"Dammit!"

Kafei whipped another arrow from his quiver and hastily notched it. His palms were slick with sweat and his fingers were burning, but he aimed true. The last purple octorok sunk beneath the waves with a cry of submission.

He immediately dropped the bow and began to rub his aching hands, swearing mildly. He knew his friend Jonathan, who was leaning against the far wall, would be watching with amusement. He looked up at him and found he was right.

Jon was tall and thin, with golden-white skin and short reddish hair and a beard that framed his narrow jaw. He wore a plain off-white tunic and fashionable geometric-patterned trousers. His small features were set in the usual sardonic expression.

"You're improving," said Jon. "You hit one more than my grandma. A real achievement." He went to retrieve the bow and put it on the counter. "Now watch the master," he boasted as he brought out his wallet. Placing three small, red jewels on the counting mat, he turned back towards the shooting range, where the burly owner handed him a full quiver.

The whistle sounded, and up popped the octoroks, waiting to be slaughtered. It was a man's game, the shooting gallery. Women couldn't handle the violence. Most of them anyway.

"So," began Kafei, as Jonathan neatly trimmed a row of monsters, "when's your thing with my mom?"

"The audition?" said Jon, notching an arrow. "Right, yeah, that's today." Twang.

"But the other two aren't even in town yet."

"Uh-huh." Twang. "Dem got here this morning with the other carpenters. You know, the ones fixing those damn roofs," - twang - "before we all freeze to death in winter. Grog's getting here around, uh, now." Twang. "With that ranch chick. They're bringing in carts of hay - shit!" Sploosh. "Wonderful. Anyway, Dem's gonna sleep at the Stock Pot and Grog's gonna stay with his uncle. You know, the Bomb Shop Owner?" Twang.

"Uh-huh. I thought the carpenters had to camp inside the Clock Tower."

"Well, Dem gets a break 'cause he's an apprentice." Twang. "He can get all cozy while his old man lies in the sewer." Twang. "Speaking of cozy - or the sewer, as the case may be - how are things with Anju?"

"Uh, pretty good," replied Kafei carefully. "Why do you ask?"

"Hey man, just curious." Twang. "You've been together how long now? Two years?"

"Three."

"Yeah. So have you thought of, like, moving in or something yet?" Sploosh. "Giants!…"

"Well…" he hesitated. "Sort of. I don't know."

"How - aargh!" Sploosh.

The whistle sounded, making both young men cringe. Jonathan swore, slamming the bow down onto the counter. The owner went to collect the arrows.

Kafei hid a smile behind a robust hand. A strand of long, bright blue hair fell near his sparkling hazel eyes. Anju was forever urging him to cut it, but he was too vain. He was wearing trousers of pale blue denim, and a warm red hooded tunic that was just a tad too short for his impressive torso.

"Play again?" the owner asked the two of them gruffly.

"No thanks," said Kafei politely before Jonathan could mouth off. "Not your day, 'master'?" he chided as they left the gallery.

"Guess not," Jon replied sulkily. "Sucks. I could've used the fifty. I can hardly pay my damn rent." He looked at Kafei with sudden intensity. "Gods, I need this gig."

"I know," he replied. "But that's up to my mother, not me. Besides, you'll nail it. You guys are awesome. Everyone says so."

"Sure," Jon muttered. "But they'd better be right."

- - -

"Okay, everybody smile! I want to see some teeth, people!"

The shutter clicked just as a Deku Nut hit the tiled floor.

"Fantastic! That's great. Now I need a shot of, umm… say, you there - Bremor, is it? Just stand over there, please, with the lumber on your shoulder - perfect! Now grin for me - that's it…"

Click. Flash.

"Very nice! That's going to be a good one, I can just feel it. Okay, take five."

The carpenters all sighed with relief and went to slump down against the north wall of the Treasure Chest Shop. Rox, whistling, flipped her pictograph box off the tripod and began to unwind the film. She had been commissioned by the Town Carnival Committee to create a workforce recruitment poster for next year's festival tower project. It was easy money, compared to running her family's shop five days a week. As soon as she turned twenty, she would leave this town behind and become a professional pictographer. For now, though, she had to be satisfied with the odd family portrait session or advertising job.

Everyone said her pink cheeks made her green-eyed, long-lashed, rosebud-lipped face look way too cute. So she had cut her hair nice and short, dyed it Kafei-blue, and donned a revealing outfit, like Nicolette's. Just to show everyone she was anything but cute.

She was just reloading the film compartment when the door of the shop flew open. Her friends Jonathan and Kafei strolled purposefully in. Jon was the percussions guy for Wounded Wolfos, a local rock band. He hadn't had much success yet, but he was looking into a spot at the Cold Concert, which was to be held next month, in November. Kafei was the handsome son of Mayor Dotour and Madam Aroma. He could steal any woman's heart with just a glance, but his own belonged to Anju, a lovely innkeeper at the Stock Pot Inn.

"Aww, where's Demel?" yelled Jonathan. "That idiot. He's always late. Rox!"

"Yeah?"

"Where is he? Aren't you taking pictos of him too?"

"Nope. Hey, take it easy, Jonny-boy. He's probably on his way right now."

