Chapter 64: The Twenty-Seven
The number Twenty-Four train arrived two hours later. Link was rested enough that he walked out to the platform without any help from Dholit. Rosaline, Irleen, and Cale showed up a few minutes later, Cale carrying a couple paper sacks that Rosaline had shoved into his arms when they had met in front of the station. After boarding the train, they spent most of their time talking. Rosaline had visited a few of the markets around Hovela; the bags she had were some food for the ride and the rest of the group waiting at Fishington. She had wanted to know more about who she would be working with, so she had talked with Irleen about them. Link and Cale had to assure her that what Rosaline had called a "drunken monkey with a wrench that also functioned as a bottle opener" was actually quite capable despite his eccentricities, although they might have convinced themselves that it would be easier to try forcing Sello into sobriety. Cale chose to keep his destination a secret, but Link believed that he might have gone home to see his little sister. Rosaline talked about her experiences in putting together sailing ships and told Link that it could not be much of a difference between those and an airship. Link pointed out that this new ship would need a ballast system, which was something none of the others knew about. Rosaline pondered the issue for a moment, and then she came to the realization that the method she had been using to design and build ships always seemed to account for wasted space which other ship owners would use for spare cargo room or parts storage. When she asked if the spare areas she would leave at the front, sides, and rear of a ship might be used for a ballast system, Link's excitement built up so quickly that he crushed the piece of fruit in his hand and squirted himself in the face with juice. He despaired, however, when Rosaline told him that she did not know how to put together a ballast system.
It was well into the afternoon when the train blew its whistle to signal its approach to Fishington. Link lacked the enthusiasm of reuniting with the group trying to get him home, something which only Rosaline shared due to not knowing the rest of the group.
"Link," Cale called from the other side of the passenger car. "I think I see the Seventeen."
The passenger car carried only two other passengers, who sat undisturbed at the front of the car. Link stood up and crossed to the other side to look out the window. As the train pulled up to the platform, Link saw the newly-painted black of the Seventeen locomotive stopped on one of the parallel tracks. Link was impressed by the paint job; in spite of knowing what a train locomotive should look like by now, it was hard to tell that the extra pieces of the boiler had been awkward odds and ends slapped together with Sello's quirky methods. It even appeared that Sello had recently added more, namely a weather vane-like device attached to the top of the cab.
"It looks better," Link commented, his mood lightening a bit. "Not completely normal, though."
Cale shrugged. "I think 'nohmal' left the moment you found Sello."
"And took 'sanity' with it," Irleen added as she hovered over Link's head. "Hey, it doesn't look bad, though. It actually looks like the worst train to get hit by."
"A ratheh grim opinion," Cale commented.
"Yeah, I just realized that, too," Irleen said, sounding a little awkward. "I think I'll just stop talking for a moment."
"I see the platfohm," Dholit said to them. "I believe we'h about to stop."
Link and Cale settled into the nearby seats a second before the brakes squealed. After a few moments, they were disembarking. Link remembered the landscape from his first trip on the train from Whittleton to Library Town. He found that he liked the appearance of the town now that the miserable sky was gone. The lake sparkled, the rooftops added character, and, evidently, people had been inspired to decorate the sails of the boats currently out on the water. The quota was cheer, and Link could feel his mood brighten just listening to the soft chatter wafting along with the wind.
"'Scuse me." Link, Cale, and Dholit turned in response to a train engineer approaching them. "Where d'ya wan' yar boa'? We can' leave i' 'ere on this track."
"Right, uh…" Link said as he thought. He turned to look back at the flatcar still bearing Rosaline's cutter, the very same car that the crew of the Fourteen had left to them that morning. "Would it be too much trouble to put it on the track behind the Seventeen? A friend of ours runs the train."
"We can do tha'," he said. Then he spun and hollered across the platform, "Tim! Pu' 'er in reverse!"
"Oi, Link!" The group saw Luggard walk up onto the platform with his hand raised in salutation. He no longer wore his red waistcoat and had traded his grey shirt for a navy-blue button-down shirt. And he had recently cleaned himself up and trimmed his brown hair to an effortless length.
"Hey, Luggard," Link replied.
"Hello again," Dholit said.
