"In Thine Image", Rough Draft
In Thine Image By: Kasuto of Kataan
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This is a rough draft of my tenth story "In Thine Image." All of my stories are not yet posted on this site, but they will be soon. To read all of them in order, please visit my web site, which is listed in my profile (kasuto dot net). Please remember that this story is not complete. Everything you see here is what I have written so far. Hopefully this will give everyone an idea of where I want this story to go. This rough draft will remain online as is forever. I don't believe in retracting something once I've posted it. If anything, this rough draft will give everyone an idea about how I write my stories. When this story is complete, I will post it as a second document, leaving the rough draft as it is. My current estimate is that this story is about halfway completed. There are some scenes that I want to add in between what I've written so far, and there are some scenes written here that I plan to expand upon. While I plan on continuing where I left off, when I post the complete version, make sure to reread it for any changes. Comments and criticism are always welcome. It's been very difficult to write even this much after so many years.
A middle-aged man carrying an enormous backpack casually strolled through the field outside Clock Town. He'd walked through the field toward the big city, ready for another day of peddling his wares to the happy townsfolk. In the still-dim twilight of pre-dawn, he didn't notice the young man stalking him from afar.
ﾠThe young man, about 18 or 19 years old, was slightly taller than average, but had a thin and wiry physique. He was stronger than he looked, but had a bony frame that spoke of malnourishment and many missed meals. His hair was a dirty blond color, grimy, matted, and too long from years of neglect. His bright blue eyes stared intensely at the older man walking through the field, waiting to pounce on him.
The young man silently stalked toward the older man, waiting for the opportune moment to strike. As he drew closer, the young man drew his dagger and crept behind the older man. In a lightning-fast strike, the younger man knocked the older man to the ground, pinned him there, and held the knife to his throat.
"Give me everything you have, and I won't kill you," growled the younger man, staring into the older man's face. Everything had happened so fast that the older man could only stare bewildered at this young man who had tackled him. The young man pressed the knife against the other man's throat, just enough to not slice him open. "Do it. Now."
"I only have a few rupees now, not much I'm afraid," said the older man. "I haven't been to town yet today, so I haven't been able to sell my products. You should have ambushed me in the evening when I may have had more money. You should really plan your muggings better, young man."
Infuriated at his victim's condescending tone, the younger man punched the older man in the face and flipped him over. "Fine, if you're going to be difficult, I'll just take everything else." The older man struggled to get up, but the younger man kicked him back to the ground. The younger man ripped the huge bag from the older man's shoulders and quickly cut it open with his knife, spilling its contents onto the ground. Seeing what the older man had only enraged the younger man further. "Masks? That's it?"
The mask salesman rolled over and cheerily gazed at the younger man. "Of course. I'm the premier mask maker in Clock Town. These are my livelihood. My masks are quite popular."
"Shut up!" the younger man shouted angrily, kicking the mask salesman in the side. "Every businessman has something valuable, and I'll find it." The salesman offered little resistance as the younger man roughly tore off his cloak and pawed through the pockets. He found about 20 rupees and a random assortment of pens and paper. Then as the younger man grabbed at the bag attached to the salesman's belt, he gave his first sign of resistance. The mask salesman grabbed onto the younger man's wrist and tried to halt his progress.
"You won't want what's in there, trust me."
The younger man grinned maliciously and bent the mask salesman's arm backwards, feeling one of the bones snap. The mask salesman winced, but didn't cry out. "I knew you had something valuable on you." He snatched the bag away and dug through it. The only item contained in the bag was another mask. It was heart-shaped, with spiky protrusions, purple and red coloring, and bizarre eyes that seemed to stare into his soul. The young man felt strangely captivated by this mask, but had no idea why. It seemed so unique and peculiar, and the fact that the man kept it close to him had to mean it was valuable. "I think I'll take this."
The mask salesman's eyes narrowed and stared right into the younger man's eyes. "That would be a mistake. That mask is cursed. It's dangerous, and no one should ever wear it. I'll take you to my home and give you all of my worldly possessions if you give that mask back to me."
The younger man stared at the mask salesman incredulously and laughed. "I'm not that stupid, old man. You have no intention of giving me anything. I'm taking this thing. It's obviously worth something, or you wouldn't hide it like this."
The mask salesman's expression changed to anger, and he stood up and faced the young man before him. "That mask will curse all those who wear it. Taking that will only ensure your own demise. Give it back."
The younger man placed the strange mask into his own bag and stared defiantly at the mask salesman. "If it's so dangerous, why do you carry it with you? If it's cursed, why not destroy it? Oh no, I think you're just trying to scare me out of my payday."
"That mask cannot be destroyed," said the salesman. "It can only be contained. No one will be able to save you from its wrath. It will be your death."
He leaned close to the salesman's face and sneered. "I'm not a child who can be scared by ghost stories." The mask salesman lunged forward and grabbed for the younger man's bag, but toppled and fell to the ground. The younger man kicked him a few times to make sure he stayed down. He quickly sprinted away from his victim, all the while wondering what he would do with the strange mask.
"And that is why I will be an excellent addition to your staff. I'll keep out nuisances and will ensure that your day is filled with nothing but adoring admirers and subjects who will weep at your every word."
Zelda stared at the older woman in front of her, trying to process the words she'd just heard. This middle-aged woman certainly knew the ins and outs of the royal court, but still seemed off to her. Zelda simply didn't like the look in the woman's eyes. "Thank you," said the princess. "I'll consider your interview, and if you're selected, my people will contact you." Zelda and the woman stood simultaneously, and the woman bowed deeply before leaving.
"Thank you, your highness. It would only be a pleasure to serve you." The older woman gave Zelda a creepy smile, then left the room.
After the woman had left, Zelda slumped into her chair and sighed. "That was the creepiest one yet," she whispered to no one.
"She's not very genuine," said a voice from nowhere. Zelda started and jumped from her chair, ready for an ambush. She relaxed when she saw Impa emerge from the shadows.
"Why do you always do that?" she shrieked. "I've been interviewing people all day, and you pick now to jump out of nowhere." Impa smirked at Zelda. "Where have you been hiding?"
"I was just over there," Impa said, pointing to a door in Zelda's office. "In the other room. I thought I would listen in and make sure none of these people were dangerous. As much as we screen the applicants, no one can ever be sure if they're not here to hurt you."
Zelda sighed exaggeratedly and sank back into her chair. She buried her face in her hands and let out a loud growl. "Why are these people so annoying? Why do they grovel so much?"
Impa raised an eyebrow. "Because you're the princess."
Zelda fumed and stared back at Impa. "I don't care! I want someone who's normal, who can do a simple job for me, and not constantly ask for approval. I don't need some simpering yes-man who will cower before me. I just want an assistant who will help me... someone nice."
Impa dragged a chair from the other side of the room and sat next to Zelda. "I know what you mean. Your father had the same problem when he became king. He was used to being a general, a man who could get things done. But even though his soldiers obeyed his every word, they did it because he was a competent commander. If he'd given a ridiculous order, he would have expected those under his command to challenge him. That was his way. When he became king, he was swamped with people who would do everything he said no matter how stupid it was. That's the way of royalty. People will do whatever you order them to without question, no matter how insane it is."
Zelda slumped into her chair, and looked away from Impa, pouting. "But I don't want that. All I want is an assistant to help me, nothing more."
Impa put her hand on Zelda's shoulder, pulling her into a half-embrace. "That's what makes you different. Your father challenged a lot of the traditions of royalty. He came from a peasant family, and only rose to king because he was the highest ranking officer left when the war ended. He didn't want or expect to be thrust into the kingship. So he adapted to it, and it adapted to him. He raised you the same way he was raised, and I'd like to think maybe you'll turn some of his quirks into a new tradition."
Zelda understood and appreciated Impa's words of wisdom, but right now she only wanted to find a new assistant. Talk about royal traditions and the hierarchy of society could wait for another day. Zelda shuffled through the papers before her and tried to figure out who was next on her interview list. "I'm sure there's supposed to be someone else today. That harpy can't be the last one."
Zelda continued to shuffle through the papers, but Impa's hand stopped her. "There's one more," Impa said matter-of-factly. Zelda gave a quizzical look, but Impa just tapped her finger to her temple. "I memorized the list this morning."
Zelda stared at Impa and gave her a stern look. "Well, if you're that organized, why don't you be my assistant? You seem to have everything together."
Impa shook her head emphatically. "No, no, no. No way. I helped raise you, and living through your childhood temper tantrums were enough for me." Zelda glared at Impa's mock insult. "All things aside, you really need someone you can relate to, who can get to know you, and anticipate your every command. What you really need is a friend."
Zelda gasped indignantly at her comment. "I have friends! Link is my friend, Saria is my friend, Malon and Solo are my friends, Railan is my friend..."
Impa quieted Zelda with a quick gesture. "Yes, they are your friends. But what you need is someone who is a friend on one hand, and a servant on the other. It's a very fine line, but every important person has a trusted servant who both reveres and respects his employer, but also counts her as a friend. Think of the relationship between me and your father. We are as close as friends can be, but I also served under when he was a general, and now serve under him now that he's king. I respect him, admire him, and love him as a friend."
Zelda looked at Impa dubiously. She wasn't that shallow. She knew how much Impa and her father loved each other, as friends, and possibly more. "I know how you feel about him." Zelda stared at Impa, and to her credit, Impa didn't flinch even though they both knew what Zelda was talking about. "And I'm not looking for that."
Impa tried to think of a thousand things she could say to placate Zelda, but nothing came. Instead, she stood and nodded in surrender. "Keep up your interviews, and maybe you'll find someone worthwhile."
ﾠImpa quietly left the room, shutting the door behind her. Zelda could hear her whispering to someone in the hall. She couldn't make out the words, but after a few moments the talking stopped and she heard footsteps coming closer to the door. A moment later, someone knocked on the door. "Come in," Zelda said. The door slowly creaked open and a meek-looking young lady entered. She was close to Zelda's age and size, wearing a simple but elegant lilac dress. Simply by looking at it Zelda could tell it was well-made and relatively expensive for a peasant family. The young woman had brown eyes and short brown hair, decorated with three small bows that matched her dress. The young woman seemed nervous, but confident. "Please have a seat."
The young woman hesitated, and slowly stepped forward. "I apologize...Your Highness." She gave a perfect and appropriate curtsy. "I didn't realize I would be speaking to you so soon." She inched toward the chair and quietly sat, trying not to wrinkle her dress.
Zelda saw the surprise and uncertainty in the young woman's eyes, and tried to calm her. "Relax," Zelda said comfortingly. "Why are you so surprised to see me?"
The girl replied quickly in a long, uninterrupted sentence, "Well, I knew this was a job for being the princess's-your-assistant, but I didn't realize I would see you so soon, so I assumed that I would be questioned by twenty layers of bureaucrats before actually seeing you, so it was a surprise that you're actually seeing me right now versus seeing me later after other people filter out the crazy ones, so I..."
Zelda held up her hand to quiet the rambling girl. The interviewee was calmed slightly and her breathing returned to somewhat normal. "It's okay, I understand. The whole reason I advertised this job was to get someone to deal with those bureaucrats for me. So you get one point for that." The girl brightened at that statement but Zelda quickly explained, "I mean, I don't really take 'points' literally, but that's seriously the most original thing I've heard all day."
The girl hung her head in submission. "I didn't mean to offend anyone, I was just speaking figuratively."
Zelda could see potential in this young lady, but she didn't want to scare her off. So she put on her best diplomatic face. "No, no, I didn't mean it like that. I just appreciate your honesty and...forthrightness. Trust me; it's nice to hear that from people every now and then." The girl's expression brightened at Zelda's affirmation. "So let's get down to business. First of all, what's your name, for my record?" Zelda pretended to understand the list of interviewees before her, but in reality had no idea what was there.
"My name is Lily," the girl replied, "daughter of Dathon and Thea."
Zelda seemed deep in thought, trying to remember those names. "Those names sound familiar..."
Lily perked up at the possibility that the princess might know her parents. "Well, Your Highness, my mother Thea is a Lieutenant Colonel in the army, the Assistant Commander of Strategic Operations, and my father Dathon is one of your cooks." She smiled brightly, hoping to jog Zelda's memory.
"My dad might know your mom, being former army and all," said Zelda. "But I don't think I know her personally. But Dathon...that sounds familiar. Is he the one who is obsessed with cabbage? Don't get me wrong, cabbage is good with a lot of things, but he tends to include it in everything."
Lily slumped in her chair, looking slightly embarrassed. "Yes," she replied meekly, "he's the one. He really likes it. He always tried pushing cabbage on me and my brothers for some reason."
Zelda perked up, like she'd just had a revelation of cosmic importance. "Wait! Was he the one that used to have the cart in the market? Selling nothing but a dozen varieties of cabbage? I remember seeing a crazed donkey crash into his cart, knocking everything over, and then it started eating everything. And he screamed 'My cabbages!' Was that him?"
Lily felt like she wanted to crawl into a hole and disappear. "Yeah, that was him."