Jonathan kicked the wall. "For his sake he'd better be."

"Uh-huh," she said absently, sorting through her Deku Nuts. "What's the rush, anyway?"

"The audition," said Kafei. "Right after we meet Cremia and Grog."

Rox grinned. "Oh! That's today? Wow, good luck. And say hi to Cremia for me."

"Still busy, are you?" Kafei frowned.

"Well…" She glanced at the row of weary carpenters lined up near the wall, then at her large stack of pictographs to be developed. "I guess I could stop for today."

"Great. You can watch me kill Dem," growled Jonathan, just as a small, brown-haired apprentice creeped inside.

"Ah, sorry I'm late," he said with a worried glance toward Jon. "See, Miss Anju insisted I have a decent breakfast 'afore the audition."

"Sure, fine," sighed Jonathan. "No sense in even going to the stupid thing if our flutist hasn't had his porridge. Just how would we ever pack Rupees if it weren't for porridge?"

"Good question," said Anju, coming in behind Demel. "Everyone knows you can't play well without eating a good, hearty breakfast first."

"Baby," said Kafei, going over to embrace her. "I can't play well if there's no breakfast after, either." Anju giggled and Rox smirked. Demel blushed. Jonathan kicked the wall again to get everyone's attention.

"You two make me vomit. Cuddles over porridge? You're worse than Honey and Darling." He grabbed Demel by the collar and dragged him out the door. "Time to get Grog. We're gonna be late because of all of you!"

Kafei and Anju followed, hand in hand, after another moment's nuzzling. Rox shook her head.

"Alright, guys, we're done. Thanks a lot."

The carpenters practically wrestled each other to get out of the building.

- - -

Cremia tied her donkey's reins to the post of a market stall. She ran her fingers through its bristly mane, produced a carrot stub from her apron and brought it to its eager teeth. Then she turned back toward the wagon, bright red hair whirling around her shoulders. Blinking blue eyes in the high sun, she brushed dust off her old-fashioned skirt and blouse.

The Cuckoo raiser from the ranch, Grog, had already lifted a few bales of hay from the back of the wagon and was taking a break next to them. The poor guy looked exhausted. His white, skeletal chest was heaving and his blank eyes were closed.

"Hey, aren't Jon and Demel supposed to be here?" she asked casually. She hated telling men to quit working. They always took it personally.

"Dunno. I guess." He struggled not to gasp as he spoke.

She went around the wagon and jumped up onto it. Then she seized the nearest bale by the cords, took a deep breath and lifted it. She heaved it up and onto the cobblestone near the others with a warning cry to Grog, who narrowly avoided being hit.

She put her hands on her knees and breathed hard. Okay. So maybe it wasn't that easy. Her father had been a strong man, after all. It was said he had once knocked out a Goron.

"Grog! Get off your bony ass, we're running late!"

Cremia bit her lip. She knew that voice. How could she forget the son of a bitch who had come on to her at her father's funeral? Fists and teeth clenched, she turned around.

Luckily, he wasn't alone. He had brought along Demel, the soft-spoken carpenter's apprentice. Her good friends Anju and Kafei also appeared, and Rox, a cheerful shopkeeper, followed a moment later. Her jaw relaxed and she let herself smile.

"Did you guys all come to welcome us?" she asked, jumping off the wagon. She hugged her friends one by one while Jonathan stood by impatiently.

"Hell no," he barked. "We're just here to get Grog away from you. Just look at him! What are you feeding the man? Oxygen?"

"He makes his own meals. And he's a vegetarian. "

"Whatever. I'm taking him. We've got an audition to go to." Grog hastily joined him without a word. Demel glanced at him: He's pissed off. Grog nodded: I gathered that.

"Come on, men." Jon led the way back towards East Clock Town without so much as a wave toward the others.

"Break a leg," called Kafei.

"Or a neck," muttered Cremia.

"What?"

"Nothing."

"Well," said Anju after a moment's silence, "why don't you come get settled at the inn, Cremia? I'm sure the carpenters can handle this without you. We'll talk. It's been a while, hasn't it? You guys can come too… "

Rox agreed enthusiastically, but Kafei shook his head.

"No, I promised Sym I'd train with him. But I'll see you later."

He planted a kiss on Anju's nose, smiled at the other two, then turned and left the market, hands in his pockets.

Anju waited until he had passed the archway leading into West Clock Town. "Shall we?" she said mischievously after he had vanished from their sight.

They joined hands and ran off in the opposite direction, laughing like children.

- - -

Nicolette was bored. She was leaning on her desk, twirling a stick of pearl-pink lip gloss between her perfectly manicured fingers, watching the head of her novelty cow candle bob slightly with each tic of the wall clock. She sighed.

She glanced at the ledger on the desk in front of her. Jonathan's audition was supposed to start now. She knew Madam Aroma would be getting impatient, waiting alone in her drawing room while the tea got cold. Yes, today was decidedly a day for boredom.

Sighing again, she let her head rest on the papers. You couldn't be bored if you were asleep… She closed her chocolate-brown eyes (traced, of course, in white eyeliner) and prepared for a nap.