"'Ow was the Ocean Realm?" Luggard asked.
"Nightmaah," Cale said.
"Disaster," Irleen added.
"Romantic," Dholit chimed in.
"Dot's me home," Rosaline told them in an irritated tone.
Link shrugged. "About as much trouble as we usually see."
"We encountahed a gigantic Bari," Cale said. "And we definitely know it was the reason the tide watehs in the realm nevah receded."
"Do you remember telling Roland about the missing trains, back at the Dark Ore Station?" Link asked.
"Yeah?" Luggard replied. He pointed behind them as the Twenty-Four started reversing down the track. "They was stuck a' the edge o' the realm. They showed up the nigh' after we lef'; they 'ad t' abandon one o' their cars."
"We found the Fifteen northwest of Kakucha Island. They brought us back."
Luggard nodded and looked around Link. "Wha' is they doin'?"
Link glanced around. "Oh. I asked them to put Rosaline's boat on the track behind the Seventeen."
Link stepped aside and indicated Rosaline. "This is Rosaline, the granddaughter of the Architects you found."
"Oh, nice t' mee' ya," Luggard said, offering out a hand. "Name's Luggard."
"Nice meetin' yeh, too," Rosaline replied. She clasped hands with him, and Luggard visibly winced. She turned to Link. "So, wheah be dese odeh 'Ahchitects'?"
"Leynne found a small plo' on the southern ou'skirts," Luggard said, pointing in that direction while shaking the pain out of his other hand. "I can take ya there if ya wan'."
"Lead on," Dholit told him. "We'll tell you of ouh ventuahs on the way."
Contrary to what Link expected, Luggard took a few roads along the outside of town, showing off mainly some of the humble homes and the vast plains nearby. Dholit, Rosaline, and Irleen told Luggard about their trip to the Ocean Realm. Link filled in whenever he needed to and talked about their conclusion to the presence of the Cloud Moon. Cale was mostly quiet, and he seemed detached from the conversation. Luggard informed them that he had only recently returned to Fishington himself, having done a few chores for the group. He was mostly trying to see if there was a labor force in Library Town that would be open for hire to build the airship. He also checked on a few suppliers in Library Town, getting quotes for lumber and ship part pricing. It turned out to be mostly a waste (affording him some time to paint the Seventeen). No such labor force was available for hire. And (much to Luggard's and the group's shock), not one supplier in the Forest Realm had the lumber to construct a traditional sailing ship. Not to mention that most of the metal parts available were replacement parts for steamships, and those were in low supply due to the lapse in transportation to the Fire Realm in the past week. Link found himself depressed because of this news. So close to returning, but it would mean nothing if they could only design an airship. And the lack of knowledge about constructing the all-important ballast tank was slowly making his endeavors look pointless.
Luggard brought them to a small house on the south side, far enough that the train platform was missing from view and the Lost Woods could be seen growing out of the horizon. The house was actually brick instead of wood, and it had a slanted roof of wooden shingles which looked to have been recently patched in places. Link noticed the beginnings of a construction area across the road from the house, although its current state of just being a patch of bare ground with a few piles of wood did not leave Link very confident. Luggard walked up to the door and entered without even knocking.
"Can't you knock!?" came Leynne's voice.
As Link and the others stepped in, they found that the house was mostly a large room. The only pieces of furniture in the room were a large table in the center and a leather couch which was missing one of its cushions. Drafting tools sat in a basket hanging on the opposite wall. The floor around the table sported a layer of eraser shavings; Link had only ever seen a comparable volume back when Line had tried his hand at poetry just to try impressing a girl, and Line had used all the erasers they had and still had not made such a mess.
Leynne had been leaning on the table, but he stood up when he saw Link, Cale, Irleen, Rosaline, and Dholit entering. He wore a black, button-down shirt which he had left half-buttoned, exposing part of his chest. "Oh," he uttered. "I hadn't known you'd retuhned. Did you get my letteh?"
"Yeah," Link said with a nod. He set his paper bag on the floor and offered an introduction. "This is Rosaline. She knows a lot about ship-building. I thought you'd like to show her what you had so far."
