It was stupidity, of the highest order, Zelda realized. There were other words for it, too. Hubris. Arrogance. Desperation. Fear. But nothing summed it up quite like stupidity. Watching the hole open up before her, all she could think was that it had been a bad idea. A bad idea from the start. And yet, at the same time, she was absolutely convinced that this was the only option. It was this or destruction. Of course, she reflected, feeling her consciousness slip away into uncharted territory, they may be one and the same.

The first thing she saw upon waking, if waking is really the proper term for what happened, was gray. It wasn't quite black, but neither could it be considered light. It was more of a fog, deep, dark, and utterly impenetrable. For a few moments, she tried to hold her arms out, to steady herself in space, only to realize her mistake. She had no arms. She had no body to speak of. She simply was, just a consciousness without a home. For a moment, she was almost grateful that she could see nothing but gray. She imagined trying to find a center in this place. The very thought was mystifying.

She took a few moments to get her bearing, remaining surprisingly calm for a lost spirit. But she had trained for this moment; almost all her life had been spent steeling herself against shocks like this. She had braced herself for monsters and hellfire. In retrospect, empty, gray space was rather a relief.

At last, she decided that she must call out to him. Somehow. And pray that he heard. She knew that she had to speak to him now, before he escaped. That was their best chance, quite possibly their only chance.

"Are you there?" she called out, with her mind, as she had no mouth. There was no response, leaving her to suspect that merely thinking wasn't enough. Her mind strayed momentarily, towards the shields which she had put up around herself, to protect her thoughts. They were many and they were strong. Perhaps, she wondered, even she could not send a thought out through them. Maybe if she lowered them, only for a minute, just to get his attention…

No! she reminded herself. That was dangerous. What she knew of this man, and that was precious little, told her that she could not risk it, not even the slightest breach of her defenses. But what then, she asked herself, could she do to find him?

Fortunately for her, he seemed to sense her presence before she could locate his. Out of the stillness, in the empty grey, there came a sudden wisp of color. And more followed. Within moments, the figure of a man had collected itself from the shards. It was curious to see him, not only because he was an unusual looking man, but because of how she saw. Without eyes, she saw from every angle at once. She could make out a thousand different images of the same person, and yet she could not synthesize them into a whole. Instead, she could only recognize colors and blurs as she tried to understand the image.

But just as quickly, the figure dissolved and the grey space returned. Zelda chided herself for not having taken action. She had been so close. Of course, she knew, her actions were fairly limited when she had no body.

Suddenly, she felt something grab hold of her. She wasn't sure how it happened, but she had the curious sense of being compressed and made whole in the process. She opened her eyes again, shocked to realize that she did, in fact, have eyes. She had a body.

"How?" she asked, vaguely, barely expecting an answer.

"I've had far too long to practice," he answered drily.

"I don't understand," she answered, blinking quickly. It was a strange feeling, to be looking through eyes which were her own and yet foreign. Her vision was swimming slightly and the figure in front of her appeared to wobble constantly.

"Of course you don't. You send me here and you don't even know how it works, do you?"

"Who are you?" she whispered, although she felt certain that she knew the answer already.

He simply laughed bitterly. "What do you want?" he asked, "Why did you come here?" His grip on her newly made arms was tightening and she felt a sensation not too unlike pain. This new body was disconcerting, and she hoped to be back in her regular one before too long.

"If you are who I think you are, then I came to make a deal."

His face darkened. "And if you are who I think you are, then I want nothing more than to snap your puny neck."

She closed her eyes for a moment and inhaled deeply. "I expected that."

He raised his fist in apparent anger, ready to strike, but the blow never came. She opened her eyes, confused. She could see his fist, rigidly defined and clutched in anger, but the rest of him, including the arm that had held her, were melting away. He struggled for a moment, before his whole body disappeared.

So did hers.

Once again, she was launched freely into space, confused and disoriented, without a home.

"Now look what you made me do," she heard his voice say, although she could not see him anywhere.