But just then the door opened wide, and in marched Jonathan and his devoted followers. Nicolette quickly straightened her back, arranged her leaf-green hair and put on her phoniest receptionist smile.

"Good afternoon," she said spritely, "Madam Aroma will see you in the drawing room."

"Yeah, yeah," said Jonathan with a wave of his hand. "I know the drill. How late are we?"

"Umm…" she pointed at the clock. "About ten minutes. Very unprofessional, if you ask me." She winked at him.

"Shit," he muttered. "Well, it could be worse. Wish us luck…"

"You don't need it."

"Well, these guys do. Come on, people…"

He led the way into the drawing room. Grog and Demel followed obediently, the latter nodding to her politely on his way in. As soon as the door clicked shut, her head fell back onto the papers with a thud. She closed her eyes and let her mind drift. I wonder how they stand him. Then she smiled. I wonder how I stand him. Then she fell asleep.

- - -

Kafei peeked through the keyhole of the Sword Training Center before going in. He didn't want to barge in on the Master and apprentice swordsman Sym if they were meditating. Today, though, Sym was practicing his moves alone, wearing those eternal green pants and tunic. Kafei opened the door and entered.

Sym stopped in mid-thrust and turned. He smiled in greeting.

"Hello," he said happily. "Where've you been? It's hard to duel alone."

"You don't say," replied Kafei. "Sorry. I had to see Cremia in the marketplace first."

"Ah. That might explain why you didn't bring your sword."

"Oh… damn." He smacked his forehead.

Sym shrugged. "Hey, just pick another one. How about that Razor sword over there?"

"…Yeah, that'll do for today."

Kafei pulled his tunic off and tossed it into a corner before picking up the jagged-edged sword. Then he did a few stretches while Sym continued to fend off invisible foes. Finally, he got up and said:

"Ready?"

Sym nodded. They faced each other, bowed, and lunged.

The sound of clashing metal filled the air. They were a good match: Kafei was strong and had a short, straight sword while Sym was nimble and had a long, curved Pirate's sword. Kafei wondered, as he often did, how Sym managed to fight with all that reddish-black hair covering his eyes. Both fought well and hard and long. Strike after strike was blocked and returned, both swordsmen focusing all their power into each attack. But Kafei let down his guard first, and Sym seized the moment. His sword made a perfect, shining arc as the blade cut through the air. The tip came to rest gently upon Kafei's exposed neck.

Kafei didn't dare breathe until Sym had lowered his sword. Then he exhaled slowly, shakily. But he grinned as they shook hands.

"You win again."

"I guess," Sym said modestly. He put down his sword.

Kafei pulled a handkerchief from his trouser pocket and began mopping the sweat from his brow and chest. Then he noticed Sym was watching him, and he sighed.

"Sym…"

Sym jerked his head up. "What?" he said, a little too quickly.

"Quit looking at me like that."

"Oh… I'm sorry." He blushed and turned away.

"It's okay, man. It's not like I don't look at… certain women that way. Just… try not too, okay?"

"Yeah." He sounded genuinely embarrassed, and Kafei felt bad for him. Just as he opened his mouth to say something, Sym snapped his fingers.

"Kafei! I forgot. The Master wanted to see you in the back room."

"Oh… why?"

"I haven't the faintest idea. But he's been waiting a while, so you'd better move it."

"Right. Okay. Well, see you later."

"Sure. Later."

- - -

Kafei knocked twice on the wooden screen that divided the training area and the Master's storage room. He waited. Then the Master's muffled voice said: "Come in." He did.

The room was entirely dark but for a single cow candle flickering near the Master. He sat in his usual lotus position in a far corner, half-hidden by large clay pots. He was humming softly to himself.

Kafei approached him hesitantly.

"Master?…"

"Kafei," replied the Master. It seemed as though he could speak and hum at the same time.

"Sym said you wanted to see me."

"Indeed I do. Sit down."

Kafei kneeled on the dusty floor facing the old sword guru, who was still humming.

"You," the Master said. "I was deep in thought the other day when your blue-haired face popped into my head. Your face was sad. I hated it. So I asked my spirit why you were sad. Do you know what my spirit said to me?"

"No, Master."

"Right, of course you don't… well, it said that your spirit was sad because your child-spirit was leaving and you were becoming an adult."

Kafei fought to control his laughter.

"Is there something funny about this, Kafei?"

"Ah, no, Master."

"Good. This is a very serious matter. When a person loses his child-spirit, he is left with only troubles and worries. So you must find your child-spirit before it's too late!"

"How do I do that?"

"Well, I can't answer that question. I, in all my wisdom, cannot tell you where or when you will find your spirit. That is up to you and fate. But…" he added mysteriously, "I like you. So I will help you out. I have with me a token that has been mine for many years. When I was your age, I found it in a faraway land and it has been with me ever since."

"What is it, Master?"

"Open your hand."

Kafei pushed aside a few pots and extended his hand. Something cold dropped into it.

"It is called the Pendant of Memories, and I want you to keep it. I am hoping that it will help you find your child-spirit… Put it on and you'll see."