"So fah, huh?" Leynne replied with a slight grimace. "Well, about that…"
"Something wrong?" Irleen asked as Link stepped forward.
"It cehtainly is quiet around heah," Dholit noted.
Link saw that the large sheet of paper on the table sported a number of erased lines. The only thing that had not been erased was a doodle of a pilot boat with a face. A rather expressive face. "Uh…" Link droned.
"Dubbl was in an unbearable mood this mohning," Leynne said. "Things soht of fell apaht when I tried to explain the lack of practicality in trying to fit spahs on the outside of the hull." For proof, he turned his face so that the light entering through the windows could shine on a blue ring of swelling around his right eye.
"Ouch," Link replied.
"She punched you?" Cale asked.
"Good to see you'h as obsehvant as eveh, Cale," Leynne said. Cale silently stammered in response.
"Wheah is she now?" Dholit asked.
"I tied heh up and threw heh in the closet," Leynne said, indicating one of the doors behind him. "I told heh I'd let heh out if she promised not to do it again. That's… about when it descended into a Hylian-vehsus-Geltoan shouting match. I won by gagging heh with a sock."
Link placed a hand over his face. "Oh, no…"
"Wheah did Sello go?" Cale asked as he set his sack next to Link's.
"He went drinking last night," Leynne replied. "And the night befoh… And the night befoh that. He was sleeping off his lack of sobriety on the flooh, so Dubbl and I had placed him in that closet eahlieh." He indicated the door next to the closet he had pointed out as Dholit's jail.
"Agh!" Irleen squeaked, dropping from the air and onto Rosaline's head.
"Well, theah went youh reason foh living," Dholit joked at her.
"Where'd Lidago go?" Luggard asked. "I though' 'e was the only one ya was gettin' 'lon' with."
Leynne turned and pointed to the door in the back corner of the room. "In that closet," he said. "Afteh I put Dubbl in the closet, I suppose he took it as a sign that he needed to go into a closet, too. He just… soht of put himself in theh."
Luggard snorted, and Rosaline bit her lower lip to keep from laughing. Link sighed and groaned, "This is a disaster…"
"I was trying to be positive about the whole situation, really," Leynne said.
"Thanks for trying," Irleen said. "So now what?"
"Just don't be groanin' and moanin'," Rosaline said as she stepped up to the table and dropped her paper sack on it. She stared Leynne in the eye for a moment. "When was the last time you ate?"
Leynne shrugged, looking a little uncomfortable. "Breakfast."
"It's aftehnoon," she said. "Take a break and go get somethin' to eat. I'll be gettin' you stahted."
Leynne sighed and looked down at the paper. Then he dropped the pencil he had been holding. "Yes, I suppose a late lunch would be in ohdeh," he admitted. "Shall we bring anything back?"
"Oh, whatevah you decide," Dholit said as she stretched. "I will likely be famished afteh placating Dubbl; she's been in quite the mood lately. But fihst, I believe a fresh change is in ohdeh. Wheah does Dubbl sleep?"
Leynne pointed at the open doorway between the closets. "Room at the very back."
"I think I should just like a sandwich," Cale said. "Nothing in pahticulah."
"Rosaline?" Leynne asked.
"A sandwich, please."
"I'll go with ya," Luggard said.
"Me, too," Link said. "Irleen?"
"I'll come with you," Irleen said, jumping off Rosaline's head and coming to a hover at Link's shoulder. "I think I've exposed myself to enough 'crazy' for now."
"The day's still young," Leynne said with a grin as he led Link and Luggard outside.
Link indicated the piles of wood on the other side of the road as Luggard shut the door. "Is this yours here?"
"Yes," Leynne said. "I'd hoped to have a basic framewohk ready by this aftehnoon. You can tell the progress we'd made."
"I thought you had enough idea to start construction," Irleen said.
"That was what I'd expected at the time," Leynne told her as they turned onto the main road. "But we haven't even agreed on the vessel's basic dimensions yet. My original idea was to put togetheh a schooneh, something similah to youh Island Sonata. Lidago suggested making it biggeh, and then Dubbl stahted ahguing foh structural reinfohcement because she wanted to experiment with spahs on the outeh hull."
"Arguing?" Link asked. "With who?"