"Where are you?" she called out as best she could.

"I'm everywhere, and so are you."

"What's going on?"

Although she could not see his face, she could sense his frustration. It radiated all around her, like a kind of heat. "You really are an idiot," he told her. "I thought you might have made a mistake coming here, an isolated error. But no, you are just a moron."

"What's going on?" she repeated.

He sighed. "This sword in which you sealed me (thanks for that, by the way) is emptiness. Everything you see, feel, touch, the bodies you inhabit, that all comes from the consciousness locked in here."

"I don't understand."

"If anything exists here, it does so because I imagine it. And everything requires constant attention. One body alone requires incredible exertion. Coordinating all the limbs, the colors, the clothes. Calling up your body and mine at the same time is borderline impossible. Even I couldn't keep that up for long. It's not something I'd expect an idiot like you to comprehend."

"So," Zelda asked, "Everything in here is a product of your mind."

"That's right."

"Bit hard to snap my neck then."

He paused and Zelda could feel his frustration turn again to hate. "True enough, princess. I won't lie to you. I've created replicas of you many times. I've murdered each and every one. It's been fun, but not entirely so. I would rather prefer to kill the real you, not some phony body of my own imagination. But you make do with what you have."

Zelda paused, knowing that this was her chance. "So, wouldn't it be a lot more satisfying to snap my neck in a place where you didn't have to concentrate just to keep it in existence?"

"Hmm?"

"I'm offering you a chance to get out of here. Not a great one, but a chance. Are you willing?"

"You're asking me to break out of here to murder you? You never struck me as the suicidal type. Then again, since you are here…" he trailed off.

"I'm asking you to make a deal."

There was another pause. "Will there be any murder at all involved in this?"

"I don't know yet," Zelda answered honestly, wondering if he was serious or if that was his idea of a joke.

"What are the conditions?"

If she could have, Zelda would have smiled. She knew that she had him. As much as he hated her, he would do anything to escape there. Of course, escape entailed revenge. On her. But she would come to that later. If she was alive that long, she added, dismally.

"The conditions?" he reminded her angrily and she snapped back to attention.

"It's simple, really. There's a situation which, near as we can tell, only you can sort out. We break the seal, you fix our problem. Simple as that."

"And what, exactly, is this problem you need sorting?"

Zelda paused, unsure how to continue. "That's the trouble. We don't really know. But it's bad."

"Then why come to me? Surely your little cadre of followers could fix whatever bug is troubling your great kingdom," he answered, his voice laden with pent up rage.

"It's not so much the problem itself that we need you for. It's the location."

"You want directions?"

"Sort of."

"You came all the way here, to ask for directions to some God forsaken place. Ever heard of a map, princess?"

She had to restrain herself for a moment before answering, her own frustration boiling into the conversation. Suddenly, she was extremely glad that she could not see him and did not have limbs, or else she feared that she would have hit him. How, she wondered, can one powerless man make her so angry so fast? "We know where it is. We just don't know how to get there."

"Well, generally speaking, I find walking towards something helps that problem."

Finally she exploded. "So help me, if you don't just be quiet and listen-" she caught herself. She was on a time limit, after all, she reminded herself. "Look, this isn't just a place where we can just walk. I wouldn't come here if we could just walk there. I'm not that much of an idiot."

"You had me fooled."

"It's in the sky."

"The sky?" he asked, momentarily surprised.

"Yes," she answered, bluntly.

"Tell me, girl, would this place in the sky have anything to do with my old home?"

"Yes," she answered, just as curtly.

"And you want me to take you and your little friends into my home and let you traipse about freely through the last place in the country that's still mine?"

"More or less."

"And you expect me to go along with this?"

Zelda waited a few moments for his rage to cool. "If you want to get out of here, you will."

For a few seconds, there was silence in the gray air. "If you break this seal, what's to keep me from simply breaking off my end of the bargain?"

Zelda mentally cringed. She was hoping he wouldn't ask that. "Nothing really. Just a hunch?"