Kafei felt in the dark for a clasp. There wasn't one, but the leather cord could be tied behind the neck. This he did. He frowned. It was as though he had worn the pendant all his life.

The Master stopped humming. Suddenly Kafei's vision clouded over…

- - -

"i told you a thousand times to take off that stupid mask."

a warm autumn day

children are running through the streets

"i'll hide and you seek…"

"okay."

the grass. i'll hide in the grass behind the slide. she'll never find me…

the grass is dancing all around me

w-w-who are you?

a fox. a fox with four yellow tails

let's play…

riddles and games fox is my friend

this is fun but

"the sky is so dark i can't see you anymore…"

oh, mister fox…

where are you?

- - -

Kafei gasped.

His whole body shook. Convulsed.

"…Help!" He choked on the word.

A soft, soothing hum reached his ears. Suddenly, the pain eased. He regained control over his muscles. He could breathe.

"It appears that your psyche has reacted rather violently to the pendant…"

The Master was standing behind him, humming down into his ear.

"What happened?" breathed Kafei, clutching at his chest.

"Did a memory come back to you?"

"…Yes. A memory from long ago."

"Well, it must have been an important one. Your spirit was trying to fight you. Luckily I managed to calm it down. But the situation is graver than I thought… clearly you are in dire need of your child-spirit."

Kafei moaned.

"What's the point of this stupid piece of junk?" He reached behind his neck for the knot and tried frantically to loosen it. "It practically killed me. I don't want it."

"You don't understand," said the Master patiently. "The pendant is good. It is your spirit that lashed out. I should explain to you how the pendant works." He cleared his throat. "The Pendant of Memories is useful because it brings back events and feelings long forgotten. It also stores happy memories when they happen. These return to the owner, or to whoever has experienced them, when his or her heart is sorrowful. Therefore the pendant is a good thing.

"But accidents do happen. Sometimes a memory can take control. I think your spirit used the pendant to communicate its problem to you. But your spirit is in distress, and it talks a little too loud."

Kafei stopped fumbling with the cord. He sighed, and he felt a great weariness overcome him. He just wanted to rest. But the pendant suddenly flared up sharply against his collarbone.

"Oww! Hey! Hey… hey, that's right! I have to go to work now… Goodbye, Master."

"Goodbye, Kafei. Good luck to you. Oh, and next time I see you, you'd better have that child-spirit back..."

- - -

Cremia knocked impatiently on the door of the Trading Post in West Clock Town. The shop was supposed to be open now. There didn't seem to be anyone on duty. After a particularly heavy knock, she started to walk away, rubbing her knuckles.

"Hey!"

She turned around. Kafei was running down the alley steps towards her, brandishing a small key on a chain.

"Sorry… the Master kept me after practice." He jammed the key into the door lock. "I'm not incredibly punctual today," he added with a grimace.

"You're never punctual," she remarked.

He opened the door, stepping aside to let her pass. "True enough, I suppose. So what are you doing away from the inn already? Did Anju try to cook something?"

Cremia laughed. "Actually, I'm here to pick up some potion for Brac. He hurt his shoulder lifting a bale of hay." She stepped inside the shop. "Giants! This place has changed."

Kafei shrugged. "My boss hired some nutcase to redecorate while he was away." He glanced at the reeds, painted sky and little man-made spring. "He's been very unpleasant ever since. I think he's allergic to the plants."

"No kidding." She crossed the wooden bridge gingerly and approached the counter. Kafei went around it to face her, rubbing his hands in a business-like manner.

"So, what'll it be?"

Cremia scanned the shelves on the wall behind him. "I'll take a Red Potion. How much?"

"Thirty. You have a bottle?"

"Never without one." She rummaged through her purse (an altered canvas sack with a crude rope handle) and brought out a glass jar wrapped in cloth. She handed it to Kafei before diving back in for her wallet.

Kafei set the bottle on the counter and took the red bronze pot down from the shelf. Behind the counter he found a spoon and a set of scales, which he placed beside the pot.

Cremia, who had retrieved her wallet and was now laying Rupees on the counting mat, said:

"What's new around here? Anything interesting happen since I left last time?"

"Not that I recall," said Kafei, carefully weighting the scales.

"Oh, come on. This is Clock Town! The heart of Termina! Something's always happening."

"Compared to the country, maybe." He took the lid off the pot and peered inside. He arched an eyebrow. "I hope Brac won't be needing massive doses."

"I doubt that. Hey, don't overcharge me if there isn't enough."

"'Course not." He began scraping dust-red powder out of the bottom of the pot.

Cremia watched him for a moment. "What about Sym and Nicolette? I haven't seen them yet."

"Oh," Kafei said, spooning powder onto the scales. "Of course. How could I forget?" He grinned, but didn't finish the thought. He knew it annoyed her.

"What?" exclaimed Cremia. "What happened?"

"Well," he said, squinting behind the scales, "Nicolette happened to nearly die last week."

Cremia choked. "You mean to tell me you forgot to tell me this?!"

"Of course not. Couldn't you tell I was bluffing?" He frowned at the scales. "Close enough," he muttered, tipping the powder into the bottle.

"Asshole." She smacked him. "Give me the details."