Zelda laughed for a moment, but stopped when she saw the mortified expression on Lily's face. "I'm sorry, I shouldn't laugh at that. But that was years ago, and it seemed so funny then..." Zelda straightened her posture and gazed serenely at Lily. "I'm sorry, I apologize for that. I was young then, and I couldn't help it."
Lily felt more relaxed upon seeing Zelda's attitude. Maybe she wasn't so stuck-up and spoiled like the rumors said. "If it's any consolation, the owner of the donkey paid for the cabbage in full. Then it turns out that his donkeys loved cabbage and bought tons from my dad. Then he saved enough money to open his own restaurant, he just called it 'Good Eats', and then whoever's in charge of royal food services tried his food, then they thought he was a prime candidate for a royal chef, then they hired him, and he became a cook for you, and I think you've probably eaten his food... You'd be surprised how much cabbage he can fit into a single meal." Lily suddenly realized she'd been rambling, and shut up quickly. "Sorry, I got a little winded there."
Zelda chuckled and waved her hand dismissively. "No, really, that was great. I didn't realize he was the cabbage guy." Zelda relaxed in her chair and gazed intently at Lily. "Is he the one who makes that garlic chicken with sage and rosemary? And the rose petals?"
"Oh, he made that? That's a 'secret family recipe.' Or so he says. It's good. But it's really normal for me now, nothing special."
Zelda sat up straighter and tried her best attempt at a serious face. "I guess I should really actually interview you. So...can you deal with people? I mean seriously horrible snobs who do nothing but pontificate about their own significance in the world?"
Lily thought for a moment and smiled politely. "Sure! I can do that, Your Highness."
Zelda looked solemnly at Lily. "Okay, one thing to know is that I appreciate my title and all, but hearing 'Your Highness' all day really bothers me. If no one important is around, please just call me Zelda. I would prefer that. You'll get to know me better soon enough, but I seriously hate stupid titles. My name is good enough. Is that clear?"
Lilly looked confused. Zelda spoke as if she'd already given her a job, which she hadn't yet. "Um...Okay...Zelda," said Lily slowly, enunciating every syllable in Zelda's name. "Yes, Zelda."
Zelda smiled politely. "Great, now we've got that out of the way. I suppose I should actually tell you what this job entails. It's really just being a general assistant for any number of things. You might make appointments, help arrange my schedule, or even go out to buy some candy in the market. There's dozens of servants dedicated to certain jobs around the castle, but this job would be generalized. I'd never ask you to do anything immoral or illegal, so don't worry about that. You'll also have to deal with my friends on a regular basis, so if I hire you, you'll get to know who they are and what they're like. They're always welcome here, unless for some reason I want to keep them away, say if I'm planning a surprise party for Link and I don't want him to know about it. But I'm not planning one right now, so that won't be an issue."
Lily thought the name Link sounded familiar, but she couldn't quite place it. Then, in a moment of inspiration, the image of him popped into her head. "Oh, he's the boy you're always with, right? He always wears those strange green clothes?" She'd asked the question innocently, but quickly realized that it could be interpreted wrong. She tried to clarify. "Wait, I didn't mean it like that. He doesn't seem strange, just that his clothing is odd for a Hyrulian style. And I didn't mean that you always hang out with him, I didn't mean to imply anything about your relationship..." Lily's face flushed and she felt like she'd dug herself into an enormous hole.
Lily relaxed when Zelda chuckled. "It's okay, he's my boyfriend. I thought everyone knew that."
"I wasn't sure if it was supposed to be a secret or not," Lily mumbled. "Sometimes royalty gossip gets a little carried away. I'm never sure what to believe."
"Well, it is true that we're in a relationship. And I love him, and he loves me. But any salacious details you may have heard aren't true. Although I wish some of them were..." Zelda dreamily stared off into space for a few moments, and then snapped back into reality. "Anyways, he's one of the friends you'll meet. And another aspect of the job is that you'll probably spend a lot of time with me, so I'd like to actually become some sort of friend with you. That's fine if you don't want that, but I'd like to see some sort of relationship outside of work. I can easily separate personal business from official business. Impa is my father's assistant, and was his top lieutenant back in the day. And they've been close friends forever. So there's no reason to assume we can't do the same thing."
Lily seemed surprised by Zelda's assured tone. "You're talking like you already hired me."
Zelda looked straight at Lily and smiled. "Actually, I'm seriously considering it. You're the last interviewee, and everyone else was absolutely terrible. They were all too eager to tell me what they thought I wanted to hear, versus the actual truth. You seem honest and genuine. You seem eager to please, but not so much that you'd simply say yes to everything."
"I wouldn't lie to you," Lily said with conviction. "Even if you didn't hire me. I understand what kind of people you mean. My mom deals with them all the time. She wants people to follow orders, but if she's wrong or just being stupid, she expects her subordinates to tell her that."
Zelda smiled and pointed at Lily. "That's exactly what I mean. I don't want you to be afraid to criticize me if you think I'm being an idiot. Anyways, I'm sure there's a few more things I should ask you." Zelda sat deep in thought for a moment, trying to figure out what she should ask. "Sorry, I've never actually interviewed people like this before. I'm not really sure what to say. I just thought it would be important to do this myself, seeing as I'd be working every day with whomever I hire. Umm...okay, I've got one. What interested you in this job?" Zelda was satisfied with that question; it seemed important-sounding.
"It just seemed interesting, that's all. I thought it would be more interesting than working in my dad's restaurant."
Zelda couldn't help but laugh loudly at Lily's comment. Upon seeing the horrified look on Lily's face, Zelda explained herself. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to laugh like that. It's just that so many bizarre things have happened to me that 'interesting' doesn't quite cover it. You'll get to know Link and my other friends, but you should know that he is a magnet for trouble. Strange adventures seem to find him, and sometimes I get stuck along with him, so you might want to be prepared for that."
This piqued Lily's interest. She'd heard stories, but wasn't sure which ones were true. "So, what kind of things happened to you?"
"Well, first of all a bunch of bizarre things happened all over Hyrule, and it turned out to be caused by Ganondorf, the former Gerudo leader. I knew he was evil the moment I set eyes on him, and no one believed me until Link exposed his plans. Ganondorf actually did manage to take over Hyrule and desecrate the world, but Link managed to fix that and went back in time and managed to stop Ganondorf before he caused any real damage."
Lily stared at Zelda, wondering if she was actually crazy. "Is this some kind of test where I point out that what you said was crazy?"
"Oh, no. That's all true. I know it sounds weird, but once you get to know everyone, you'll understand. Anyways, then after that Link went away for a while to some other world that was like a weird version of Hyrule and he managed to save them from the moon crashing into the world. I wasn't involved in that, but he brought back tons of weird trinkets; I'm sure he'll show you sometime. And then there was another evil force Link had to defeat that had to do with the Triforce, but I shouldn't tell you all the details about that, it's really supposed to be a secret. And then later part of that evil force possessed him and made him try to kill himself. And then a crazy duke hired someone to try to assassinate me, and he nearly succeeded until Link rescued me. That's why he got the Star of Nayru and was knighted. And then because he's an orphan, he tried to find out more about his family and found out he had a twin sister who had been living homeless most of her life, right under our noses. She was really good at hiding, but once you see them together they look almost like exact doubles. It's kind of creepy sometimes. And then some woman who found an ancient artifact became immortal and after living for thousands of years decided she wanted to die. But to do so would involve killing millions of others, and we had to stop that. And then..." Zelda stuttered for a moment, then composed herself. "Then some soul-stealing monster wanted Link, so she made it look like he died from an allergic bee-sting, but in reality only made a dead copy of him. We all thought he was dead, and I was so upset, I couldn't even control myself. I tried... I'm sorry, I shouldn't be telling you this."
Lily saw the anguished look on Zelda's face and had no idea what to do. "It's okay, you don't have to say anything."
Zelda wiped a tear from her eye. "Maybe later, when we get to know each other better. It's not something I'm proud of, and I probably shouldn't tell you right now. But it worked out, Link was fine, and his sister ended up finding him. And then a while after that, Link, his sister, and his new friend somehow ended up in the distant future where a version of Ganondorf from the distant past was trying to take over the world again. I wasn't there, so you'd have to ask Link about that. It's complicated. And that's about it for crazy adventures, aside from the normal mundane things."
Lily was speechless. Did every member of the royal family have a life like this? Or was this all some sort of elaborate joke? "Seriously?" Lily squeaked.
"Yes," Zelda replied. "And I told you this because you might one day become involved simply by being associated with me. I'd never consciously put you in harm's way, but you should know that the possibility is there. But we've all come out of everything alive, so we have a good record for adventures."
"Why would all this happen to you? And Link? That's an awful lot of terrible things to happen to a couple people."
"This is why," Zelda replied, showing Lily the back of her right hand. The outline of three triangles glowed from underneath her skin, the bottom left triangle glowing the brightest.
Lily jumped out of her chair, startled. "You're a Triforce holder!"
"Yes," Zelda replied matter-of-factly. "Wisdom."
Lily could no longer contain her amazement. "That's incredible! All this time I'm sitting here amazed that I'm in the presence of the Princess, and now I find out you've been touched by the Goddesses themselves. Are there any other things I should know about?"
"Well, Link has the Triforce of Courage. So us being together tends to attract trouble sometimes. You should know that before you decide to work for me."
Lily sat back down and looked at Zelda hopefully. "Does this mean you want to hire me?" she asked expectantly.
"Oh yes, definitely. I already decided that a minute after you came in here. I just had to figure out some things to say to make it seem like this was a formal process. The other people I talked to seemed competent enough, but you have the personality and ambition that I really wanted. Impa gave me a list of questions to ask the interviewees, and the people before you answered them well, but I didn't get any kind of feeling of friendliness or fun from them. But when I saw you walk in the door, I knew I had a winner. I'm usually a good judge of character." Zelda stood and Lily followed suit. "I would be honored if you would accept the job as my personal assistant."
Lily smiled brightly. "Oh yes, of course! I accept. It'll be such an honor to work with you. I never thought I'd even get to talk to you, let alone be accepted. I promise I won't disappoint you. Oh, my brothers will be so jealous. I get to be personal assistant to the princess, while they slave away in my dad's kitchen. No more peeling potatoes and serving surly customers." Lily looked at Zelda. "Unless, you ask me to do that."
"Well, we already have potato peelers and servers, so I don't think you'll be doing that. I think the most important thing you'll be doing is making appointments for me, and shooing away snotty princes and noblemen who think they can impress me into marrying them. Just tell them to take a hike."
"Sure," Lily replied. "Whatever you want." Lily nearly jumped out of her skin when a side door to the office opened and a stern-faced, gigantic woman stepped into the room.
"Relax, that's Impa. She's been nursemaid, assistant, friend, mother figure, and mentor to me my whole life. And she's probably been eavesdropping on us. She does that to me far too often, even though I am a grown woman and can handle my own affairs." Zelda glared at Impa for the intrusion.
Impa smirked. "Sorry, sweetie. But I'm just so happy you found someone to relieve me of my burden." She turned to look at Lily, and quickly eyed her from head to toe. "I'm too old to deal with her shenanigans. You look like you can keep up with her. How fast can you run?"
"Um, quite fast, ma'am," Lily replied. "I have four older brothers, and I had to outrun their attacks."
"Good," Impa replied. "You'll need speed and stamina if you want to keep up Zelda when she's shopping." Impa paused for a moment, and gave Lily a serious look. "Don't ever let her take you shopping with her."
"But I like shopping..." Lily mumbled.
Zelda gave Impa an I-told-you-so look. "Just because you're no fun, doesn't mean she isn't. I take it you approve of my choice, O Great Nanny?"
"She seems satisfactory."
"Good," Zelda said. "Because I would've hired her anyways. Impa you can shoo now, if you please."
Impa smirked and quietly slinked out of the room. As she passed by Lily she whispered in her ear, "She's going to run you ragged."
"Whatever she said is probably true," Zelda admitted. "I gave her a hard time as a child. I painted my hair pink, ran naked through important meetings, snuck into places I shouldn't have, and one time I collected a couple dozen frogs and put them on her bed. She didn't like that one."
"You get more interesting every minute," Lily said.
"Oh, just wait till you meet my friends. It'll be great because they can tell you all their old stories and feel good because they're new again. They're coming over tomorrow for our weekly lunch get-together, so you can meet them. In the meantime, let me get you your official seal, and introduce you to the guards and some other people. Plus, you can meet my dad. He'll like you."
Lily's eyes widened. "I get to meet the king, too? Oh, this is going to be a great day!"
"Let's go. Time to get to know everyone here." Zelda opened the door, and led Lily out to the hall to introduce her to her new workplace.
In an abandoned grotto outside Termina Field, the young man inventoried his meager loot. "Just some stupid mask and a few rupees. I hate this place." He kicked a rock and winced when it didn't move an inch. He sighed and sat on his pile of rags which acted as a makeshift bed. He fiddled with the strange mask he'd stolen and gazed into its eyes. "How can a mask even have any power? It's just a stupid toy." He hurled the mask to the corner of the room. "Piece of junk."