Leynne shrugged. "I don't know; she was probably upset that none of us undehstand Geltoan. Then Sello retuhned advehtising the hole in the seat of his trousehs. Needless to say, that was about when things tuhned into a nightmah."
"Glad I was ou'," Luggard commented with a chuckle.
"Well, now that we have Rosaline, we might be able to pull something together," Link said.
"Yes, but without any soht of laborehs," Leynne said, "I anticipate months befoh we can have a completed vessel."
"And we're still missing that 'ballast' thing," Irleen said. "Leynne, you're an Architect. Do you have any ideas?"
"I'm afraid the title of 'Ahchitect' has been a gross ovehstatement," Leynne said. "As much as I'd like to have that level of confidence, I find myself denying anything above the title 'inventoh'."
"I'm sure the other Architects had their own areas of expertise," Link said.
Leynne shrugged. "I suppose. I can't be cehtain. The tehm 'Ahchitect' makes me believe that my grandfatheh could have drafted a whole vessel in his sleep."
"I'd be makin' money if I 'ad tha' kinda talen'," Luggard said. "Don' need t' drive a train, jus' si' 'n sketch up a new one. Sell it t' a comp'ny."
"It's not necessarily that simple," Leynne told him. "But, suffice it to say that I've little idea about what an Ahchitect is supposed to be capable of. It might've helped if I'd heahd the tehm a little moh often in my life."
Link frowned as a thought occurred to him. "You know, Rosaline and Cale were saying something similar this morning."
"Rosaline, I can probably understand," Irleen said. "But Cale? He breathes books."
"Yeah, and he said that none of the books he read mention the Architects by that name." Link said. Then he suddenly stopped, causing Luggard, who had walking behind him and Leynne, to jump aside to dodge him. "Guys, I think we're missing something here."
"Wha's tha'?" Luggard asked as he and Leynne stopped.
"Well, I know about the Architects because I grew up in the sky," Link told them. "Every airman knows about them. Captains even swear by them sometimes."
"But nobody heh on the suhface knows about them," Leynne said. "This is a cause foh concehn? That was yeahs ago."
"No, someone did know about the Architects," Irleen said. "Meilont."
"Meilont?" Luggard asked. "Who's tha'?"
"One of the people I met in Whittleton," Link said. "She knew who they were. I never even mentioned them."
Irleen flew a circle around Link's head. "We have to get back to Whittleton."
"Uh, after we eat," Link told her. "Luggard? Would you mind taking us?"
"He's on my pay," Leynne said. "He'll take you."
"Ain' I a softy?" Luggard asked, grinning.
The pace that Link was moving was beginning to surprise him. After having a quick lunch with Luggard and Leynne, he boarded the Seventeen with Luggard and Irleen and departed for Whittleton. Nostalgia hit him as he rode in the locomotive again, and he had a stronger feeling once they arrived at the train platform south of Whittleton. Evening cast a gold light over the whole town, which had shown signs of growth since Link had last seen it. As with the rest of the realm, the grass had regained its color. The townspeople had planted saplings in the available spaces near the platform; there were even potted saplings set in the corners of the platform. Some of the dead groves Link had seen before were gone now, probably removed to make space for new trees. He was glad, but he reminded himself that it might be years before the town could resume producing lumber. Still, if the town had held out for this long, Link felt it could hold out until then.
Luggard was waiting at the station while Link visited. He attracted a bit of attention as he walked through town. Townspeople called him by name, and he replied politely despite not knowing many of them. When he arrived at Talein's house, he knocked on the inside of the doorframe.
"Yes?" Link's heart started pounding in his chest at the sound of Meilont's voice. He knew he was nervous, but he could not figure out why. Up until he had knocked, it had been a simple matter of approaching her and asking a few questions.
Now, he felt his voice catch in his throat as he tried to answer. "It-it's me," he responded. He took a step inside.
Meilont stood at the sink on the opposite side of the large table. She wore a yellow shirt and white trousers, both looking quite pristine. Her hair was tied at the end and swung as one when she turned to look at him. A smile came to her face. "Link!" she declared. She hurried around the table as Link took a second step inside. Then he became keenly aware that she was still approaching fast and braced himself as she wrapped her arms around him. "Oh, Link, it's so good ta see yeh again!"
