Wait. What's this? Is it REALLY possible? Have Dayraider and Gargravarr FINALLY knocked their heads together enough to finish another chapter of NL, several months after the last one?
I am astonished (and somewhat embarrassed!) to say that our last update was 6th October last year - that's SIX MONTHS. O.o So sorry to all of our readers it's taken so long! We took the ending back to the drawing board for a while, and then both of us ended up buried in work for months. I'm personally gearing up for my final exams for Uni - wish me luck!
The good news is that Day and I are really proud of this chapter. On a side note, I'll take the opportunity to shamelessly plug a new piece of fiction I'm working on - an original neko-yaoi story named 'Yuuki's Song.' It's posted on my FictionPress account and on my deviantArt; thus far, it's had little interest, and I'd love to see some reviews or comments on it because I feel it's got real potential. And let me emphasise - it's neko yaoi! ^_^ My deviantArt is linked via my profile, if you can't find the fic, send me a message.
The mood in the Mansion was completely different that afternoon. No longer was Link's transformation the subject of whispers and murmurs in the halls. Instead, conversation centred on his flawless defeat of Snake in the arena. The comments focused not just on the advantages Link's cat features had given him, but the Hylian's returned confidence and grace.
In the arena, Link always had a certain style when he fought. A supremely skilled swordsman, aided by his young and agile body, he was all about speed and variety; a rapid yet fluid sequence of unpredictable attacks. Were he to dash past his opponent with a series of sword strikes, they would never know what they would turn around to face; would he resume his strikes? Have an arrow nocked and ready? Would they be looking at a bomb sizzling at their feet? No amount of battle strategy ever paid off around Link; the Hylian always improvised. No predictability, just a string of attacks carried out with amazing confidence.
So, to see Link return to that state of mind, head held high in confidence, and once again dazzling his opponent with his unpredictability, it etched in the message.
Yes, Link had cat features, but he was still Link, still the same Hylian who commanded their respect.
So what if he was now smaller? It meant he was more agile.
The ears? Sharpened his hearing.
The tail? He could balance on a pinpoint with it.
The rest of his feline features? Just made him all the more energetic and aggressive.
It all added up to one thing; picking on the now-feline Link was no different to picking on the Hylian Warrior. As Snake had found out the hard way, pissing him off was going to lead to him shoving that sword somewhere unpleasant.
Link smiled as he and Pit entered the Dining Hall to rapturous applause. Pit sidestepped with a grin, allowing Link to take an exaggerated bow, beaming his thanks to the diners. Pit quickly slid his hand back into the Hylian's before the attention got to his ego, dragging his cat-eared lover to a seat with Marth and Roy.
Marth clapped his hand onto Link's shoulder in congratulations as he sat down. Across from him, Roy held out his fist for Link to knock his own against.
Grinning at his friends, then back at his lover, Link settled down at the table as Pit remained standing, offering to get the pair some lunch. The instant Pit was out of earshot, Marth elbowed Roy, muttering, "You never offer to get me lunch after I win!"
Roy glared back at Marth, rubbing his ribs. "Well, neither do you!"
Link watched the exchange with his head held on his hand, smiling at his friends. "Guys, calm down. One of you needs to take some initiative, y'know, change things…"
Both Roy and Marth regarded each other for a long moment, but then slowly turned around to give Link an odd look. Roy leant forward, a smirk on his face. "Oh, is that so? And just what did you and Pit change, huh? Which one of you took the initiative?"
Link blushed deeply; suddenly his mind wouldn't string words together. "Uh…"
Roy threw himself back in his chair and laughed heartily towards the ceiling. Marth, too, broke into a fit of laughter. Link's face had gone a deep red, his ears flattening to his head; he hadn't expected Roy to pick up on that. It seemed his friends were paying very close attention to him right now.
After a few minutes of slowly receding laughter, a tray slid in front of Link and Pit slipped into the chair beside him.
"What's so funny?" a grinning Pit enquired, looking up from his tray at the quietly-chortling pair. "You guys see Falco, too?"
The other three at the table immediately turned towards the kitchen; Link vaguely recalled that today was Falco's turn to cook.
His jaw fell.
The blue bird-man was wearing a full-length apron, the graphics on the front depicting a scantily-dressed woman's body, with outlines in bright pink.
The pilot's cheeks were visibly red even through his blue feathers.
The table collapsed into hysterical laughter that let the previous conversation fade far away.