"Keizen," said a voice from nowhere. The young man leapt up from his nest of rags, dagger at the ready.
"Who's there? Show yourself," said the young man. He looked in every direction, not seeing anyone there. His mind must have been playing tricks on him. The suddenly, in his peripheral vision, he saw a figure. He quickly turned and hurled his dagger in the direction of the intruder. However, the knife passed right through the intruder and bounced off the rocky wall of the grotto. The ghostly apparition gradually coalesced into the solid form of a middle-aged man. The man was entirely average in appearance, with short brown hair, average height, and plain clothing. The only thing that stood out about the man was his piercing yellow eyes.
"Keizen, I think I have a proposition for you," said the strange man.
"Who are you, and how do you know my name?" said Keizen. "Have you been following me?" Not taking his eyes off the strange intruder, Keizen stalked toward the other end of the grotto to retrieve his knife. He then stood in an aggressive stance before the intruder, ready to strike.
"In a manner of speaking, I have been following you," said the man. He eyed the knife the young man held. "Don't bother with the knife; it won't serve any purpose here." The man walked nonchalantly toward Keizen, continuing on until he passed right through Keizen and appeared on the other side.
"What the hell are you, some kind of ghost?" Keizen demanded. "What can a ghost offer me?"
The man smirked. "I'm not quite a ghost, but you're not far off the mark. And I can offer you anything you want. All I need is for you to do a job for me. I will provide everything you could possibly need to get it done."
"What exactly is this job?" Keizen asked warily. He'd performed numerous unethical tasks for equally unscrupulous people. He could be persuaded if the price was right.
"I can explain in further detail later. If you want to find out, meet me in the basement of the Clock Tower. And bring that mask with you."
Keizen looked at the strange, but colorful mask that he'd thrown across the room. "What possible use could that have?"
"The mask salesman was right about what he told you," said the man with a sneer. "You will need that where you're going. But I'll warn you, don't wear that mask. I need a thinking being, not another puppet. Just make sure to keep it hidden at all times."
Keizen thought about the offer, and decided that he would hear the man out. As startling and bizarre as the apparition was, he felt strangely compelled to listen to it. He could use the money; his normal thieving wasn't brining in much loot, and he hadn't done a job in months. "Fine. Tell me when you want to meet."
"I'll be there any time you are," said the intruder. "Time is of no importance to me. Come tomorrow, or ten years from now, I don't care."
"I'll be there tomorrow," said Keizen. The ghost grinned wickedly and vanished as suddenly as he'd appeared. Keizen walked to where he'd thrown the mask and picked it up. "Looks like this thing was worth more than I thought."
Railan stood near the fountain at the center of Castle Town, waiting for Link to appear. Malon and Solo had already wandered off towards the castle, declining to wait for Link. They knew he'd be there eventually, and Solo was adamant about getting the "best" seat at Zelda's table. Railan thought about following his two other friends, but decided to wait. A few minutes later, Railan saw Link's familiar green clothing emerge from one of the town's side streets. He'd expected Link to come down the main thoroughfare after stabling Epona. He wondered what detour had been important enough for Link to be late to Zelda's meal.
Railan walked toward Link and greeted him. "Where have you been? We're already twenty minutes late. Malon and Solo are already there and probably eating all the good stuff."
Link seemed preoccupied for a moment, but finally snapped back into the real world. "Sorry," said Link. "I had to make a quick stop at a shop before I went to see Zelda."
Railan nodded. "Ah. Another present, I see."
"Yeah, you could say that. It just took longer than I expected." Link sped toward the castle, trying to make up for lost time. "Zelda won't start without us. She'll understand when we get there."
"Okay, sure," said Railan. They walked silently past the castle guards, who gave them entry with nothing more than a nod. The unexpected silence started to bug Railan. Link usually wasn't this quiet, especially before a visit to his beloved princess. "Are you okay? You seem...distant."
"Oh...oh, I'm fine," Link stammered. "Just a little nervous."
Railan gave a quizzical look. "About what? Zelda won't be mad if you're late. You're always late. That's normal. I'd be more worried if you were on time. You might give Zelda a heart attack." Railan laughed at his own joke, but Link didn't seem to notice he'd said anything. "If it's about your little present, I'm sure she'll love it. When has she ever not liked something you got her?"
"Well, it's a little different this time," Link replied. He wiped the beading sweat off his forehead.
"What present could possibly be so weird that she might not like it? What is it, exactly?" The gift couldn't be very large, considering that Link wasn't carrying any bags. It had to be small enough to fit in a pocket, maybe some fancy bottle of perfume.
"I'll tell you later, after I show Zelda."
Railan knew he wasn't getting any more information out of Link until he decided to let it be known. So they remained silent until they finally made it through the castle and into Zelda's private dining room. Already seated at the table were Zelda, Malon, Solo, and a girl neither of them had seen before. The conversation stopped and everyone looked at Link and Railan. Zelda's eyes brightened and she ran to embrace Link, giving him a kiss. "You're later than normal," she said. "I was beginning to get worried." Zelda could tell Link was preoccupied about something, but decided that questions could wait till later. "Here, meet the newest member of my staff." The strange brown-haired girl stood and smiled at the two newcomers. "Link, Railan, this is Lily. She's the new assistant I hired. I wanted her to meet all my friends so I thought this was the perfect opportunity."
"It's a pleasure to meet you," Lily said politely, bowing toward Link and Railan.
"Great," said Zelda, quickly going back to her seat. Link and Railan both went to their usual seats.
Lily disappeared for a moment, but quickly returned. "I let the servers know that everyone's here." She took a seat next to Railan and smiled politely.
"Perfect," said Zelda. "See, this is already working out for you. So Link, Railan, we've been regaling Lily with stories about ourselves. Why don't you let her know about yourselves." She looked expectantly at Link.
"Well, I uh..." Link muttered. "I enjoy fishing, horse riding, and playing the shooting gallery. But they won't let me play for prizes anymore. Um..." Link's thoughts trailed off and he shrugged his shoulders.
"Link, are you sick?" asked Solo worriedly.
"No, I'm fine. I'm just a little preoccupied."
"Oh, you're probably starving," Solo said. "You'll feel better when the food gets here. I know I will."
"Okay, I guess Link isn't very talkative today," said Zelda. "But I'm sure I already told you enough about him already."
"Yeah, actually you did," said Lily. "Link, if it makes you feel any better, all she did was talk about you." Zelda blushed slightly and tried to be inconspicuous.
Everyone looked at Railan expectantly, who gazed dreamily at Lily. When he didn't say anything, Link nudged him with his elbow. "Oh!" Railan exclaimed. "Sorry, I guess it's my turn." He smiled sheepishly at Lily. "Did anyone tell you how pretty you are?" The other girls giggled and Railan realized he'd spoken aloud. "I'm so sorry, I didn't mean it like that. I mean...not that you're not pretty, I meant that I didn't mean to say that out loud, not that it's not true..."
"I'm flattered, really," said Lily. There was a certain innocent charm to Railan.
"Well, anyways I work for Malon. At the ranch. A lot like you do for Zelda, I guess. Ever since the place expanded I've been doing more administrative things like paperwork and overseeing the other workers. It's so much better than cleaning up horse poop all day. And feeding the chickens... those things are vicious. They'll gang up on you and attack you if they even think you have food for them. It's much better now that I can watch someone else get caught in the feeding frenzy. So, well, it's nice to meet you."
"Same here," said Lily.
Solo leaned over to whisper in Malon's ear, "They've known each other for two minutes and they already have the hots for each other." Malon giggled and nodded.
Everyone watched in fascination as Railan and Lily continued talking about increasingly irrelevant topics. "You should see Lake Hylia at sunset, it's breathtaking," said Railan after several minutes of conversation. "I bet the colors would make your hair shine like the sun itself."
"Oh, that's so sweet," Lily crooned, completely drawn into their conversation.
"Is he actually charming her?" Zelda asked Link.
"Um, I think so," he replied.
"I totally didn't see this coming," said Zelda.
"I did," Solo interjected, raising her hand. "I knew Lily had the exact same personality as Railan from the second I met her. Didn't you realize that?"
The conversation stopped and Lily looked at Zelda. "I guess I didn't think of it that way," admitted Zelda.
"Railan's so sweet," Lily said. "How come you didn't mention that?"
"Sorry, I didn't really think of him that way. It's nice to know you're both getting along, though."
The conversation quieted when the servants entered with the main meal. Everyone waited in anticipation for what today's surprise would be. "Today we're having a seared duck breast with red wine sauce," Zelda announced.
"Ooh boy, I love duck," said Solo.
"You love everything," Link teased.
"Yes, but I love duck more than I love other foods."
The meal continued and they eventually made their way to dessert, which was a simple strawberry tart with whipped cream. Lily really enjoyed talking with everyone, especially Railan, and felt like she would get along with them quite well. She was relieved to meet quirky, but normal people after the stories Zelda had told her. "I guess we can all relax for a while, maybe go outside and get some fresh air," said Zelda after the meal had been finished.
"Yeah, that sounds good," said Solo. "Let's go feed the koi fish in the pond."
Link couldn't restrain himself any longer, and he leaned toward Zelda. "Can we talk privately for a little while?" he whispered.
"Sure, Link." Zelda was relieved that now she'd finally be able to find out what was bothering him. "You guys can go outside. We'll meet you there in a few minutes."
"Let's go to the courtyard," suggested Link. "I'd like to go there to talk." Zelda nodded and they left the room together.
"So what's the deal with him today?" Solo asked, looking at Railan.
"I don't know. He stopped somewhere before lunch to get her a present and he wouldn't tell me what it was."
"They're probably going to go make out," said Malon.
"Yeah, you're right," said Solo. "Well, I don't want to see that. Let's go feed the fish. I want to see how my little Puffy is doing."
Zelda led Link to the inner courtyard, noticing that he became more nervous with each passing step. When they finally arrived, Link plopped down on the grass and Zelda sat across from him. "What's wrong, Linkie-pooh? You barely touched your food, and you mostly stared off into space the whole time. Are you sick?"
"No, I'm fine, really. I just have some important things to say. Do you remember, it was almost nine years ago, when I met you here for the first time?"
"Yeah, you seemed so innocent, but so focused on your goal. I honestly think I fell in love with you right then."
"I think I felt the same way," Link said. "But I wasn't sure at the time. I didn't really know anything then, least of all about love. But now I know what love really is, and I love you."
"I love you too."
Link breathed deeply to calm himself. "I wanted to come here because this is where we first met. I saw the princess before me and knew that we were destined for something, but I wasn't sure what." His thoughts jumbled, and he tried to speak coherently. "I'm sorry, I don't know how to say this. I really thought of a million different ways to do this, but all the ideas seemed stupid. And I just couldn't wait. I knew that the second my gift for you was finished, that I wouldn't be able to plan some elaborate scene. So I'm just going to give it to you." Link fished around in his pocket and took out a tiny box. He handed it to Zelda.
"You got me a gift? That's so sweet." She opened the box and was stunned by one of the most elaborate rings she'd ever seen. The ring itself was made of two interlacing threads of platinum and gold, and sitting atop the ring was the largest sapphire she'd ever seen. "This must have cost a fortune!"
"Well, yeah, you could say that. But it doesn't matter how much it cost. What do you think? Do you accept?"
"Yes, this is beautiful. I can't believe you'd go through so much effort for a ring for me."
Link grinned widely. "So you say yes?"
Zelda looked bewilderedly at Link. "Yes to what?" She'd be so impressed with the gift that she didn't even think of the connotations of that gift.
"Oh, I'm sorry. I meant...I thought it was obvious. This is what people are supposed to do, right? Get a ring? Maybe I got mixed up on that. I love you and I want to be with you forever." He gently took her hand and looked straight into her eyes. "Will you marry me?"
Zelda froze, unable to make a coherent thought. Tears welled in her eyes while Link stared at her expectantly. "I...I..." Instead of speaking she tackled Link and kissed him deeply. She held him tightly for a minute, resting her head on his shoulder. Then finally, she whispered into his ear, "Yes, of course I'll marry you."
The separated and Link lovingly put the ring on her finger. "I'm sorry I couldn't think of some romantic way to do this. But when the ring was done, I couldn't wait."
"I thought you bringing me here was perfect. How long have you been planning this?"
"Months, almost a year. I had to find just the right ring for you. My princess deserves nothing less."
"How could my father have kept a secret for so long?"
Link stared at her, puzzled. "What do you mean?"
"Didn't you ask him first?"
"Why would I ask him? I'm not marrying him."
Zelda giggled at Link's confusion. Even though he'd been part of normal Hyrulian society for years, his Kokiri upbringing had given him a simpler, more child-like view of the world. He still didn't understand some of the more subtle nuances of Hyrulian social mores. "Link, it's sort of a tradition to ask the father for permission to marry his daughter. At least in royal circles."