"Y-yeah, y-you, too," he said, awkwardly returning the hug.
"An' Irleen?" she asked.
Irleen emerged from his hat as Meilont pulled away. "Still here," she said. "Still a fairy."
Meilont nodded and looked hard at Link. "Look a' yeh," she said. "Yeh look more like a mercenary. Wha' happened ta the sword I gave yeh?"
"I let a friend borrow it," Link said, now realizing that his first sword was still in Luggard's possession (he hoped). "A lot's happened since I left."
"Did yeh find any o' the Architects?"
Link hesitated a moment. Her asking that question had just confirmed what he had thought. She knew about the Architects, and she knew about them well enough that she did not have to think about what they were called. "Meilont… there's something I have to ask you."
"Did-did I do somethin' wrong?" she asked, concern replacing the joy on her face.
"Ah—no, no!" Link immediately said. "Uh… look, let's sit down."
But Meilont's face turned into a suspicious look. She crossed her arms and said, "Wha's goin' on, then?"
"Please," Irleen said. "It's important."
She glanced between Link and Irleen. "Okay," she said. She turned around and strode back to the table. Link followed her, and they both sat down. "So wha' is it?"
"When we first discussed the Architects," Link said, "you already knew about them, right? You were the one who brought them up."
Meilont nodded. "Yeah?"
"How do you know about them?"
At this, Meilont tilted her head in curiosity. "How'd I know 'bout the Architects? Doesn' everyone know 'bout 'em?"
"No," Irleen said as she rested on the table next to Link. "And that's what we need to know."
"Everywhere we've gone," Link said, "no one has known about the Architects; we've had to explain it to most of the people we've talked to. But you know about them, and I'm sure I didn't mention them to you before."
"Wha—" Meilont started to say. Then Link saw her thoughts begin to piece together their reasoning as her eyes shifted around. "It's a clue, isn' it? Ta finding an Architect?"
Link nodded. "It may be. Do you remember when you first heard about them?"
Meilont frowned as she thought. "It was the first le'er ma mother sent. She'd gotten ta Library Town, an' the next day she sent ta me. She told me 'bout this blind old man she talked ta on the train. I guess he asked her if she ever heard o' the Architects, an' he started tellin' her 'bout 'em."
Link's eyes became wide. "An old man?"
"A blind old man!?" Irleen cried out, performing a spiral as she rose from the table. "On the train!?"
Meilont gave them a confused look. "Yeh… yeh know him?"
Link grabbed the sides of his head and leaned forward. "I completely forgot about him!" he cried.
"He was right in front of us!" Irleen added. "That's why we always thought people down here knew who the Architects were!"
Meilont could not help smiling. "Wow. I thought yeh two couldn' be any sillier."
"Yeah, but there went one of our leads," Irleen said.
"Wha' do yeh mean?" Meilont asked.
"He could be anywhere."
"The only time we saw him was between here and Fishington," Link said. "He probably got off there. And we didn't even get his name."
"Well, even if yeh don' know where he goes," Meilont said, "yeh know where he likes ta be."
"We do?" Irleen asked.
Meilont nodded. "Yeh took the number Twenty-Seven train ta Library Town in the mornin'. It's the same train ma mother took; tha's why I remember it."
"So you're saying we should catch the Twenty-Seven to Fishington again?" Irleen asked.
"We, uh… we don't have much money," Link said. "A ticket from here, even to Fishington, is pretty expensive."
Meilont sighed. "Yeh just don' ge' it, do yeh?" She stood up and grabbed Link's sleeve. Link stumbled as she started for the door. "Yeh don' think people won' do a favor fer the Hero o' Whittleton?"
"The what!?" Link and Irleen said at the same time.
~~I've been all over the Forest Realm, and now I'm right back where I started.
~~We started back in Hovela this morning. I think things might've gotten a little personal. I'm still embarrassed that I thought Irleen was angry at me because she loved me and didn't like Dholit kissing me. I was half-right, and that last statement looks stupid now that I know why she was upset. She's been more worried about getting back into the sky than I have. I don't know why she thought Dholit would be a distraction, though; I can't stand her.