Some time later found the pair sitting nervously back in their room. Once more, Soren sat in a chair with Link on the bed. On another chair beside the Sage was a large, heavy tome printed in letters Link couldn't read.
Soren had been at it for an hour or so; mumbling words that Link didn't think he could even pronounce while waving his hands before the cat-Hylian. This was, as Soren put it, an attempt to discover what kind of magic had been used to curse him.
"Since she was silent, she could have used any kind of witchcraft to cause this. I'll have to run through what I know, see if the curse reacts to anything."
And so, Soren had supposedly been casting small spells before Link, and he was supposed to say if he felt any different; doing this, Soren had assured him, would cause some kind of reaction in Link when similar magic was used very close to him.
So far, nothing had happened.
Link's eyelids had already fallen halfway, his remaining slits unfocused on Soren through sheer monotony. An hour of sitting still was entirely unthinkable to the Hylian. If anything, Link was beginning to wonder if Soren was secretly trying to hypnotise him, or lull him to sleep as an attempt at a joke, but just then the magician's voice quietly trailed off and his eyes returned to Link's.
Link slid his eyes back into focus, but didn't move. "Severe boredom, but otherwise nothing."
Soren closed his eyes and sighed. He placed his hand to his cheek and rested his elbow on his knee. "I've been through the magic of fifteen races."
Link let his body go slack and fell back on the bed. "You gave it a try, Soren. All I can say is thanks." He stretched all his limbs, including his tail. There was something deeply satisfying about this action, far more than when he was pure Hylian, and he drew the stretch out as long as he could, before releasing a content sigh.
Soren shook his head, looking Link over. "It still amazes me just how wide a field magic truly is. At its most basic it is all the same, but it is how it is summoned that creates these differences. Every race performs enchantments differently."
Link sighed. "Too bad she wasn't Hylian. Zelda might have been able to help."
Soren nodded, unseen by Link. "True. I have spoken to Her Highness; she told me she is unaware of any humans in your land who are able to wield magic. She believed it a gift reserved only for those of the Hylian race." He turned to the other side of the room, where a stack of assorted books sat. "She introduced me to some of Hyrule's trading partners and I have done my best to discover all that I can of their magical abilities, but… I fear these are the limits of my resources."
Link sighed and sat up, letting his arms fall slack into his lap. "Maybe you've done all you can with what you have. It was wonderful of you to try, Soren, I really, really appreciate it, but… maybe this is the best we can do."
The sage began studying Link silently. After a moment, he spoke. "Link… forgive me, but… you do not seem as eager for the curse to be broken…?"
To Soren's masked surprise, Link merely shrugged. "It's a little weird… I mean, it'd be good for me to get my body back as it was, but… now that I'm getting used to it, there's a few advantages, you know? Taking on Snake and winning… I'm still me, and if you can't find anything to break the curse, then…" He shrugged again. "Maybe it's not too big a deal…"
Link's eyes flicked away from the young sorcerer, darting around the room as if on their own. To Soren, it was obvious that Link was no longer paying attention to him. Rather than push the conversation again, he merely observed the Hylian with a studious eye, thinking over his words. It went without saying that Soren would still try to help him; if anything, he was getting more determined to best the magic. But the swordsman's confession threw him a little; did he really mean that? Was he really prepared to spend the rest of his life with cat ears?
But then his eyes went from Link to Pit, and somehow he understood. Pit was looking dreamily at his lover, and as sure as if the angel had spoken, the words on his mind were 'cute.' Something had changed between them, and it seemed to have made up for the curse. As Link's eyes and ears flickered on their own, Pit's smile only seemed to grow.
Soren just couldn't put his finger on it, but he could feel something had changed between them, and where before they had both been on the verge of tears on hearing Soren's advice, now they just seemed to be happy. Happy with the way things were. Internally, he shrugged; maybe Link was speaking truthfully.
Maybe the pair really were happy with the way things were.
"Hey… c'mon, let's go."
Strong hands slid over his shoulders, but instead of gripping, they began to squeeze and rub tenderly. The sage sighed, closing his eyes and rolling his head back. "Ahhh…" He purred as those hands rubbed away the tension.
Lips kissed his cheek and he smiled, turning to meet them with his own. He opened his eyes to meet that familiar shock of blue hair.
"I don't know…" Soren mewled, squirming a little as the hands continued their blissful work.
"You've been working so hard, c'mon, you need a break!" Ike whispered. "Let's go to the lounge."