Link's expression turned to horror. "I'm sorry, I didn't know. I thought I only had to ask you. Nobody every told me that. Is he going to be angry? I like him, I don't want to commit some horrible social sin and be an outcast. I thought the idea of a ring and official proposal was weird enough."
"Link, everything will be fine. He likes you and I'm sure he'll be thrilled to find out. Come on, we have to tell everyone." Zelda grabbed Link's hand and dragged him out of the courtyard and throughout the castle. She sprinted through the hallways, looking for her father. They passed an office and Zelda halted suddenly, causing Link to crash into her. Unfazed by the collision, Zelda burst into the office, where Impa and the king were chatting over a cup of tea. They both stopped talking when they saw the confused Link and euphorically happy Zelda. "Quick, both of you, come out back to the koi pond. I have an important announcement." Zelda then dragged Link away at breakneck speed.
"What's gotten into her?" Impa asked the King as they stood to leave.
"Probably wants to show off some trinket Link bought her," the King replied. "I guess we should go see what the fuss is about."
Meanwhile, the rest of the group was chatting by the koi pond, while Solo attempted to feed her favorite fish. But everyone turned to stare as Zelda came sprinting toward them, with Link desperately trying to keep up. She stopped to catch her breath while everyone else wondered what was going on. "See, I told you they were making out," Solo said smugly.
"I've never seen anyone that excited after making out," Malon said.
Zelda turned around to see Impa and her father leisurely walking toward the rest of the group. "Will you two hurry up? This is important!" They finally arrived and Zelda positioned herself and Link in front of the group. Zelda was positively beaming, and Link looked happy but embarrassed. "Okay, we have a huge announcement for everyone." She nudged Link. "Go on, tell them."
Link stared at the ground and mumbled, "I...asked..." He thought he'd be more comfortable telling everyone after he'd asked Zelda, but being the center of attention made him feel a bit uncomfortable.
"Fine, I guess he's overwhelmed," said Zelda. She showed off her ring to everyone and announced, "Link just proposed to me."
The looks on everyone's faces ranged from excited to surprised. "Well, did you say yes?" Solo asked with the barest hint of sarcasm.
Zelda glared at her. "Of course I said yes."
Impa didn't look the least bit surprised. "Well, it's about time."
Zelda looked at her father, who seemed genuinely happy for her. "Daddy, he didn't know he was supposed to ask permission first."
The King went over to Link and patted him on the shoulder. "Don't worry, Link. I couldn't think of a better person to marry my daughter. I'd be honored for you to be my son-in-law." The King motioned for Zelda to join them. He took her hand and examined the ring closely. He whistled in awe. "Now that's a big sapphire. I would've thought you'd get her an emerald seeing as the Kokiri Emerald is so important to your people. Where on earth did you get the rupees for this? You're not hustling the shooting gallery again, are you?"
Link quickly answered, "I originally thought of getting an emerald, but when I went to the jeweler I saw this enormous sapphire there. It was expensive, but it was exactly the color of Zelda's eyes, so I had to have it. As far as the money goes, I'm sure all of you know that I can be quite proficient with a sword." They nodded at his obvious statement. "So I figured that there were people out there would want to learn swordsmanship without having to join the military or work for some random knight. So I rent some space in a dojo at the University and I teach sword fighting classes. Being a knight and having the Star of Nayru really helped with my reputation. I teach mostly the basics to novices and kids who would've never even tried sword fighting normally."
"Wow, I didn't know you did all that," said Zelda, dumbfounded. She thought harder about it and realized that she didn't really know what Link did with his free time when they weren't together. She'd simply assumed he did "guy things", which she'd never actually thought in-depth about. "That ring must have cost a ton, how could you make so much money teaching kids about swords?"
Link smiled, looking like he'd discovered a wonderful secret. "See, I hold two levels of classes. I have the normal, commoner classes, and the super-special noble classes. I charge the commoners a fair rate, and they're always thankful for the lessons. The nobles and the kids of nobles are willing to pay a lot more for their classes, so I charge them more. Unfortunately, most of them are spoiled brats and I have to work a lot harder to actually teach them anything. They expect the sheer fact that they have noble blood to somehow make them superior."
The king laughed out loud at that comment, and everyone looked at him. "I'm sorry, but it's true. They're all a bunch of childish brats if you ask me."
Link stared at the king, confused. "But you're the king, you're the highest of them all."
The king explained, "Yes, but I wasn't born that way. I had the kingship thrust upon me because I happened to win the war, and the whole royal family had either been killed or died out. So many people in the line of succession were killed that I was the most qualified one to become king. Just because I'm the king doesn't change the fact that most of the hereditary title holders are arrogant, self-centered jerks. I see you've finally learned that, Link."
"I could've told him that," Zelda said, pouting. "I have to deal with these people too, you know."
"You've obviously done quite well for yourself. I'm impressed," said the king.
"I still have more money left," Link added. "I'm not entirely sure what to do with it yet."
"You could always buy candy with it," Solo suggested. "Or treats for Epona."
"Well Link, I'm glad to hear that you're doing something for yourself. And the fact that you worked so hard to buy something to make Zelda happy is one of the sweetest things I've ever seen," said Impa, not known for her endearing comments. "You also won a bet for me, and I thank you for that."
"What bet?" Link and Zelda asked simultaneously.
Impa smirked. "Your father and I had a little bet about when he would propose to you. I bet on between your eighteenth and nineteenth birthdays. He bet on after that. I had a narrow window to win, but I knew he'd ask you as soon as you were both old enough."
Zelda glared at Impa, then at her father. "How could you bet on my love life like that?"
"It was her idea," the King said defensively. "I honestly thought he'd wait till exactly ten years after you met. It sounded more romantic to me."
"Link, you're about to become the most popular man in Hyrule, congratulations," said Impa.
Zelda turned to Lily. "See, I'm glad I hired you. We need to coordinate with a bunch of people to plan for the wedding. And then we need to make announcements, and invitations, and a whole bunch of other things."
"I don't really know anything about planning weddings," said Lily.
"Oh you don't have to actually plan the wedding, just help me find the people to do it and work out appointments and such. We need to make an announcement, too. I'm sure the papers will love this. Plus, we need to set a date. The usual lead time for a royal wedding is six months, which is good because it'll be spring by then, and spring is always the traditional time for weddings. Come on, we have work to do." Zelda grabbed Link and Lily and led them inside, rambling the entire way.
"I say the next bet should be the birthday of their first child," suggested Impa. "Who's in?"
Keizen walked through the gate to Clock Town, not paying attention to anyone. No one seem to pay attention to him, either. He was a nobody, one of the endless faces that few recognized, and even fewer remembered. His nervousness grew as he walked up the steps to the Clock Tower. A part of his mind told him to run and forget about meeting the mysterious ghost. But his greed and curiosity got the better of him. He wondered what a ghost would even need him for. Did he want to exact revenge on someone who killed him? He'd heard of stranger things.
Keizen pushed the doors of the Clock Tower open and walked inside. The dark, damp atmosphere of the building was no different than any other time he'd been there. He made sure no one had noticed or followed him, then walked down the ramp to the lower level. He looked for the mysterious ghost he'd seen the day before, but didn't see him anywhere. Of course, he thought, I would get shown up by a ghost. Did ghosts even have schedules? He imagined that they could appear anywhere at will, so being late shouldn't have been an issue.
"I'm glad you came," said a now familiar voice from behind Keizen. He jumped slightly, startled at the sudden appearance of the ghost. Keizen turned around to face the apparition. "Sorry to startle you," the ghost continued. "I'm frankly surprised you came."
"I just want to know what you want from me," Keizen replied sternly.
"You're about to find out. Follow me." The ghost led Keizen to a small set of stone doors in the far wall. "We need to go through there."
Keizen snorted. "I've been in there. That's where they keep tools and random junk. Nothing even worth stealing."
"You have to open the door properly," said the ghost matter-of-factly. He waved his hand in front of the doors, and they slowly slid open. Keizen was surprised to see not a storeroom, but a bizarrely twisting corridor.
"I've never seen that before. Where does it go?"
The ghost didn't reply, but simply motioned for Keizen to follow him. As he walked through the twisting hall, Keizen's stomach lurched. He felt a strange tingling sensation all over his body that continued until they reached the end of the corridor. Keizen saw what could only be described as an enormous cavern with several ledges surrounded by what seemed to be a bottomless pit. He stared at the strange gnarled tree that looked like a Deku scrub. "Very nice place you have here," Keizen said dryly.
"Our destination is that way," said the ghost, pointing toward a high ledge. The ghost vanished, then quickly reappeared on the far ledge.
"I can't exactly fly, you know," shouted Keizen. "I'm not a scrub." Maybe this guy just wants to see me fall down the pit. Keizen turned around and was about to walk back through the tunnel when he felt another strange tingling sensation. Before he could even process what was happening to him, he found himself standing on the far ledge, next to the ghostly apparition. "How did you do that?"
"You'll learn in time," the ghost replied. He opened the door in the wall, which led to another large, cavernous room. Luckily this one didn't have a bottomless pit. Unfortunately, it had the same problem as before: he couldn't fly across to the other side.
"Just do whatever it is you did to me before," Keizen said. In a flash, they were on the other side, facing another strange tunnel. Keizen followed the man through the tunnel and into another, smaller cavern. The room had a couple torches, a pond at the far end, and a Deku flower. Keizen looked the room over, and noticed that instead of a bottomless pit, it had a ceiling that seemed to stretch upwards into infinity. "So, is this your hideout?" This place was secluded enough. It reminded him of his grotto.
"This is a place I built long ago," the ghost replied. He looked at Keizen. "I trust you brought my mask back?"
"Yeah, it's here." Keizen dug in his bag to retrieve the mask. He showed it to the ghost, and was astonished when he quickly snatched it from his hands. Just yesterday that ghost had had no real mass, just the appearance of a man. Keizen leaned forward and touched the now solid man. "How did you do that?"
"I have no real corporeal form out in your world. But in here, I can take on any form I choose."
"So where are we, exactly? And who are you?"
"This is a place between worlds, sort of a midway point. It exists in neither your world nor the other one. And as for me, I have many names. In ancient times, they called me Majora."
"Fine, Majora. What is it that you want from me? What could I possibly do for a ghost?"
Majora scowled. "I am not a ghost. I was an Ascendant once and was cast out by the Others. This is the only place I have any real power. Outside of here, in your world, I can only observe. Even here, my power is limited. I want to go home, but the Others won't let me. And this stupid mask has been my downfall. What little power I had left in the outside world was sealed in there. And some stupid skull kid stole it and tried to crash the moon into the planet."
Keizen's eyes grew wide. "You did that? I remember that, but that was almost nine years ago. The moon looked like it would crash but suddenly it went back into space."
"That is why this mask is so dangerous. Whoever wears it becomes corrupted by my power, and whatever dark desires are in his heart come true. As much as I hate the world, destroying it is not what I want. I simply want to return to my rightful place among the Ascendants." Keizen opened his mouth to ask a question, but was silenced by Majora. "I will explain all in due time. I simply need you to perform a few missions for me. I need you to travel to the other world to fetch a few things for me."
"What's in it for me?" Keizen asked incredulously.
"Whatever you want, really. Money, power, women, it doesn't matter. I will give you all the tools and abilities you'll need to accomplish your mission. Here, take this." A small bag appeared from thin air and Majora handed it to Keizen. He opened the bag and was astonished at the assortment of rupees within. He'd never seen so much money. There had to be thousands and thousands of rupees in there. "There's more where that came from. Go out and buy yourself some weapons, you'll need them. I recommend a good sword and shield. Then get yourself some new clothes; your tattered rags will make you stick out like a sore thumb where you're going. And get a haircut. And a bath. You're disgusting."
"Hey, fuck you," Keizen growled.
Majora leaned toward Keizen and sneered. "I like a feisty employee. I think we'll work well together. I'll return you to the Clock Tower, and you can go about your business. When you return to the doorway, I'll bring you back here." He narrowed his eyes and glared at Keizen. "And don't even think of betraying me. There are a dozen ways I can kill you without ever laying a finger on you. Return here tomorrow, and we'll discuss your mission."
Before he could open his mouth to retort, Keizen found himself back at the strange twisting corridor. He didn't care about the threats, every employer he'd had had used them. He walked back toward the Clock Tower, satisfied with his newfound wealth. He only hoped this job would lead to more.
ﾠLink sat in his usual spot at Saria's table. She was happy to see him at least make it for breakfast, as he'd arrived home far too late last night to meet her for dinner. Link hadn't said a word other than "good morning" and she wondered what was bothering him. He seemed happy, but distant. "So, did you finally ask her?" Saria prodded.
Link sighed. "Yes, I did."
Saria frowned. "You don't seem too enthusiastic."
Link looked at her and smiled slightly. "It's not that. Everything went perfectly, and she said yes, and you should have seen her face. I've never seen her so ecstatic."
"So what's the problem? I know you've been planning this for months. You've been working forever just to get money to buy that ring. I thought you'd be just as happy as she was."
