zelda didn't know, and what Link was determined to hide, was the fact that the Rebels were planning something as well. In fact, he was almost positive that they were going to cross paths with Rebels. He knew the Rebel leader well enough, and he knew his brilliant capabilities—Zelda didn't, and he wanted to keep it that way.

Good? Maybe? Yes? No? Review please, and I really really hope that I'll be back sooner this time! I LOVE YOU ALL THANK YOU FOR BEING AMAZING AND INSPIRING PEOPLE :)