"A hunch?"

"You don't want destruction. Not complete destruction, anyhow. If you enjoyed huge tracts of nothingness, you'd stay here. You don't want chaos, you want control. Absolute control. That's your weakness. And, it seems to me, if you can't stand the idea of a few friends of mine muddying up your carpets, you're not going to like what's going on up there."

There was no immediate response, and she knew that he was taking what she said seriously. "Maybe," he admitted, "But why would I take you along?"

"You will need help."

"Help? From you?" he answered derisively.

"Yes," she answered shortly, once more.

"What about after all that's sorted out? What guarantee do I have that you won't simply seal me back up in here?"

Now it was Zelda's turn to scoff. "Do you really think we could? And here I thought I was talking to a man with some notion of power."

"Don't test me, girl," he warned. "It seems to me like you're throwing yourselves at my mercy, and I can't help but wonder why. What is your secret? You know something I don't."

"I don't know anything," she told him, "I've laid all my cards on the table. We're already at someone's mercy, and it doesn't look like that's going to change. I'd rather it be yours, someone I can almost understand, than that thing."

"You know I hate you, don't you?" he asked softly.

"I do."

"You know that's not going to change?"

"I do."

"You know you can't expect mercy from me?" She didn't answer, but he knew the truth. "Then I agree to your terms. Release me."

Zelda paused, awkwardly. "Yes," she began slowly, "about that…"

"What?" he asked, the anger rising in his voice once more.

"I won't actually be doing the releasing. You should know as well as I that there is no way to break the seal from the inside. We'll be breaking it from the outside. My friend is there, prepared to lift the Four Sword from the pedestal, thereby freeing the both of us."

"So send him the message. Get him here."

"I can't do that. You know how this works. Nothing can get through the seal. Nothing goes in, nothing goes out."

"If that's the case," he began, suspicion edging into his voice. "Then how did you come to be here?"

"The only way I know how. I had myself sealed in here as well. The same enchantments that bind you, bind me."

There was another moment of silence, as he contemplated this. Finally, he spoke, "You know, any hope I had that you might be slightly less of an idiot than I anticipated have just been shattered. You sealed yourself here. Voluntarily. You know a bond like this is never truly broken, right? Every time I break free from here, I still hear the humming of this blasted sword. Calling me back. And so will you. Well, this certainly was unexpected."

Zelda didn't answer him. There was no way to answer him. The second that she had agreed to this task, she knew that she was messing with magic she didn't fully understand. It was entirely possible that this would plague her for the rest of her life. But she had only his word for it. Perhaps it wouldn't be so bad.

After a few moments, he interrupted her contemplation. "So, you can't send a message to your friend. How exactly were you intending to break this seal?"

"My friend will break it three days after I first entered here."

"And how will he know whether or not I've agreed to your deal?"

"He won't. He was always going to break the seal. He was always going to free you. Except now you understand why, and you know why you need us. I trust you."

He didn't answer, but was rather stunned into silence. That was quite a gamble for the girl to take, but she seemed so confident about it, like she had known all along what he would do. How was that possible? There was very little information out there on him, let alone psychological profiles. He was a mystery, and she unraveled it a bit too quickly for his tastes. Perhaps she was rather clever. But she was still an idiot. A shrewd idiot. Nothing more dangerous, he reflected, as he silently waited for the seal to break. He couldn't help but wonder what her next move would be. Because she had a plan, and he knew it.


Hey all. So after I wrote Present (way back when), I got a few suggestions to continue. But I didn't have anything else to say. Or a plot. Which, I find, is generally rather helpful when writing. So, I came up with this, and thought that I should write this as something unrelated but sort of related. Kind of. Anyway, I know that it's a short intro, but that's life. Always butting in at the most inconvenient time.

Yellow should be updated any day now. I've got most of the chapter finished, there's just this one conversation that's weirdly stilted. Oh well, if I can't fix it, I'll just post the crappy version. :-)

-Ornamental Reciprocity