"I am happy. But I'm not really sure what to make of everything. Impa said I was going to be the most popular man in Hyrule, and the way she said it was a little creepy, like she knows something I don't." He sighed and absently stirred his oatmeal, not even attempting to eat it. "I can't help but think I did something wrong."
Saria nudged Link to force him to look away from his oatmeal and toward her. "You didn't do anything wrong. When everyone else found out, they were happy for you, right?"
"Yeah, sure they were," Link mumbled.
"And Zelda was happy, and you're happy?"
"So I don't see what the problem is." She stared at Link, and he shrugged his shoulders. "I think you're just nervous. You're always nervous when you ask Zelda something." She used her fingers to count off each example she could think of. "You were nervous about the gift you made for her on her tenth birthday, and you were nervous about the first time she invited you to have dinner with her father, and the first time you took her to meet Malon, and the time..."
"Okay, okay, I get it," interrupted Link. "I'm a nervous wreck around her. Are you happy?" Link glared at her.
"No, I don't think that's it." She made a show of appearing pensive for a few moments. "You're not the nervous type. You've done so many great things without a hint of nervousness or fear. Your problem is that you think the slightest imperfection, whether it exists or not, will make her think less of you."
Link, blushed slightly and shook his head. "No, it's not like that. I just..."
"Link, there's nothing to be ashamed of. You're just overreacting. Zelda does the same thing. I've talked to her many times about whatever new thing she wants to show you or give to you. She wonders if you'll like some new dress she's bought, or if you'll like some fancy new food that's she's gotten her hands on. She does the exact same thing you're always doing."
Link's curiosity was piqued. "When exactly did you have these conversations with her?" Every time Zelda came to visit, he was together with her. And Saria had only left the forest on a couple occasions.
"She comes to visit me sometimes when you're not here. It's usually to ask some silly question about whether or not you'll like something, or to fish for suggestions on ways to make you happy. I can't wait till you both finally start living together, and maybe you'll figure out what each other likes and quit bothering me."
Link frowned. "I'm sorry, I didn't know she was badgering you too. I'll try not to be too pushy."
Saria gave him a soothing smile. "I didn't mean it like that. You're both my friends, and I'm just helping out. The problem is that you both seem to completely ignore the fact that you both love each other. Worrying about little things is pointless."
Link realized that Saria was right, as usual. "You must think we're both crazy."
Saria laughed. "Not quite, but it's kind of funny that both of you worry yourselves silly over the smallest things. And you do it all the time, about the same things."
"I suppose I should quit worrying. Everything will be fine." Link finally decided to start eating his breakfast. "I'm going over to see Zelda today about something or other; I'm not entirely sure what it's about."
"I'm sure you'll have a good time, whatever it is."
Link quickly finished his breakfast, then kissed Saria goodbye. "I'll see you later. I can't guarantee I'll be home for dinner, so don't wait up for me." He waved to her one last time as he left to go get his horse.
Keizen walked through the streets of Clock Town, feeling content for the first time in his life. He could finally show his face in the town instead of hiding behind a mask. Although the ghostly Majora had insulted his hygiene, he realized that he hadn't bathed or worn fresh clothing for ages. The pile of rupees had bought him a deluxe room at the inn, and a hot bath. His new clothes felt clean and comfortable, unlike the torn rags he was used to. Even having a proper haircut felt incredible. Now he could actually pass as a respectable member of society. So far no one had recognized him as the petty thief that plagued Clock Town and the surrounding villages; he hoped it would stay that way.
After gorging himself on real food for breakfast, Keizen walked to the clock tower. He quickly checked to see if anyone was following him, and made his way to the lower level. Majora was there waiting for him. Keizen felt giddy, but tried to hide it. If this ghost of a man was really telling the truth, Keizen could potentially make a fortune. He could definitely get used to the good life.
Majora examined Keizen from head to toe, scrutinizing him. "You look much better. I trust that the rupees were sufficient for your needs?"
"Yes, they were. And if there's more where that came from, I'll do anything you want."
Majora grinned. The mortals were always swayed by material goods and pleasures of the flesh, so predictable. He hoped that this young man wouldn't betray him like so many others had. "Come, we have work to do." Keizen followed Majora through the winding maze to his secret hideout. A chair materialized from thin air, and Majora motioned toward it. "Please, sit."
Keizen sat down, finding the chair surprisingly comfortable. "What is it that you want me to do for you, exactly?"
Majora grinned at him. "You are aware of the other world, aren't you?"
"What? The moon?"
Majora sighed. "No, not the moon. You've heard the legends, haven't you? Stories about another world, with the same races and same people, but with different lands and different histories?"
Keizen scoffed. "Those are just children's stories."
"Oh, trust me, that world is quite real. In fact, the boy who saved this world from the moon came from there. In his world, he is the chosen one. While in this world, you're nothing. It's funny how things work out."
Keizen looked confused; he wondered what this man was babbling about. "What does this have to do with me? Do you need me to go to this other world and kill him? If so, you'd better be prepared to pay big; I'm not killing someone for peanuts." Keizen tried to sound tough and assured, but inside he was nervous. Although he'd beaten people up, waved knives around to scare potential targets, and threatened to kill people, he'd never actually mortally wounded anyone. He didn't think he had the guts, but if the price was right...
"Killing him, especially in his world, would not be conducive to success. In fact, you are not to kill him, no matter what."
"Then why me?"
"This is why." Majora waved his hand and the image of a young man shimmered into being before them. The young man appeared to be the same age as Keizen, with the same height and a similar build. The young man also wore strange green clothing and a silly-looking hat, unlike any garments Keizen had ever seen. But none of those features really registered in Keizen's mind, because his eyes were locked on the other man's face.
"This man looks exactly like me," Keizen said, dumbfounded. He stood from his chair and approached the image of the young man; it was so realistic that he felt like he could reach out and touch the apparition. "Is this some kind of joke?"
Majora pushed Keizen back into his chair and began to walk circles around him. "Let me tell you a little story. Long ago, before this world even formed, there was a grand cosmos. In this cosmos universes are born, and universes die. Like all things that are born, some are born as twins. And every now and then, however rarely, twins are born fused together in some way. They are born the same, and become different people, but they remain attached for their whole lives. Our world and the other world were born as twins, conjoined together for eternity. Most people will never see this connection, but it is always there.
"As the twin worlds evolved over time, powerful beings took interest in the affairs of the mortals. The other world had three sisters and this world had four brothers. They were called gods and goddesses. As time went on, the mortals discovered how to join their gods in eternal enlightenment. I was one of them. But enlightenment comes with rules. And I, like many others, am not fond of rules. The power I'd gathered was no match for the combined forces of the Others. They cast me out. I locked away what power I had left into that mask. I thought I could use that power to manipulate the mortals to free me, but it was not to be.
"You see, I only wish to return home, where I belong. And you are the key to that."
"What? Why? Is it because I look like this other guy?" asked Keizen.
Majora stopped pacing and stared at Keizen. "No, it's because you are him. In many ways this world is a mirror of the other world. And as a consequence, most people in this world have a counterpart in the other. It is only by circumstance and the vagaries of history that makes their lives different."
Keizen was fed up with Majora's vague answers and tall tales. "Who is he? And what do I have to do with him?"
"His name is Link. He is the chosen one in his world, the one chosen to be a hero. He was touched by his world's goddesses and wields their powers. By sheer chance he crossed over to this world through my gateway and saved this world from the idiot who was corrupted by my power. Even the gods here saw that he was touched, and assisted him in his trials." He looked over Keizen again, sighing in disappointment. "Unfortunately, you seem not to have been touched by the Gods here. It's a pity that your counterpart is so successful while you're nothing but a piece of trash."
Keizen leapt from his chair, fuming with anger at the insult. "Go fuck yourself! I don't need to take this shit from the likes of you!"
Majora flicked his finger toward Keizen and an invisible force threw him back into his chair. Majora gave his predatory grin again. "You do have the same fight that Link has, I'll give you that. You need to remember that circumstances can change. Your life may not have ended up like his, but the potential is still there. The difference is that I can give you all the abilities that Link has trained his whole life to develop. In the blink of an eye, I can give you powers far beyond what Link could ever dream of. In exchange for these powers and riches beyond your dreams of avarice, I only wish for you to retrieve a few items from the other world and bring them to me."
Keizen blinked in confusion. "That's it? You tell me these wild stories about other worlds and twins of people, and all you're doing is sending me on some simple fetch-quest?"
Majora smiled with satisfaction. He could see the gleam of interest in Keizen's eyes. He could see a hint of hesitation, but all of his recruits had been hesitant at first. The combination of wonder and greed always managed to sway even the most doubtful person. "You may be fetching things, but it won't be simple. But I promise you, the reward will be beyond your wildest dreams."
Keizen thought about the money and the freedom he would have. Doing a little work, especially just retrieving a few items, for a lifetime of riches sounded great to him. "Fine, I'll do it. Tell me what you want."
Majora approached Keizen and closed in on him. "First I must give you the abilities you need. You won't be able to master them overnight, but I believe I can make you quite competent in a short amount of time. I need you to relax and hold still." Majora snapped his fingers and tight restraints suddenly appeared around Keizen's arms, chest, and legs. Keizen started sweating nervously. Now he wondered if agreeing to be a part of Majora's plan wasn't so great after all. With a chilling calmness and lack of emotion, Majora spoke, "I know you're nervous. But I need to remain still and calm. It will be worth the pain, I assure you." Major extended his open palm toward Keizen and held it just above his forehead. "This is going to hurt." Before Keizen could protest, Majora slammed his palm into Keizen's forehead, sending a wave of sharp, stabbing pains through his head. Majora and the world around him started to glow ever brighter until there was nothing else but a brilliant, blinding light. The pain spread throughout Keizen's body until he was engulfed in a white-hot agony. He let out a blood-curdling scream as he felt like his body was being engulfed in flames. His scream continued, growing louder and hoarser until everything finally went black.
Link dismounted Epona when he reached the gates of the castle town. He walked his horse through the town toward the castle, wondering what Zelda had in store for him today. He really had no idea what went into planning a wedding, let alone a royal one. He knew that there was supposed to be some kind of ceremony, but he wasn't sure how it worked. All he knew was that asking Zelda to be his wife was the next logical step in their relationship. He would leave planning the ceremony to her. Judging by the official ceremonies he'd witnessed, a royal wedding was sure to be full of pomp and pageantry. He would be perfectly happy with a small, simple ceremony, but he would acquiesce to whatever Zelda wanted.
Link was pulled out of his reverie by some strange man on the street trying to get his attention. "Excuse me, sir?" The man waved his arms frantically at Link. "Excuse me, are you him?"
Link gave the man a confused expression and looked around him to see if the man was talking to someone else. Oddly enough, many of the townspeople were staring at him, pointing and whispering things to each other. "Um... it depends. Who is 'him'?"
The man seemed befuddled for a moment, then clarified. "Are you the princess's fiancé?"
Link wondered how this man even knew that. No official announcement had even been made yet. Link sighed. He should have known that nothing could escape the Castle Town rumor mill. "Yes, that's me."
The man's face lit up. "That's amazing! You're living every man's dream. What was her reaction when you asked her? Did the king approve of you, or is he upset that a commoner wants to marry his daughter? I personally don't think he'd do that, because he seems like a normal person, and everyone knows he came from a commoner background, and..."
Link cut the man off. "Sir, I'm sorry, but I'm running a little late. I need to go."
The man stopped talking and nodded politely. "Of course, my apologies. I'll leave you to your business." The man turned and walked away. The other townspeople still stared at him, but didn't approach. Link continued his walk toward the castle, thankful that no one else was bothering him.
The guards who usually admitted him to the castle grounds grinned at him. "Congratulations, sir," said one of the guards.
"Um...thanks." Link didn't think that asking Zelda to marry him required any sort of congratulating, but he appreciated the sentiment. Link wandered through the halls of the castle, heading towards Zelda's office when Impa appeared from nowhere and tapped him on the shoulder. Link startled and glared at her. "You need to stop sneaking up on people."
Impa grinned. "But it's oh so much fun. So, on your way to see your fiancée?"
Link could tell that she was up to something, but he wasn't sure what. "Yes, as a matter of fact, I am."
Impa put her arm around Link's shoulder in a seemingly friendly gesture. "She's a little busy right now running that poor Lily ragged. Besides, we would like to have a little chat with you first." Impa slowly led him in the opposite direction.
"We?" he asked incredulously. Link decided to follow along rather than protest. He knew he was going to be interrogated by the king sooner or later; he just didn't expect it so soon. He hoped that Zelda wouldn't scold him for being late.
Impa led him into the king's office. Link had only seen it a few times, and he was still amazed by its simplicity. He'd always envisioned the king's office to be filled with pieces of fine art, gold jewels, and other signs of vast wealth. Instead it was simple and humble, adorned with books, Zelda's childhood drawings, and artifacts of the king's military career. The king smiled when he saw Link. "Link, I'm glad you're here. Please, have a seat." Link quietly sat in a chair across from the king. Impa closed the door and sat in the chair beside the king. Link couldn't help but feel nervous, even though he knew both of them fairly well. The king saw the look on Link's face and stifled a chuckle. "Relax, I'm not going to bite your head off. I really just wanted to talk to you without Zelda meddling."