"Why don't you go? You don't need to keep me company…"
Ike kissed him again. "Oh, but I love to be around you…"
Soren smiled, that rare expression that only the blue-haired general could coax out of him. "Aww… give me another half-hour, I think I'm onto something…"
Ike rubbed his shoulders. "My love, if I have to sit here and listen to Marth and Roy go through another session next door, well, I might just have to jump you here and now…"
"Right here? Up against all these precious books?" Soren replied.
"Mm-hmm… Think of it this way, those books will be there when we get back…"
Soren snickered momentarily; for someone who had once been utterly emotionless, it was a joy to hear any sound of mirth out of him. "I'd much rather my research get disturbed without upsetting my workspace… All right, let's go."
The sage pushed back his chair and stretched powerfully, feeling several joints pop back into place. He blinked, looking at the clock. Wow, he'd been at it all day; from the moment he woke up this morning to mid-evening. He didn't even remember eating lunch, though the discarded crumb-filled plate indicated Ike had brought him something.
A few moments later, with his arms still stretched, he felt Ike grab him from behind and hug him tight, making him smile. The mercenary was so much taller than him, but shrank to Soren's level whenever needed. Oftentimes it was easy to forget that difference. "You know, I would not mind that other interruption you mentioned… so long as the Princess' books are not obliged to observe…" He purred.
Ike kissed behind his ear. "Later… I'd like to wear you out properly…"
Soren licked his lips.
"After all, committed hard work does deserve a reward…"
A few minutes later, the couple slipped into the lounge. It was far from empty; off to the side, in front of a TV so big no-one bothered estimating its size, Mario, Luigi, Bowser and Wario seemed to be engaged in an intense racing video game. Peach and Daisy sat on the nearby sofa, quietly cheering for their respective partners. Ness and Lucas were both sitting at a table by the bookshelf in the corner, thick books open in front of them; it seemed they were doing homework or something. Fox lay on his back on the thick rug near them, a datapad held in front of his eyes. Every so often he chuckled softly at its screen.
Soren observed that the fireplace was surprisingly sparse; no less than three large, luxurious sofas surrounded the magnificent hearth, but only one place was occupied. Zelda sat in a place that neither faced the fireplace, nor was close to the softly crackling fire, flicking through a book with seemingly little interest. Soren directed Ike to sit opposite the Princess; as soon as the large mercenary had seated himself, Soren slid down beside him, nestling himself against his lover.
Zelda glanced up from her book to see them. "Ah, Ike, Soren," she greeted, placing the book to one side.
"Princess," the sage responded. Ike merely nodded.
"How is your research going?"
"Slowly. I do not know much about your land or your neighbours, and very little in your books indicates if any are magical."
"You are certain the woman Link encountered was not of Hyrule?"
"Both Link and Pit have confirmed that she did not possess Hylian ears. If it is true that your race is the only known Hyrulean people to possess magic, then logically she must not be a native."
Zelda returned her hands to her lap. "I see."
"If I may say, Princess… your knowledge of your neighbours and trading partners, as documented… is…" The sage hesitated. "…not especially detailed…"
Zelda gave a wry smile. "You may say so, Soren. Unfortunately it is an expected by-product of living in Hyrule; our land has fallen to peril more times than it has prospered." She gave a chuckle. "Many are somewhat afraid of forging trade relationships with our neighbours, lest they invite opportunity for ruin into our land."
Soren raised an eyebrow. "Is that official royal policy?"
Zelda chuckled again. "Shall we say… though it is not my way to hold back my land, I am wary of strangers, especially those who may bear us gifts…"
Soren's lips curved slightly. "I suppose it must be difficult to be in such a position…"
Zelda gave a solemn nod. "Indeed… There are times when I believe that the only breathing space our land has is the Chosen Hero. Over its history, Link and his ancestors have brought Hyrule back from the brink of catastrophe more times than they can be praised for. If disaster were to strike again, at least now our blessed Hero has awoken."
"You might have to wake him up from a catnap, though," Ike quipped, making the Princess giggle a little.
Soren did not reply for a moment. "By the way, where is Link?"
"I believe he and Pit were out sparring." She glanced through one of the expansive windows out into the grounds, judging the golden sunlight. "In fact, I believe they will be returning shortly."