~~Thanks to Leynne, we were able to take a train to Fishington to meet up with the rest of the group. I hope Rosaline's addition will help smooth out things; Leynne seems like he's at his wit's end with Sello and Dubbl. The fact that those two (and Lidago) were in closets when we showed up makes me worry.
~~Luggard brought Irleen and I back to Whittleton so we could ask Meilont how she knew about the Architects. It turns out that Meilont had heard about them from Madame Seilon, who heard about them from the old man Irleen and I met on the train to Library Town. We just got back from the platform. Apparently, I'm considered a hero due to what I did when the Bulblins attacked. Since we're taking the Twenty-Seven back to Fishington, we told Luggard to go ahead of us. We're staying the night in Meilont's room again. I feel kind of bad that we're using her room again, but she says that, since Talein is staying in Aboda while looking for good places for lumber, she can stay in his room.
~~I'm still a little frustrated that we didn't see all this before. If I had realized that that old man knew about the Architects, I would've tried to get more information out of him. The fact that he knew so much about them should've been a clue. How could I've been so stupid? I just hope Meilont's idea works. I'd hate to think I missed one because I wasn't paying attention.
~~Here we go again.
Morning came, and Link and Meilont had breakfast together while Irleen talked about some of their adventures and the people they had met. Meilont seemed to enjoy it and fell into a fit of laughter when they told her about Sello and his drunken antics. Link found himself enjoying visiting Meilont again and made a note in his head to stop by the next time he had a chance.
Meilont went with them to the platform, where the train waited as the platform workers filled its water tank using buckets. She was dressed in a green shirt and brown slacks, clothing which Link had not seen her wearing before. However, Link had realized earlier that she might have been making fun of his usual outfit.
"Well," she said, breaking the silence that had started after they had stepped onto the platform. "Here yeh are. Leavin' again."
"Are you trying to make him feel guilty?" Irleen asked from the edge of Link's hat. "Do you know how guilty he gets?"
"I know," Meilont told her. "It's motivation fer him ta come back an' visit."
"I will," Link argued. "I don't know when, but I'll visit again."
"It just depends on if we can get the airship off the ground," Irleen said. "And then that depends on if we can get the wood to build the ship."
"Yeh don' have lumber?" Meilont asked.
Link shrugged. "It's hard to get wood here because of what the haze did to the realm. According to Luggard, no one in the realm has enough lumber to build a ship."
Meilont scrunched her face. "Well, tha' can' be right," she told him. "There should still be plen'y o' wood fer yeh ta use."
"If there is, no one wants to share it," Irleen said.
"Wha' a ro'en thin' ta do!" Meilont said.
Irleen jumped out of Link's hat. "I know! Luggard was just asking how much the lumber would be!"
"Half tha' lumber came from here!" Meilont said. "Maybe we should keep it fer us instead!"
"I thought you were trading the lumber for supplies," Link said.
"Hey!" Irleen snapped at him. "Who's side are you supposed to be on?"
Link held his hands up in surrender, backing away when Irleen approached his face. "I-I'm just saying!"
The train gave a whistle blow. "All aboard for Fishington and Library Town!" one of the conductors hollered. Link gave a relieved sigh, thankful that the conversation was about to end.
Meilont had her arms crossed. "Well, I just might do somethin' 'bout it," she huffed at the train. Then she put on a friendlier face as she told them, "Yeh two be'er visit. I'd like ta see Irleen in her real form someday."
"Of course," Link said with a grin while Irleen hid under his hat. He turned to board the train.
"Hey!" Meilont called out, grabbing his right sleeve. She pulled him sideways, causing him to lean to avoid falling over.
When he recovered, he felt something wet press against his right cheek. He froze immediately. When the feeling left, he turned to see Meilont's face pulling away. She smiled at him, her face growing scarlet. "Be careful, okay?"
Link's face also reddened. He did not know why, but he found himself liking Meilont's kiss more than Dholit's. "Y-yeah," Link said. "Yeah, I will." She gave his arm a playful slap, which he took as an indication to start moving. He offered a wave before turning and walking up to the train. He suppressed his grin as he offered his ticket to the large man standing at the door, but the moment he took a seat, he could not hold it back. He glanced out the window and waved at Meilont, who waved back.