Link breathed a little easier, but tried not to let his obvious relief show. He needed to act like nothing was bothering him. "So, what exactly did you want to talk about?"
"I thought I'd let you know exactly what you're getting into by marrying my daughter."
Link gave a curious expression. "I love her. Isn't that enough? Or is there some secret about her I don't know?" Link figured he knew everything there was to know about Zelda, but there was still the possibility that she had some buried secret. Link relaxed a little when both Impa and the king shook their heads.
"I figured that you already knew all her secrets," said the king, "probably things I don't even know. Or want to know. Anyways, this is more about you than anyone else."
Link suddenly felt self-conscious. Had he done something to upset Zelda's father? "If this is about me not asking you for permission to marry Zelda, I swear I didn't know. There's really no such thing as marriage in the Kokiri culture, and you know sometimes I'm a little behind on Hyrulian social rules. So I just figured that I needed toﾅ"
The king interrupted Link's nervous rambling, "No, really, it has nothing to do with that. It's not a big deal. I always figured you'd marry her no matter what, so it wasn't a surprise for me. You haven't done anything wrong."
Link scratched his head in another display of confusion. "So this is about...?"
Impa finally decided to butt in after it became obvious that the conversation was going nowhere. "What he will eventually get around to saying is that we'd like to give you some sort of idea what to expect when you're the husband of royalty. Your life is going to be a little more interesting than it is now."
"I know married life is different, but it can't be that different," said Link. "I've been her boyfriend for years, and no one's really bothered me."
The king tried to clarify for Link. "It's a little different when you're not married. Nothing's really definite then. People might think the princess is just having a fling with some guy. But when you get married, suddenly it's a big deal. Tell me you've at least read some of those silly gossip papers that are always floating around." Link nodded. "I'm sure they're already preparing a bunch of silly stories as we speak. You're going to be thrown into the world of the royal court, and I think you need to be prepared for it."
"What's suddenly going to change once I marry her?" asked Link.
"Well, you're going to be exposed to the inner workings of royalty and the government," said the king. "It can be a little overwhelming. People are going to want your opinion, even though you won't have any political power."
"It doesn't seem that bad," Link said. "I know Zelda studies a lot and deals with snotty government officials, but overall it seems like a cushy job. She can handle it, and I can handle whatever this new life will throw at me."
Impa couldn't help but laugh at Link's naive interpretation of Zelda's life. She decided it was time to correct him. "Link, Zelda has basically been sheltering you from her everyday life."
Link's eyes widened in surprise. That couldn't possibly be true, could it? He couldn't think of any reason why Zelda would want to shelter him. "Are you sure? That doesn't sound like something she would do."
"Zelda has been training to be the ruler of Hyrule since she was a little girl," said the king. "When you came into her life, she suddenly had a friend who could make her feel normal some of the time."
Link stared off thoughtfully for a moment. "Maybe that's why she always wanted to do 'normal' things."
The king added, "Most of her time is spent working. She does nothing but learn and study. Lately I've been teaching her military strategy. It's just one of many things she has to learn to do well. If she's going to be a good queen, she'll need to learn every possible thing about ruling a kingdom. If she has the proper knowledge, she can't be manipulated or taken advantage of by crooked advisors. So far she has excelled at everything we've thrown at her."
"Zelda is pretty much a genius," said Impa seriously. "I, her father, her teachers, and everyone who's trained her have said the same thing."
I wonder if the Triforce of Wisdom has anything to do with that, Link thought. "I always knew she was smart," said Link. "But none of this is new. I know she trains all the time. She tells me about her classes sometimes."
"Does she tell you how much of her time she spends working and studying?" asked the king. Link shrugged his shoulders. That topic had never come up specifically, although he could make an educated guess at it. "Let me tell you, it's quite a lot. The time you spend with her is her leisure time; it's her time off. Every moment she's not working she spends with you. Luckily her training is practically complete. I think by the time you're married, she'll have learned all she could."
"I think at this point she knows more about ruling a country than her father here," said Impa with a smirk. "We thought you should know exactly what Zelda has gone through, and what will be expected of her when she takes the throne one day. If you're going to be her husband, you need to know what that entails."
Link had no idea what Impa and the king could tell him that he didn't already know. He wondered if they just assumed he didn't know anything. "I could have told you that," said Link. Both Impa and the king looked at him questioningly. "I'm not some stupid kid with blinders on. I know I came from a sheltered world, but I think what I've done and seen makes me a little more experienced than you might think."
As he continued, Link's voice became more confident and forceful than Impa or the king had ever heard. "I protected the Master Sword and the Triforce from a man who would have taken it and destroyed the world. Ganondorf vanished for a reason. And if you'd known then how prescient Zelda was, you would have done something so I didn't have to. I saved her from an assassin. I helped stop a woman with a death wish from killing millions of people. I've done things I can't talk about, and even if I did, you wouldn't believe me."
Link didn't even notice Impa and the king smiling at each other. They had finally gotten Link to open up to them and ditch his usual shy modesty. "So I might not be the best when it comes to Hyrulian social mores. I had no idea there was even a world outside the Kokiri Forest until I was ten. And I know how much Zelda trains every single day, even if she never specifically told me about it. She knows more about everything than anyone I've ever met. She can pick up languages like no one I've ever seen. She speaks every form of Hylian, Kokiri, and Gerudo. She can speak air-breathing Zora, and can even understand their underwater language. She can even make those grunts that the Gorons call a language. Did you know she can tell you exactly when and where a constellation will be at any given time? Or she can tell you when the next eclipse is without looking at a calendar? She has practically the entire legal code of Hyrule memorized. She knows the names of every single government official and enough about them to write a biography. She even buys birthday presents for every servant in the castle, and she doesn't have any of this information written down. It's all in her head.
"And that's only a few things. So if you think I don't know how smart and talented Zelda is, you're wrong. I know how hard she works, and how much she cares about the people of Hyrule. She will be the best queen this country will ever have. I am honored that she'll marry me. I will stand by her side and support her for the rest of my life, no matter what happens." Link finally stopped the speech he didn't realize he'd given. His face flushed and he sat back down in his chair, a little embarrassed that he'd gone off on such a tangent.
Both Impa and the king looked slightly shocked, but content. "Well it's about time you spoke your mind," said the king. He stood from his chair, went over to Link, and patted him on the back. "So this is the Link Zelda's always talking about."
"Sorry, I didn't mean to get that...heated," said Link. "But I just get sick of people thinking I'm a naive child."
"I didn't mean to insult you," said the king. He casually sat atop his desk, facing towards Link. "I wanted to make sure that you really were serious about Zelda. The kind of outpouring you did only confirms my suspicions that Zelda made the right choice." Link accepted the king's explanation. "I know that you'll love and cherish Zelda as long as you live. I couldn't be prouder to have you as my son-in-law. I feel that I should know you better than I do now. I feel ashamed that all I know about you is what Zelda tells me. Tell me about yourself."
Finally feeling more comfortable, Link decided to tell his soon-to-be father-in-law some of the stories he'd told all his friends.
His whole body ached. He'd never felt so sore in his life. He felt like he'd fallen off a cliff and landed face-first. Keizen opened his eyes and saw the now familiar dankness of Majora's hideout. The ghostly apparition of Majora hovered over Keizen, smirking at him. "I'm glad to see you're awake."
Keizen's mouth was dry, but he attempted to speak anyways, "What did you do to me?"
"Your genetic makeup is quite conducive to slight modifications that will make you far more advanced than most creatures on this planet," replied Majora.
Keizen stared in confusion. "What?"
"I've given you powers and abilities far beyond those of normal people. You'll need these abilities to perform the tasks I will assign you. Now stand up." Keizen shakily got to his feet. Majora pointed to a rock at the other side of the cave. "Move that rock." Keizen sighed and started walking to the other side of the room. "No. Move it with your mind."
Keizen looked at Majora like he was crazy. "I can't do that."
"Yes you can. Don't think about it, just do it. Do you think about moving one foot in front of the other when you walk?"
"That stupid rock isn't just going to move from one end of the room to the other..." Keizen trailed off when he saw the rock move seemingly of its own accord. Is this actually possible? He willed the rock to float in the air, and amazingly it did. He made a shoving motion with his arm and the rock flew across the cave and collided with the wall. "This is fantastic." He used his new powers to move the many stones and pebbles that littered the cave floor. There seemed to be no limit to how he could manipulate these objects.
"See? It's easy to learn," said Majora. He picked up a rock and hurled it toward Keizen. Without even thinking Keizen moved his arm and caught the rock. "Your reflexes have improved as well. Excellent. Now I want you to move to the opposite side of the room without crossing the space in between."
Keizen imagined himself moving to the other side of the room. In an instant he vanished and reappeared at the other side of the cave. The sensation of teleporting from one place to another was so strange that Keizen couldn't think of a way to describe it. "Wow. I can go anywhere." He teleported himself all around the cave, laughing each time it happened.
"Just make sure you know where you're going," Majora warned. "You don't want to end up appearing inside a wall or another person."
"You've given me these abilities, so what do you want me to do with them?"
Majora made summoned another apparition showing the three spiritual stones. "I need you to collect these stones for me."
Keizen looked gazed at the beautiful, shining precious stones. "If you can make rupees appear out of thin air, why not jewelry, too? You've given me all these powers just so I can fetch a few precious gems?"
Majora glared at Keizen. "No, you imbecile. These aren't just pretty rocks. They are the keys I need to return to my home. They were created by my fellow immortal beings, and contain the essence of their power. Each stone is protected as a priceless artifact by their respective races. The Gorons hold the ruby, the Zoras hold the sapphire, and the Kokiri hold the emerald."
"Kokiri? Never heard of them," said Keizen.
Majora showed Keizen an image of the Kokiri forest. "They are a race that straddles the border between mortal beings and ascended beings. Forces far beyond what you can imagine are constantly at work inside their forest home. This is the place I chose to build my gateway. It is hidden in a place few people go, and even fewer survive. From there you can determine the best course of action to get me my stones. But you must stay away from Link; he's nothing but trouble."
"But this guy looks just like me. I could impersonate him and..."
"No!" Majora shouted. "You will do no such thing. Do you think his friends are idiots? Just because you look like him doesn't mean you are him. Unless you know him through and through, people would see the deception from a mile away. No, you are not to even try to pretend to be him. If someone recognizes you, ignore it and say you don't know him. Stay away from people that would know Link well. And I mean it: stay away from Link."
"What if he finds me? What should I do? Kill him?"
Majora shook his head. "That would be a bad idea. If you are in his world, killing him would end your life as well. If Link was in this world, killing you would end his life."
"What? That's the dumbest thing I've ever heard."
ﾠ"It's true. Your puny life is connected to Link's puny life. You were both woven from the same cloth. The life force that binds everything together will bind your life to his. If you kill your counterpart, it will be the same as killing yourself. If both of you are in the same world at the same time and one of you dies, you both die."
Keizen gave an alarmed look. "Wait, so if I go to this other world and this Link guy has a heart attack, I'll die along with him?"
"Yes. And if he's in this world and you die, he will die along with you. Don't make me try to explain the intricacies of parallel worlds and entangled life forces, because you wouldn't understand."
"You really like insulting people, don't you? I can see why your buddies kicked you out."
Majora didn't particularly care what this man's opinion of him was. "That doesn't matter. What matters is that you continue practicing to perfect your skills. Now, teleportation. Do it again."
Zelda paced back and forth in her office, trying to figure out why Link had been dragged off by Impa and her father. They were definitely talking to him about something important, because they rarely talked to him in private. Lily watched her employer with a combination of worry and amusement. She wasn't entirely sure if the princess always acted like this, or if she really was worried. "Um, princess?"
Zelda suddenly stopped pacing and turned to face Lily. "Please, you don't have to call me princess. What's wrong?"
"Well, Zelda," it still felt weird calling the princess by name, "you've been pacing like that for the last fifteen minutes; you're going to wear a hole in the floor. Is there anything I can do to help?"
Zelda had already forgotten that they'd only just met. Of course Lily would have no idea what her normal behavior was. She didn't want to scare the girl away on her second day. "I'm sorry; I didn't mean to confuse you like that. It's just that Impa and my father rarely take Link aside like that, and I want to know what they're talking about. I swear if they're badgering Link about something stupid I'm going to give them a piece of my mind."
"Have they ever badgered him before?" asked Lily.
Zelda thought for a moment. "Well, not really," she replied sheepishly.
"So you're getting worked up over nothing. What if they just want to talk to him?"
Zelda tried to think of an example to rebut Lily's more rational interpretation of events, but failed. She finally relaxed and smiled at Lily. "I guess you're right. Maybe I am worrying too much."
"Do you always concern yourself about him like this?"