"Hey, watch your mouth, lady. Nicolette's fine. She got an infection after a dog bit her." He smirked. "Apparently, the dog wasn't too thrilled about that Eau de Swamp she was wearing."

"Gross… so how did she survive, then?"

"Well, it was spreading pretty quick, and you know there isn't a decent doctor any closer than Great Bay. She would have gone under if Jonathan hadn't got her the Blue Potion - "

"Jonathan?! Jonathan saved someone's life?! Jonathan actually cared about someone's life?!"

"Uh, yeah," he said slowly. He was at the small table next to the bridge, measuring spring water in a beaker. "He actually rode all the way to the Old Hag's place in the Southern Swamp to get the stuff. It cured her instantly." He dumped the water into the bottle with the powder.

"I don't believe it," she said, eyes wide. "I just don't believe it."

"Well, believe it. You can talk to her, if you want. She's at my house ten to eight, five days a week… well, except today. She's got the afternoon off." He stirred up the watery crimson mixture. "You have to let this sit for a while, for it to get thicker, like syrup. A couple of hours, maybe more. Do you want a bag for this?"

"No, that's fine." She took the bottle and stuck the cork back in while he counted her Rupees.

"Well, I'd better go," she mumbled thoughtfully. "I'll see you later." She stuffed the bottle in her purse and left without taking the change.

- - -

A cool wind was blowing through North Clock Town as Jonathan strolled along the path. He still held the pair of Deku Sticks he had used at the audition, and he was knocking them together in perfect rhythm without really thinking about it. His mind was elsewhere.

He didn't often meditate like this. Though most people considered him intelligent, he didn't like to think too much. Somehow, his thoughts led him around in circles, always coming back to that same, eternal question: Who am I and what the hell am I doing here? It seemed to him that he would always ask himself this, without finding any answers.

Everyone he knew had some special asset in life. Rox had her pictography. Nicolette had her looks. Kafei had Anju and vice versa. Sym had his sword training. Cremia had a huge ranch in the south. Demel could become a carpenter, and Grog could work at the ranch, or the Bomb Shop or around the world selling beans like his father. But Jonathan… what did he have? No family, no home, no money, no future. Just a handful of friends and some Deku Sticks. And the friends were a bonus, because gods knew he should have lost them ages ago. He had a way of dealing with things that wasn't entirely wise, he knew. But the anger was his shield and his shelter, and he had built it so strong he couldn't tear it down.

He heard feet shuffling behind him, bringing his mind back to reality. He silently thanked whoever it was who had interrupted his dismal thoughts. He turned on his heel, coming face to face with the hunched, pale figure of Grog. Though he was wearing nothing but light trousers and an open overcoat, he didn't shiver in the frosty October air.

"Grogman, what's up?" said Jonathan, trying to sound like his usual, laid-back self.

"If I tell you this, you gotta promise not to hurt me," said Grog with a shrug.

"I can't guarantee that."

"I know. Look, this isn't going to be good for you. I know you're having a hard time."

"Get to the point, Grog." He was losing patience.

Grog had never been easily intimidated by anyone. In fact, he intimidated most people, including Jon, though he'd never admit it. His ghostly appearance, complete with spiked hair and empty, white eyes, did the trick without him actually doing anything.

"We didn't get the gig," said Grog calmly.

"What?!" His scream could have made the wind falter, but Grog remained impassive.

"Madam Aroma caught me as you were leaving. She told me the spaces had been filled."

"But… but…" Jon was losing his cool. "That bitch! Why didn't she tell me before? I have a life, you know! I can't believe I just wasted a whole hour playing my ass off for her!"

"…'Professional courtesy', she called it. But Nicolette said she just has this freakish dislike of canceling appointments." Grog reached into his overcoat and pulled out a fancy envelope of blue velvet sewn with silver thread and sealed with a purple wax emblem. Jonathan seized it and tore the fine handiwork to pieces. Unfolding the blue-gray paper inside, he read aloud:

"'Dear Members of Wounded Wolfos,' yadda-yadda… 'I regret to inform you that the time slots for this year's Cold Concert have been filled…' bitch!… 'I urge you to seek out other opportunities for your group' …yeah, thanks, lady… 'Please see me again next year…' don't count on it! 'Sincerely yours, Madam Aroma.' What a load of crap!"

He crumpled the letter and tossed it into the wind, to the annoyance of a nearby Bomber kid. Jon was fuming. He needed to lash out and hurt someone. Crying with rage, he swung a fist toward Grog's face, only to have it blocked suddenly by an iron wrist. Jon yelped in pain.

Grog brought down his hand, smoothed his coat sleeve and walked away. After a few paces, he stopped, turned, and gave Jon an odd smile.

"See you at rehearsal," he said, with a shrug. "…Boss."

- - -

Jonathan had returned to his small room behind the Curiosity Shop. It was dark, lit by a single lantern in a corner. The place consisted of a tiny bed, a desk and old storage crates that smelled of mildew. He was lying face up on the mattress, counting the cracks in the ceiling. Thinking of his shattered dreams. There were footsteps coming purposefully up the stairs, and he knew exactly whose they were.