"You've gotta be kidding," Irleen groaned as she came out of his hat.
Link looked up at her in confusion. "What?" he asked.
"If anyone else kisses you, I'm gonna curse you when I get back to normal."
"I thought it wouldn't bother you as long as we're still working on getting back into the air."
"Well, now it bothers me because you're just letting it happen."
Link glanced out the window and noticed a concerned look on Meilont's face. He waved at her, and she returned it with a grin. "I can't plan to have a girl kiss me," Link said, holding his smile as he talked.
"Try it, and it won't be so annoying."
The train jerked as it started moving, causing Link to hit his head against the back of his seat. "Ow."
"Serves you right."
"Sounds like quite the lovers' quarrel," an old voice cackled.
"Oh, butt out!" Irleen shouted.
"Irleen!" Link snapped.
"Stop messing around," Link told her as he stood from his seat. "That's him."
Link swung around the end of the bench to see the bench behind him. Elderly, long-faced, bald. Gray rags over a scrawny frame. Thin, black band of iron across his face. "Oh?" the old man asked as he glanced in Link's direction (for all the good it would do). "It's ya two again? I almost couldn't tell, but the gal's got a pretty unique voice."
"Yeah, being the size of a firefly doesn't help," Irleen commented.
"I'm glad we found you again, sir," Link said as he sat down. "I have a few more questions I wanna ask."
"'Bout them Architects, eh?" the old man asked. "Guess it shouldn't be a surprise. Let me guess. Ya wanna know how I know 'bout 'em, huh?"
"Well, the fact that you know who they were kinda got past us the last time," Link said. "No one else in this age knows about them unless they either fell from the sky or talked to you."
The old man's mouth wrinkled. "Well, I guess that's reason 'nough.
"I was one of 'em."
The statement almost made it past both Link and Irleen without reaction. If the old man had not paused, they would have completely forgotten that he had said it due to how brief the statement had been. Irleen's hovering motions stiffened, and she produced an inadvertent jingle which served to announce the surprise on Link's face. "Y—…you're what!?" they shouted simultaneously.
"Take it easy," the old man groaned, digging a finger into one ear. "I'm blind, not deaf."
"How can you be an Architect?" Irleen said. "Most of them died long ago."
The old man's voice became hostile as he said, "Ya think I didn't know that? I watched 'em die!"
"Take it easy," Link said, holding up a hand. "It's just that… How'd you survive for so long?"
The old man grunted, nodding at the logic of the question. "I can't really say. I just lost track o' time one day. Probably from ridin' this damn train so much."
"I guess it makes sense that someone old enough would remember the Architects," Link said. "Look, I've found the descendents of other Architects, but we still need some help."
"Ya do, huh? I wish I could help ya, but I ain't in the best position."
"I just had some questions about making a ballast system," Link said. "We don't have any means of collecting or storing or controlling Loft Steam. Not to mention we don't even know where to find some Loft Steam."
The old man chuckled. "Well then, this is the final irony," he told Link. "As it turns out, I built the first ballast system."
"You did!?" Irleen asked.
He nodded. "Wasn't long 'fore we started puttin' together the first ships. I found a vent o' Loft Steam in the northwestern areas o' the Snow Realm; that's where ya'll wanna look. I left a workshop up there with most o' ma notes. Ideas I had after the airship'd all gone. I bet ya can still find 'em."
"But you don't want to come with us?" Irleen asked. "I mean, even if we carried you, it'd be—"
"No, I can't," the old man said. "Ya see, I've missed ma stop every time this train's been through here. I'm tryin' not t' do it again."
"Where's your stop?" Link asked.
"We're stopping there, too," Irleen said. "Maybe you can come with us and take a look at the… sh… Sorry."
"That's okay," the old man said with a sigh. "I noticed it a long time ago, too." He perked up as if he just realized something. "Hey, mind if I asked ya a question?"
"Sure," Link said.
"I wasn't quite sure I understood last time we talked. Did ya say ya came from the sky?"
"The both of us did," Link said with a nod. "You see, the Sorians—"
"That's my people," Irleen interjected.