Sure enough, just a few minutes later, the door to the grounds clicked open, and a pair of sweat-drenched Brawlers stepped into the room. Link entered first, lightly dressed in a green shirt and sweatpants, his face flushed from exertion. Behind him, Pit had his chiton thrown over his shoulder, leaving him wearing only his shorts and undershirt. It wasn't remarkably warm outside, and the spring weather got cold in the evenings, but during the day it was certainly possible to work hard enough to enter the manor glowing like a hot iron.
Link was gently stretching his arms, cooling down from his workout. "Yeah, much warmer in here."
A sudden roar made a few people's heads turn; Bowser had stood up and was almost ready to breathe fire at his competition. Something about "green shells" was heard amongst his ranting and raving before Peach casually stood up from the sofa, picked up a fire extinguisher from the side of the room and doused the immense lizard from head to foot in foam.
"Livelier too," Pit chuckled, steering Link over to the fireplace as he spotted their friends. The angel slid smoothly into the soft cushions of the sofa facing the fireplace; the cat-eared Hylian sat on the floor in front of Pit, his back to the sofa, and began stretching out his legs.
"Hey guys," Link greeted the others. They exchanged greetings as a feminine scream sounded from the TV area, followed by a cackle, the sound of a door being thrown open and a voice crying "Mama-mia, not again!"
"Good workout?" Ike asked them.
Both angel and Hylian nodded. Pit grinned. "Watch this."
He extended his hand as if to slap the side of Link's head and quickly swiped. Instantly, the triangular ear on that side of Link's head snapped in the direction, and Link's arm flew up to grab Pit's wrist, intercepting him long before the hand made contact.
The friends chuckled softly as Link released Pit's arm; the angel in return ruffled his lover's hair and stroking the feline ears.
"Those are quite some reflexes, Link," Soren observed; his eyes were once again taking in every aspect of the Hylian's form.
Link softly stretched out his other leg and sighed, relaxing back against the sofa. Softly, Pit's hands found their way to Link's shoulders and began to rub. "Mm-hmm… yeah, I noticed… it's like I can hear a pin drop a hundred feet away. Or a mischievous little angel taking a swipe at me," he laughed.
"Oh, punish me," Pit snickered.
Link turned his head to look at Pit, a predatory smile on his face. "Just remember, you asked for it!"
The others laughed as Link pounced onto his lover, pinning him to the sofa and tickling him. Pit shrieked with laughter until tears were rolling down his cheeks; Zelda stood up, mumbling something about finding another fire extinguisher 'to hose them down.'
Finally stilling, the pair looked at each other, both grinning. Then Link leant down, and nuzzled against Pit's cheek. The angel giggled and hugged his lover, shuffling until they were both sitting upright on the sofa, with Link nestled against the angel, purring softly.
"So, how was your day, Soren?" Pit said, displacing the quiet around them.
The sage shrugged a little. "I have still yet to achieve a breakthrough. Scattered mentions of magic, nothing I can solidly identify. I believe I am on the right course, but… it may take time…" Soren's words slowed a little at the end of his speech, as he watched the smaller Hylian shuffle against his lover, trying to get comfortable. Pit merely smiled at him, stroking his hair.
Ike slipped into the conversation with reassurances, and when Zelda returned empty-handed, casual chatter began to flourish. For the next few hours, the friends talked at length about their day, laughing and joking, even rushing to the window to watch as Bowser attempted to conquer a hillside in the distance with Peach in his arms, a squat pair of red-ringed blue overalls jogging up after him hurling balls of fire. More of the Brawlers trickled in, and soon the evening adopted its familiar family atmosphere. Snake and Samus entered the room snickering as usual, though after the younger Brawlers reminding Snake at length about being beaten by a 'pussy cat,' his humour vanished and he stormed off with Samus in tow.
Slowly, the golden light of evening faded and the night drew in. With people coming and going, the others shuffled around the seats until Pit sat on the floor close to the crackling fireplace, his back to the sofa, and a sleeping Link curled up against him, his head on the angel's legs. He even had his tail wrapped around his body, sleeping silently and occasionally twitching his limbs. To the younger members and to the females, it seemed to be the 'cutest thing' they had ever seen.
To one member of the group, it was far from it. Soren had been watching Link like a hawk ever since he'd entered. And to see him curled up asleep, twitching and ready to shoot alert, it was ringing alarm bells in the sage's head.
One thing's for certain. I wish I hadn't been right, but Link may end up becoming more feline than ever.
Whether he likes it or not, we've got to break that curse before it's too late.