Zelda hung her head slightly. "Yes, most of the time. Link's almost always late, and even though I'm used to it, I can't help but worry that something happened to him. Maybe he fell of his horse on his way here and he's injured in Hyrule Field somewhere, or maybe some suitor I rejected was jealous of him and decided to take revenge...those people can be crazy, you know. Or what if he got bitten by some huge poisonous spider in the middle of the night and died in bed?" Zelda's expression became one of horror. "He lives in a forest, so who knows what crazy things live there."
Lily couldn't help but snicker at Zelda's increasingly strange and unlikely possibilities for Link's demise. "I think you're overreacting just a little."
Zelda grinned and gave Lily a friendly hug. "See, that's why I need you to be my voice of reason." Her smiled faded slightly and the look of worry reappeared. "But you don't know how risky Link can be. He's too nice sometimes. Do you have any idea how many cats he's rescued from trees? He'll be walking by and some poor person's kitten has climbed up a tree, so he'll climb right up and fetch it. Everybody knows the cat will just come down on its own. He jumps into danger without any thought of his own safety. It's not all bad, though. He did rescue a lady from a mugger once. He just grabbed the guy and took him down in less than a second, without even hurting him. It was quite impressive. Maybe the Triforce of Courage has something to do with it. It must make people do things without any regard for their own wellbeing."
Lily was beginning to realize that Zelda really did spend the majority of her time talking about Link. She wondered if Link spent all his time talking about Zelda. Lily chuckled at the thought. "You need to relax more," Lily suggested.
"That's why I hired you. I need somebody to worry about everyday things for me so I have more time to worry about important things."
Lily frowned. "Actually, you should probably worry less in general. This can't be good for you. You're not queen yet. You shouldn't have to be stressed out like one. You have to enjoy your youth while you still have it. You can worry about running the kingdom when you're old, because that's what you'll probably be when you take over."
Zelda initially gave Lily a confounded look, but it eventually softened to a slight smile. "You give such sagely advice. Impa used to do that, but she ran out of words of wisdom years ago." She plopped down in her favorite chair and sighed. "I can't remember the last time I really relaxed. It's been nothing but studying and training for years. But I'm almost done. I've done about twenty years of training in six years, so it wasn't that bad."
Lily's eyes widened. "Seriously? No wondered you're stressed."
Zelda tried to explain her reasoning. "But you see, I did all of this so I could be ready to rule Hyrule quickly. I don't want to waste the best years of my life studying. When I marry Link, I want to be done with everything. I want to have fun, go on trips, and raise a family without worrying about ruling a kingdom. I figured if I got it all done early, there'd be more time for fun later. I did it all for him."
Lily tried to process everything she'd just heard. "So... you decided to start a ridiculously hard training regimen when you where, what, twelve?"
"Yeah, that's about right. And it worked. I'm just about done. Pretty much all I have left is the naval officer training test." She laughed nervously. "Link really didn't like it when I spent that month at sea."
"You're in the navy, too? Wow."
"Well, I'm sort of in the navy, but not quite. I took the command officer training course so I'd know more about the intricacies of command. It'll help one day when I'm commander-in-chief. Technically they gave me the rank of captain, but I didn't spend years at sea like a real captain. I also did the same thing for the army. They made me a brigadier.
"Aside from training, I've spent all my free time with Link. Sometimes it would only be lunch or dinner, but some months I'd get to spend a few days with him." Her expression softened, and became slightly melancholic. "I want to live like a normal couple. I want to be able to spend enough time with him so that I can spend my leisure time away from him. Does that make any sense?"ﾠ Zelda nervously twiddled her thumbs.
Lily really felt bad for Zelda. She obviously loved Link, and loved her kingdom, and was desperately trying to reconcile the two. "So you want to get away from him?"
"No, no, not like that. You know those lovey-dovey couples that spend every waking moment with each other?" Lily nodded. "Our relationship seems like that, but it really isn't. I want to wake up next to him in the morning and fall asleep with him at night. I want being with him to be a normal thing, instead of something rare. Everything's always too perfect. I want to have arguments, and be annoyed by some daily habit of his. I want the luxury of getting tired of being around him. That's when I'll know I have a normal life."
Lily suddenly understood. She wanted their relationship to turn from infatuation to true love and happiness. "I just can't believe you're looking forward to arguments."
Zelda smiled, and laughed quietly. "I know it sounds stupid, but I think it would be fun. I need to prove him wrong at least occasionally."
"Prove me wrong about what?" said a voice from the doorway. Zelda squealed and jumped back. She didn't even hear anyone come in. She turned to see a confused Link standing in the doorway.
"How long have you been standing there?" Zelda asked, annoyed at his sudden intrusion.
Link entered the room and closed the door. "I just came in a second ago. Sorry, Impa and your father held me up. I didn't mean to be late." Link gave Zelda a hug and kissed her on the cheek. "I swear I really would have been on time."
Lily noticed Zelda's expression brighten considerably when Link entered the room. He really did seem to brighten her day. "I know, Link," said Zelda. "Lily saw them drag you off to Daddy's office. I had half a mind to barge in there and rescue you. What did they do? Interrogate you? If they gave you trouble, I'll sort it out."
Link tried to calm Zelda. "No, it wasn't anything like that, relax. They actually seemed to think that I had no idea what you do, and all the trouble you've gone through to study for being the queen. So I had to explain to them that I'm not an ignorant simpleton who knows nothing about the princess's life." Link had a look of smug satisfaction on his face. "I showed them."
Zelda couldn't help but laugh loudly at Link's expression and tone of voice. Link frowned slightly. "Oh, Link. They were doing that to get a rise out of you. They really don't think you're an idiot."
Link's smug smile faded. "But why do that? He could've just asked what I thought."
"He wanted to annoy you enough to get you to speak honestly. And it worked, didn't it?"
Link nodded. "I guess so. So he doesn't think I'm an idiot?" Zelda shook her head. "Good. Because I had to explain to him that I know all the hard training you've been through." He looked at Lily. "Do you know what she's been through?"
Lily nodded and said, "Actually, we were just talking about that."
Link gave Lily a mischievous grin that Zelda didn't see. He turned to Zelda and gave her a curious expression. "So, Zelda, when exactly is the next solar eclipse going to be?"
Zelda though for a moment and replied, "In one year and forty-two days." She went to her desk and retrieved a globe. She rotated the globe to the opposite side of the world and drew a line with her finger. "But it'll only be visible in this area. The next one visible from Hyrule will be in six years, two hundred and three days. But we won't see a total eclipse. The next total eclipse visible from here is in a little over twelve years." Lily looked amazed, but Zelda didn't see the expression. "Why are you interested in eclipses all of a sudden?"
"How many verb tenses does the Goron language have?"
"The Goron language doesn't have verb tenses."
"How many officers does the navy have?"
"There's four thousand five hundred and seven, if you include me. But some new commissions are going through in a month so that'll add about fifty. Why are you asking me weird questions?"
Link looked at Lily. "You see?" he said. "This is proof that she studies too hard. No normal person knows the answer to these questions."
Lily looked absolutely amazed. "Wow. You knew all that off the top of your head?"
"This proves that you need some time off," said Link as if he'd finally won a long and hard-fought argument.
"I was telling her the same thing," Lily added.
Link pointed at Lily as if she were the answer to everything. "Ah-ha! She's known you for two days and already thinks you work too much."
Zelda patted Link's shoulder to calm him. "Relax, Linkie-pooh," she said. Lily giggled at the pet name. "We can take time off. I'm almost done with my training. All I have to do is take the navy command test, and I'm pretty much done."
Link glowered. "You're not leaving for a month to live on some rickety boat again, are you?" Link couldn't stand boats. He couldn't understand why anyone would willingly spend time on one. The last time he'd been on a boat he was so delirious with nausea that he could have sworn the boat was talking to him.
Zelda sighed once again. "First of all, it wasn't a 'boat', it was the flagship of the Hyrulian Navy. Secondly, I don't have to go out to sea. I can take the test at the academy, and I can do that any time I want."
"That's good," said Link. "So what exactly did you want to do today?"
Zelda thought for a moment, but drew a blank. She looked at Lily. "What was I doing today?"
Lily yelped in surprise, suddenly jerked out of her daydream. She fiddled around in her pockets and pulled out a little notepad. She flipped a few pages to try to find her notes for the day. "Let's see...there was your daily mail; that's done. Then 'talk about Link time,' and that's done..."
"Wait," Link interrupted. He raised an eyebrow suspiciously. "What's this 'talk about Link time'?"
Zelda blushed. "Um...that was for me to finish telling Lily about you. It wasn't anything embarrassing. I figured since because she'll be spending a lot of time with me, and that you're the most important man in my life, that she should know about you." She smiled innocently.
Lily stifled laughter. "She spent three hours gushing about you."
"It wasn't three hours," Zelda protested.
"It was three hours."
Zelda gave a defiant look. "There's no way I talked about him for three hours. It was closer to two." Lily held up three fingers and silently mouthed three hours.
Link watched the exchange with mild amusement. "What in the world could you possibly say about me that takes three hours?" he asked.
"Everything under the sun," Lily replied. "The entire conversation involved every little detail about you. Your favorite fruits are blueberries and strawberries; you don't particularly like oatmeal, but eat it anyways because Saria makes it for you; you once ate an entire turkey to 'prove you were a man'; and your favorite color is wabura, whatever that means. Need I go on?"
Link and Zelda both looked embarrassed. "Wabura is a shade of green," said Link. "It's the color of the needles on a yew tree."
Lily still looked confounded. "It's a Kokiri word," Zelda clarified. "They have twenty-three different words for green. And eighteen for brown. Anyways, that's not the point. Talking about you gave Lily necessary information so she could do her job. What's next on our agenda?"
Link interrupted, "Wait, what else did she say about me?"
"Well," Lily continued, "she likes the way you pronounce her name, something about how you draw out the 'l' sound..."
Zelda blushed, and glared at Link. "That's not important. It's nothing I haven't already told you before. Lily, what's next?"
Lily continued, "Then it's time to wait for Link to get here. And next it's time to go to Lon Lon Ranch to get your new saddle."
Zelda nodded in recognition. "Ah, that's it! I knew I was forgetting something. Come on Link, Lily, let's ride over to the ranch." Zelda grabbed Link's hand and started to lead him outside, when Link halted suddenly.
"Wait, if we're going to the ranch, then why did you invite me here first? We could've just met there instead."
"I wanted to ride there with you," she said sweetly, completely honest in intent. Link's heart melted. "Plus I wanted to race you there. I really think Lightning can beat Epona this time."
Link rolled his eyes. "Please, no horse beats Epona. You might as well give up."
"At least I can beat you to the stables," Zelda said quickly before she dashed away. Link ran after her, followed by a bewildered Lily.
After nearly a week of grueling practice, Keizen was tired of his newly-granted powers. He was also sick and tired of Majora's smug, condescending attitude. He sincerely wished he could simply do away with the ghostly creature. If only Majora had given him the power to create things out of thin air, then he wouldn't need to work for anything. But still, the lure of unlimited riches kept him from quitting altogether.
Inside Majora's cavern lair, which had become a second home to Keizen, Majora circle the young man, eyeing him. After a complete circuit, Major stopped and faced Keizen. "You have done well, far better than my other trainees. It seems that natural ability does cross universes. You should be proud."
Is this thing actually giving me a compliment? thought Keizen. "Thank you, I suppose," said Keizen.
"You're as ready as you'll ever be. But before I send you away to the other world, I must show you some things. Now, teleport yourself to the basement of the clock tower." Without the slightest bit of effort, Keizen vanished from the cavern and reappeared inside the clock tower. Majora was already waiting for him. "It comes so naturally now, doesn't it?" Keizen nodded in agreement. Majora turned and motioned for Keizen to follow him. He silently followed Majora out of the clock tower and out into the daylight.
Majora wandered through the town, not going anywhere in particular. "I've told you little about my people, but that must change if you are to understand your enemy."
"I thought Link was my enemy," said Keizen.
"He is one of many. But no, your enemies are the Others who cast me out." They wandered into East Clock Town, where the townspeople milled about. "I was cast out because I disobeyed the rules. I paid dearly for that."
"What rule, exactly, did you break?"
"I interfered. People who ascend cast off their mortal bodies and transform into pure energy. It opens the mind and soul to possibilities that are impossible in the lower planes. I could have ruled everything, and changed the world to however I saw fit. But we weren't supposed to do that. As higher beings, we weren't to interfere with the daily goings-on of mortals. I thought I had the perfect solution: make mortals worship me. Every person who worshipped me gave me the slightest bit more power. But it was no match for the Others.
"The Others banded against me, and the Four Guardians exiled me here, to be stuck between the mortal world and Ascension. They sealed my power in that mask, foolishly believing that no mortal would touch it. But time and time again, mortals tried to take on the mantle of my power and were corrupted by it. And all they do is watch, never interfering. It took the intervention of your counterpart from the other world for the Four Guardians to even consider saving this world from your rogue moon."
"And this means what to me?" asked Keizen rudely.