"They moved their land into the sky," Link continued. "They live on only one island now, and us Hylians, we've moved onto the other islands they aren't using."
The old man nodded his understanding. "I always wondered what it was 'bout that sky what made the Royal Family move 'emselves up there. Is it pretty?"
"You can look at the sky all day," Link said. "There are hundreds of airships in the kingdom, all made based on the plans of the original airships built on the surface."
"Do much modifyin' t' the ballast tanks?"
Link hesitated for a moment. "I'm not sure. As far as I've read, the technology hasn't changed much. Although we have to use different materials for the tanks, I'm sure the design's just as you remember it." A thought occurred to him, so he added, "You know, I think they call the design the 'Alfred Tank', if that means anything to you."
Even though his eyes were covered, Link and Irleen could see the shock appear on his face. "R-really? They… they used my name?"
"I guess, if your name's Alfred," Link said.
The old man sniffed, and a tear fell out from beneath his metal headwear. "They… they remembered. All this time, I… I thought they just took it 'n ran…"
Link and Irleen exchanged looks. "You… had some problems with the others?" Link asked.
Another tear fell as the old man nodded. "They didn't like ma design. Said it'd never get 'em off the ground. Nearly killed people 'fore they let me have a go. 'N after all that, I thought they just took the design 'n called it their own…"
"I… I guess they didn't," Irleen told him.
"Ya don't know what it means t' me t' hear that," the old man, Alfred, said as more tears trailed down his face. "I lost everythin' after that. Ma job. Ma wife. Ma son… that's the reason I been ridin' this train fer so damn long. I-I was out in Hovela workin' on the docks when I got a letter from his neighbor. He was sick, 'n he wanted t' see me. That was 'bout the time I started goin' blind, 'n I missed the Fishington platform twice 'cause I couldn't tell what damn town I was in. So the last time I stopped, I bought me some glasses. I had t' beg fer 'nough money t' take a train from Library Town back t' Fishington. Back then, I was just so exhausted that I just kept fallin' asleep every time I thought I was gonna make it t' Fishington. Lost the watch I had from ma Royal Engineer days. Then I lost the glasses. Then I lost the map I kept with me so I could find ma workshop again. Then, well… I guess the last thing t' go was ma sight. No one ever thought twice 'bout lookin' at me. I guess I just lost presence. Sometimes, I'd say somethin' just t' make sure I was still here. Didn't have t' be t' maself; I'd just chew on anyone's ear so long as they wanted t' listen." He paused and looked up at the ceiling. "Come t' think of it, I think this is the longest I've ever talked t' anyone."
"You just went along with all of it?" Irleen asked, her voice a little choked. "Didn't you get hungry or anything?"
"I was. Fer a while. But, somewhere between the watch 'n the glasses, I guess I lost that, too. Heh. I guess ma life really did get lousy after all that." Alfred leaned forward and put a bony hand on Link's knee. Link stiffened, keenly aware of how cold it felt through both his trousers and his bodysuit. "Thanks. I—" He choked up, and more tears fell from his visor. "I appreciate ya tellin' me all that."
"Y-yeah, uh…" Link responded, words failing him.
Alfred sat back and sighed. "Ya know somethin'? I don't feel tired anymore." He cocked his head to one side. "I wonder why. It's probably been the first time it's happened in…" He frowned. "I don't know."
"Maybe… you'll make it to Fishington this time," Irleen managed between sniffles and her resistance to sobbing aloud.
"What's with ya?" Alfred asked. "Ya both sympathy cryin' or somethin'?"
"Yeah-ah," Link replied as he wiped away a tear, his laugh dry and cracked. "It's… You sound like you've had it rough." Irleen bumped into Link's shoulder and motioned toward the windows on the other side of the car. The southern edge of Fishington had come into view. Link motioned for her to be quiet and said, "Do you remember where your son is?"
"I'd like t' think so," Alfred responded. "I guess I'll have t' ask someone when I get there." He smiled. "It'd be nice t' get off this train fer once in my—…" He froze.
And then he looked directly at Link. "Oh."
The train's whistle caused both Link and Irleen to start, and they glanced out as the platform entered view.
And when they looked back, Alfred was gone.