The Owner of the Curiosity Shop - no one seemed to know his name - entered the room without announcement. Jon didn't get up or acknowledge him in any way.

"Alright, pal, you've got three days to pay your rent, understand? I mean it this time. If you can't afford it, you can sleep in the snow for all I care. Do I make myself clear?"

"Whatever," muttered Jonathan.

"Fine. Three days." He turned his head slightly, and the flickering light from the lantern caught his shades, turning him for an instant into a fiery-eyed devil. "You've been warned."

- - -

He knew where the man would be. Months of eavesdropping on a dealer of stolen goods and his various 'associates' had offered valuable insight into the illegal world. Every town had its secrets, and Clock Town was no exception.

Jonathan stood in the dim room, waiting for anyone or anything to try and stop him. Nothing happened, of course. The only thing between him and his goal was his conscience.

Luckily, Jonathan's conscience had never been especially persuasive.

He strode across the room and stopped in front of the brightly colored counter. He cleared his throat, waited. A disembodied voice drifted up from the small opening.

"Would you like the chance to buy your dreams for ten Rupees?"

Jonathan swallowed before pronouncing his rehearsed response:

"I would like to make a deal with you."

There was silence, then a barely audible chuckle.

"You are a new client, I presume?"

"Yes," said Jonathan levelly.

"State your offer and your demand."

Jon shifted his weight, swallowed again and said:

"I want a Giant's worth of hard Rupees. In exchange, I have a priceless collector's item. It can be sold for a great deal." He hesitated. "…I kid you not."

The chuckle was heard again, louder this time.

"And what sort of item would this be?"

"It is… a piece of seaweed paper, with the authentic autographs of the members of the Indigo-gos, written of course in indelible ink - "

"I don't need a full appraisal. Do you have the paper with you?"

"Yes."

"Give it to me."

Jon slid a hand into a pocket of his black cloak, retrieved his precious merchandise and slipped it through the opening. He heard the man unfolding it on the other side.

After a long moment's silence, the man spoke:

"I accept your offer. You will find the Rupees tomorrow morning in a tree in Termina field, the one nearest the Astral Observatory."

Without another word, the whole counter started to turn on itself and close into the wall. Jonathan nodded in the dark, as if to reassure himself he had done well, and turned to leave, head sunk low inside his cloak.

- - -

"Alright, Brac, the potion's ready. Drink up."

Cremia watched as the stocky carpenter took a swig from the bottle of red syrup.

"…Feel better?"

Brac nodded vigourously. "Much better, ma'am. Thank yeh. Now I'd better get back to work 'afore the others get mad, eh?"

She smiled, gave him a pat on the shoulder and got up. Then she heard Brac grunt.

"Huh? What happened to me hammer? I put it down right here a minute ago..."

The two began searching up and down the steps where they had been sitting.

"It'll turn up," said Cremia with a shrug after they'd abandoned their attempts.

"I guess so," replied Brac. "Well, g'day."

- - -

Kafei was sitting on a stool behind the counter at the Trading Post. Hunched over the counting mat, he was fingering Rupees of different colours, arranging them neatly into piles, only to mix them up and start over again. It was a slow day in Clock Town, indeed.

He held a red Rupee at arm's length, watched the play of light on the perfectly cut, translucent faces. His eyebrows knit. There was something about this Rupee. Something… familiar.

The thought had barely entered his mind when he felt a sharp pain flare up on his chest. He jerked forward, scattering Rupees all over the floor. The red gem fell from his fingers.

- - -

laundry pool

at midnight

Anju and I

alone

"throw a Rupee into the pool."

a green one for your lucky stars

a blue one for your guardian fairy

a red one for

love

- - -

Clink. The red Rupee hit the tiled floor.

His eyes flew open. Gasping, he pulled the pendant from under his tunic. There was nothing unusual about it. Again, he fumbled with the knot, but he couldn't untie it. He sighed.

He went around the counter to pick up the scattered Rupees. But something carried him away from the counter, across the little bridge and out the door.

He emerged into the alley of West Clock Town. The sun was still high. He walked straight across the passage to the counter of the Clock Town Bank.

Sym, kneeling on the counter as was his habit, waved both hands in greeting.

"Howdy," he said. "On break?"

"Sort of," replied Kafei. "I need to check into my account."

Sym made a gagging noise. "You want to check into your account?! Who are you and what have you done with Kafei, renowned cheapskate of Clock Town?!"

"Yeah, yeah," laughed Kafei. "Seriously, I just need to check something."

"Whatever you say," said Sym dubiously. He jumped off the counter and disappeared into the shadows. Again Kafei wondered how he saw anything, let alone in pitch darkness, with all that hair in his face.

"Okay, what exactly do you want to 'check'?" Sym called from inside the bank.

"Just… have a look inside. I'm not sure exactly." He suddenly felt a bit stupid, showing up here with no idea what he was looking for.

"Right, gotcha," came Sym's uncertain response. After a moment, the sound of a heavy safe door opening drifted up to Kafei's ear.

Sym soon reappeared at the counter, carrying a metal chest with a large lock. He lowered it, obviously struggling, and let it drop with a bang.

"I assume you have the key?…"

Kafei pulled out the chain with the Trading Post key and found a smaller, older one. He handed it to Sym, who proceeded to wrestle open the lock. The chest opened with high-pitched squeaks.

Sym's long, thin fingers went right to work sorting through the chest's contents.

"Your balance…" A few seconds of mental calculation. "Three thousand two hundred forty-one Rupees." He scribbled the amount on a pad of paper, ripped off the top sheet and slid it towards Kafei. "Other assets… three jeweled rings, a pile of certificates and… what's this?"

Smiling curiously, Sym lifted a dirty oval out of the chest and promptly blew the dust onto Kafei, who went into a coughing fit.

"Hey! What gives?!"

"I should be asking you the same question," said Sym's muffled voice.

Kafei looked up into the beady eyes of a yellow fox. He jumped.

"I haven't worn one of these in years! I can't believe you kept it," laughed the fox.

"Me neither," mumbled Kafei. So that's what I came here for.

"Those were simple times… yeah." Sym seemed to hesitate. "Uh, Kafei. About this morning…"

"Forget about it." He grabbed the mask, paper and keys. "I have to go."

"But -"

Kafei ran across the alley, hastily locked the door of the Trading Post and sprinted off towards South Clock Town. Sym watched from behind his shady curtain of hair. He sighed, and went back into the darkness to lock up the safe.

- - -

Rox grinned at the newly developed pictographs spread out on her desk. Most of them had turned out quite well. She picked one up thoughtfully, studied it, set it back down next to another one. Still grinning, she turned to fetch her scissors.

Just then, a small bell jingled over her head. It hung from a string that ran through the ceiling and was fixed to the door of the Treasure Chest Shop, so that she knew if someone was at the door while she was in the basement apartment. The apartment was actually quite spacious, though cluttered. She and her family lived there, and Nicolette occupied the spare room.

Rox dashed up the flight of stone steps and lifted the trap door. Her head emerged in the middle of the giant black and white grid that was the playing area of the popular Treasure Chest game.

The invisible trap door had been her mother's idea, both for security reasons and space efficiency.

She quickly went to greet her visitor.

"Cremia! Come on in."

The red-headed young woman entered, and without bothering to segue, said:

"Do you have any laundry to do?"

"Uh, not really," she said slowly. "Why?"

"Just wondering if you and Nicolette wanted to join Anju and I at the laundry pool. We scattered pretty early this morning, and I didn't even see Nicolette yet… is she here? Kafei said she had the afternoon off."

"She came back for lunch, and then left saying she was going to see Jonathan."

Something passed over Cremia's face then, but Rox couldn't quite recognise it. There was a brief silence. Finally, Rox cleared her throat.

"So… do you want some coffee or something?"

"Oh, no, I'm fine." She paused. "By the way, I just heard the news about Nicolette's little near-death experience. Thanks for keeping me informed."

"Giants! Sorry about that. It must've slipped my mind." She wrung her hands in shame.

"No problem. But, Rox, I was just wondering if - you know Nicky pretty well, right? - if you've noticed anything going on between - I mean, are they dating or what?"

"Who, her and Jon?" said Rox with a look of confusion. "I don't think so. They haven't said anything." Her eyes glittered. "Maybe it's an affair!" she exclaimed mischievously.

"Yeah, maybe," laughed Cremia, but Rox thought it sounded fake.

"Anyway," Cremia blinked, and her usual smile returned to her face. "Are you sure you don't have any laundry to do?… Even if you don't, you can help with ours."

Rox smiled but shook her head.

"Sorry," she sighed. "I have to finish this poster. I still can't believe how early they want it done! If it were just me, I'd leave it 'til summer, but I have to be, you know, professional, so…"

"Okay, okay," said Cremia with a little shrug. "If you don't want to do laundry, just say so."

"I'm serious! This is work!" Rox said, giving Cremia a playful smack. "Don't worry. They want it in three days. If I work my butt off today, I can hang out with you guys tomorrow. No sweat."

Cremia agreed and left. Rox locked the door, flipped open the secret trap tile and returned to her room in the apartment.

Whistling, she rearranged her pictos on her light-brown poster board, chose the best ones, and carefully filed the remaining prints with the rest of her discarded work. Then she chose a fresh sheet of wild Woodfall rice paper and began sketching ideas, musing over the pictos for inspiration. About ten minutes later, she settled for the shot of triumphant Bremor proudly carrying a plank of wood. It was definitely the most inspiring one. She would just need to enlarge it and create the rest of the poster around it. Too bad she had spent so long taking pictos that morning when she had only needed this one.

She got up and headed for the closet, which was now her darkroom. After pulling on a pair of rubber gloves, she set to work copying her negative onto a bigger surface, about the size of the poster board. As always, her hands moved autonomously, knowing exactly which basin to dip into, which chemicals to apply and how. Her mind was allowed to drift through the red darkness of the closet, thinking of things it couldn't think of elsewhere.

She loved someone.

She knew she shouldn't. He was off-limits. He had been for... what, three years?

But she couldn't help it. Her heart cried for him, screamed for him.

Tonight, she would tell him. She didn't care about the consequences. Even though he would surely hate her for telling him, even though their friendship would never heal…

…She had to tell him. Tonight. She had been meaning to for months. It would be too late if she waited, even just until tomorrow. She could be ready only once. This was it.

She found herself clipping her print to a ceiling rod and exiting the room. As soon as daylight touched her face, her attention tuned back to its normal focus.

Tucking a lock of blue hair behind her ear, she returned to her desk to start lettering. She didn't whistle. She didn't grin.

- - -

"…Oof!"

Anju struggled with her load of clothes as she carried it down the path toward the Laundry Pool. Cremia was following close behind with the rest of it. Anju hated this chore; not only did she have to wash all her clothes, plus her mother's and grandmother's, but also the bedsheets of every room at the inn. Today, though, it would be much more pleasant. Cremia would work and talk with her.

Despite its uninspiring reason for existence, the laundry pool was Anju's favourite place in town. It was a quiet little hideaway, where only the gentle flow of water through the grates and the occasional croaking of a frog could interfere with her thoughts. Like most of her friends, she had a favoured place for thinking alone, escaping from the stresses of everyday life. This place was perfect.

At last, she dropped her overflowing basket near the water and fell to her knees panting. Cremia set her load down without effort, then daintily settled her skirts before sitting as well. Anju glared at her.

"Show-off," she muttered between gasps. Cremia shrugged.

"Okay, let's do this. Hand me the washboard, would you?"

Anju rummaged through her spilled clothes and produced two old window shutters. Cremia arched an eyebrow.

"My father always believed in re-using stuff," Anju explained. Cremia nodded. She and Anju had both lost one or both parents, and she knew the importance of legacies, no matter how trivial they may seem.

They began scrubbing the fabrics on the shutters, using Cremia's own milk soap. The water was very cold, and soon their knuckles were white. It was late afternoon, and the sun was already nearing the western horizon. While they worked, they chatted about various things.

"So how is Romani? Still as cute as ever?"

"Cute? Ha! She's a real tomboy. She's learning to shoot, and she practices on the Cuccos. Much bloodshed."

"Poor Cuccos!"

"No, I was talking about Romani..."

Eventually, the conversation spread to more important matters.

"Are you going to get serious with Kafei anytime soon, Anju?"

"I… we've been thinking about it. I'm not sure."

"How can you not be sure?! He's perfect!" Cremia dropped her shutter and stared at Anju in disbelief.

"Well… it's hard to explain. It's like… it's like there's something missing with him." She stopped scrubbing. For some reason, she turned to gaze at the water lapping at the grate under the bridge. "When we were younger, there was something there. Something special… but it faded away with the years. I still love him, but he's somehow different. I think I'm the only one who notices." For an instant, she thought she saw something red sparkle under the bridge. Then it was gone. "…What was that?"

"What was what?"

She blinked. "Oh… nothing. Never mind."

Cremia looked at her oddly and opened her mouth to say something. Before she could speak, however, they were surprised by the sudden crack of a door opening. They looked up simultaneously.

From the back entrance of the Curiosity Shop across the pool came Jonathan, looking rather preoccupied.

Anju waved a damp sock in his direction.

"Hey!"

He jumped.

"Ahh! What? What?" He tapped a foot rapidly, like a nervous hare.

"You, sir," remarked Anju wryly, "have issues."

"Oh," said Jon, colour returning to his face. "Yeah. Hi there. I see you're busy with your… women's work at the moment. No problemo. I'm leaving."

"Oh no you're not," snapped Cremia. More sweetly, she added: "How was the audition?"

"Fine, fine," said Jon quickly. "Fine as hell. I gotta go."

"Say, Jonathan," continued Cremia loudly as Jonathan dashed across the bridge, "where are you going in such a hurry?"

"Nicky," he spat as headed briskly toward the stairs.

"Oops," sighed Cremia girlishly as she tripped him with the shutter.

"Cremia!" exclaimed Anju in horror. Why was she acting this way?

"Jonathan, are you and Nicolette going out?" Cremia said, pinning him to the ground without much difficulty while he struggled to break free.

"We're meeting somewhere!" screamed Jonathan. "What's your freaking problem?!"

At this point, Cremia seemed to hesitate, and Jon used this moment to make his escape. As he ran full-throttle up the stairs, curses echoed in the enclosed courtyard.

"Cremia!" cried Anju again, her face scarlet. "What on earth was that about?"

"I don't know." She stared at her reflection in the pool. "At first I thought I knew, but… Gods, I'm such an idiot."

"Why would you be like that to him? He's not perfect, but he's a decent hylian being…"

"No. He's not." Cremia's fists tightened. "You know what? Maybe I didn't have a…good reason for doing that, but he goddam deserved it. I'm onto him."

"What are you talking about?" Anju's eyes hardened.

"Lots of things," replied Cremia, looking up from the water. "Today I've got a feeling, an intuition. Something's up with that guy. I know it. But I can't prove it…yet." She got up and strode toward the stairs. "I have to go. Sorry about the laundry. I'll send you some soap through the mail."

With that she disappeared, her hair dancing like flames on the chill October breeze.