"If they watch me, they will watch you as well. Look at that man over there." Majora pointed to a perfectly normal-looking middle-aged man, who stood behind a bench. The man stared at Keizen and Majora, but made no move to confront them. The townspeople walked by the man, without seeming to notice him. "That man is not a citizen of Termina. He does not live here, and never has. No one knows who he is, and no one has ever seen him. He is a mirage, a ghost of the Others who watch me. Only the powers I gave you enable you to see him. They're everywhere, always watching, waiting."
"Waiting for what?" asked Keizen.
Majora grinned. "Waiting for me to do something. I know the law through and through. They can't see into my hiding place, so anything I do there is untouched by them. Do you see now? If I had granted you these powers in this world, they would have stopped me. But now there is nothing they can do to interfere with what I gave you. But they will always be there, watching. You do not need to fear their interference, but you should respect them. Know that the Others are out there, observing you." Majora stopped walking, and turned around. "Come, it is time that I sent you to where you need to go."
Majora and Keizen walked briskly back to the clock tower, and back to the secret cavern. Back inside the lair, Majora pointed to the black nothingness above them. "The new world awaits you. Go there, and find the items I seek. Once I send you there for the first time, you may return here at your leisure. Time is of no importance to me, so I don't expect you to complete your mission in one day. Just know that, like the Others, I will be watching you. I will not hesitate to destroy you if you attempt to cross me."
Keizen took a deep breath. There was no going back now. He was committed to Majora's bidding. "What if these 'others' see me there? What do I do?"
Majora gave his leering grin again. "You don't need to fear them, you need to fear me." In a sudden flash of light, the cavern around Keizen vanished and was replaced by cold blackness.
Link jumped off Epona after she came to a graceful stop at the entrance of Lon Lon Ranch. He turned to see Zelda approaching, with Lily following farther behind. When Zelda's horse stopped, she dismounted and glared at Link. She pointed an accusing finger. "You're feeding that horse something weird. There's no way a horse being that fast is natural."
Link smiled smugly. "I'm sorry that the royal steed isn't up to snuff."
Zelda whined in frustration. She'd hoped that she could beat Link this one time, but it wasn't meant to be. They both turned to see Lily finally catch up with them. Her horse didn't seem to care about racing, and galloped there at a more leisurely pace. After dismounting, her horse ran off to nibble on some bushes. "Link, you should enter your horse in some kind of race. She's unbelievable."
"See, at least Lily appreciates perfection when she sees it," said Link slyly. "Come on, let's go get your saddle." Link led the way into the ranch. They looked around for any sign of Malon, but didn't see her. However, they did see Railan near the corral talking to one of the ranch hands. Link called out, and Railan looked and waved at them. He finished his conversation with the ranch hand and went over to greet his friends.
"Hey guys," said Railan. "How are you?" He nodded to his friends and smiled shyly at Lily. "Hi Lily. It's nice seeing you again."
"Same here," she replied, nervously twirling a lock of hair. Link and Zelda watched the exchange with mild amusement. "This is a really lovely place."
"Not as lovely as you."
Lily blushed and giggled. "You're too kind."
Zelda coughed to get Railan's attention. "Is Malon around? She's supposed to have my new saddle ready for me."
Railan snapped out of his reverie. "Oh...your saddle. Right. It's probably at the workshop. Malon and Solo are off...somewhere, so I'll go get it for you. Follow me." Railan led them toward the workshop.
"So, is your sister here a lot?" asked Lily, trying to make conversation.
"Yeah, she pretty much lives here now," Link replied. "When they expanded the ranch, they built a house for Malon and Solo."
"Oh, so they live together? She must really care about the ranch."
Link smiled awkwardly. "Okay, you're going to find out sooner or later, so I might as well tell you. They live together because they are together. You know, romantically."
"Oh," Lily said simply. Then she understood. "Oh...I get it. I suspected by the way they acted together, but I didn't want to say anything. It doesn't bother me if that's what you're thinking." Everyone breathed a sigh of relief.
Railan grumbled. "It would bother you if you had to run the ranch every time they ran off to smooch somewhere. Just wait till these two get married." He pointed to Link and Zelda. "You won't see them for months." Link and Zelda's faces turned red. Railan smiled at their discomfort. "You know it's true."
Railan opened the door to the workshop and heard a stifled yelp come from the far corner. After several moments of quiet shuffling and mumbling, Malon and Solo emerged from behind a stack of crates, their hair and clothing disheveled. "Uh, hi," said Malon. "I forgot you were coming."
Railan glared at Malon and Solo. "You have your own house for precisely this reason."
"We were just...doing inventory," said Malon.
Railan rolled his eyes. "Right, inventory of each other's bodies." Railan walked to one of the work tables and picked up a saddle. He presented it to Zelda. "You're going to love this. It's made from the finest, softest leather you'll ever find in Hyrule. Malon managed to make it in the short amounts of time between make-out sessions."
Zelda examined her new saddle and was highly impressed by the work. "Malon, you've really outdone yourself this time, I appreciate it."
"Only the best for the princess," Malon said with pride.
"I think it's lunchtime," Solo said, her stomach rumbling. "We should eat something."
"That's not such a bad idea," said Zelda. Malon led the group out of the workshop and towards her house.
Lily picked up her pace to catch up with Railan. "So..." she said, trying to think of something to make conversation about. "This looks like a nice place to work. You seem to enjoy it here."
"It's much easier now that it was before," said Railan. "I used to be just a ranch hand a few years ago. But business has picked up so much that we expanded and hired a bunch more people. Now I'm a manager and part owner. I pretty much run things day-to-day now. Malon mostly concentrates on breeding and training the horses. Solo does a little bit of everything."
They entered Malon and Solo's house and seated themselves at the table, while Malon went about preparing lunch for them. Solo hovered around Malon, trying to help without ruining anything. Cooking definitely wasn't her strong suit. Zelda seated herself next to Link, and Lily took a seat beside Railan. Zelda leaned toward Link and whispered, "I think they like each other."
"Yeah, it's pretty obvious," he said.
A loud crash of pots and pans clattering to the floor startled everyone. Suddenly, all the eyes in the room were staring at Solo, who was attempting to clean up the mess she caused. "Don't mind me," she said. Malon sighed and helped her pick up. "You know what, I'll leave this to you." Solo walked to the table and sat down. "I'm a complete failure at everything culinary."
"That's okay," Lily said. "I'm not much of a cook either. I've worked in my father's restaurant, but it seems all I'm cut out for is waiting tables."
Solo sighed. "I tried to make a birthday cake for Malon once..." Everyone heard Malon stifle laughter. Solo stared daggers at her back. "It wasn't that bad."
"What happened?" asked Lily.
"Nothing really major, I just..." she mumbled and trailed off.
"I didn't quite hear that," Link said, smirking.
"I forgot to put sugar in it! All those powders look the same. How was I supposed to know?"
"You could have tasted it first," suggested Malon. "But I appreciated the effort just the same."
"I ate it anyways," Solo added. "It tasted like bland bread. That was a little burnt. I've had worse."
"Cooking doesn't run in their family," Zelda commented. "But I can't complain. I certainly hope Link isn't expecting me to ever cook for him, because that's the one thing I can't do."
"Everyone has their own talents," said Lily thoughtfully. "I'm sure you'll find yours." Solo gestured to the others that she didn't want the conversation to continue. Her expression became one of embarrassment.
"She's actually quite talented," said Link. "She's really a fantastic artist."
"Really, I'm not," Solo insisted. "I just like to draw."
"You're really too modest," said Zelda. "You should see her work."
Malon turned around from the stove, where some sort of stew was simmering. "Solo, why don't you show Lily some of your work."
"Fine," Solo grumbled. She stood up and beckoned for the others to follow her. "It's really nothing big." She opened a door at the other end of the house and led everyone into her art studio. Inside were dozens of canvases, hundreds of paints, brushes, mounds of clay, and various tools. Shelves on the walls were lined with several dozen paintings and drawings in various stages of completion. "It's really more of a hobby."
Lily's eyes widened in amazement. She walked over to a completed painting that depicted Malon feeding an apple to a horse. "I saw Malon feeding her horse one day and I thought I'd paint it."
"How did you get her to pose for that long?" ask Lily.
Solo shrugged. "I just did it from memory." Another painting showed Malon standing against a background of the setting sun. "I love the way the sunset shines in her hair, but it's hard to capture in paint." There were many more pictures of Malon doing various everyday things.
"Wow, you have a lot of paintings of Malon," said Lily.
"She's my favorite subject," replied Solo, blushing slightly. "But I paint other people." She rummaged around the room and fetched another canvas. This one showed Link and Zelda with laughing smiles, sitting on a blanket in the grass, with Link feeding Zelda a strawberry.
Link and Zelda felt slightly self-conscious about that one. "When did you see that?" asked Zelda, trying to think of a time when Link fed her berries while the others around.
"Oh, I didn't actually witness that one, but Link told me you liked strawberries, so it seemed to fit." Link and Zelda's faces flushed. "No! He really does that? I just thought it would make a cute picture. It's not like I stand around waiting for you to strike a pose."
"You painted all of these without any posing or anything?" asked Lily. "Just from your imagination?" Solo nodded. "These are fantastic! They're all so lifelike that they're practically real." Lily roamed around the room, mouth agape with awe at the many paintings.
Then she saw one canvas, partially obscured, in the corner of the room. Before Solo could stop her, she pulled out the painting. "No, wait. Not that one..." This one depicted a large building set ablaze in the middle of the night. Lily gasped in shock at the horrifying realism of the burning building. She turned to look at Solo, who had tears in her eyes. "That one is...I didn't want anyone to see that one."
"What is it?" Lily asked, suddenly ashamed that she'd upset Solo.
Solo sighed in resignation, realizing that someone would have seen it sooner or later. "That was the orphanage I lived in for the first few years of my life," replied Solo in a haunted whisper. "Then one night it burned down. Forty-seven children and fifteen adults lived there. They all died...except for me." Solo sniffled and Malon comforted her. "I've seen that picture in my nightmares so many times that I thought painting it would finally put the demons to rest. It helped a little, I guess."
Lily looked like she was about ready to cry. "I'm so sorry, I didn't mean to upset you. You're so talented, and I just wanted to see your work. I didn't want to bring up bad memories."
"It's okay. I think I've come to terms with it now."
"Have you ever thought about selling paintings?" Lily asked seriously.
Solo scoffed at the idea. "No. Who would want to buy a picture of Malon?"
Lily shook her head. "I didn't mean those ones. Those are too personal. I mean other things: landscapes, still-lifes, royal portraits, that kind of thing."
"I don't see the point. Why would anyone want to pay money for my silly paintings?"
"Because you're good at it. Phenomenally good. My aunt runs the art gallery at the University, and I've seen the rich snobs there pay fifty thousand rupees for a painting of a rock. Seriously. And you're far better than anyone else I've ever seen."
Solo's eyes widened in astonishment. "Really? No one could possibly be that stupid."
"Rich people spend money on a lot of stupid things," said Lily. "My father's restaurant sells grilled slime eels for a thousand rupees each, and calls them a delicacy from a far away land. A fool and his money are soon parted. And the difference between you and those other crappy artists is that you are actually talented. You could make a fortune. I could introduce you to my aunt sometime if you like."
"Yeah, I'd like that." Solo looked at Zelda and smiled. "You really have a knack for finding good people."
"I knew hiring you was the right choice," Zelda said to Lily.
Solo sniffed at the air, and turned and went back toward the kitchen. "I think the food is ready," she called as she walked away.
Malon approached Lily and patted her on the shoulder. "Thanks for the vote of confidence," she said when Solo was out of earshot. "We all keep telling her that she has real talent, but she's too modest and think we're just being nice. Maybe this will be the kick in the butt she needs."
"I'm only trying to help," Lily said sincerely.
"Smart, talented, and beautiful," Railan said dreamily. "You're a dream come true." Everyone looked at him weirdly, and he blushed slightly. "Oops, I said that out loud, didn't I? I meant it, though."
Lily smiled and took hold of Railan's arm. "You're so sweet. We should do...something. Sometime."
"We can have a picnic at Lake Hylia. It's really nice this time of year."
"Come on guys!" Solo shouted from the kitchen. "The food is getting cold!"
Malon rushed toward the kitchen. "We'd better get there before she eats the whole thing." Link, Zelda, and Malon rushed into the kitchen, with Railan and Lily following behind. In the scant few moments Solo had been in the kitchen, she'd taken the stew off the stove and had filled bowls for everyone.
"You people are too slow," Solo said in mock annoyance. "It's food time." Solo eagerly began devouring her food while the others ate at a more leisurely pace. In the time it had taken everyone to take a few bites, Solo had already finished one bowl and filled a second. "This is really good, Malon. You spoil me too much."
"Just don't overeat and get sick again," Malon admonished. Solo nodded and slowed her pace.
"Remember how I told you that Link ate a whole turkey?" Zelda asked Lily. She nodded. "It was because Solo here did it, and Link decided he had to eat an even bigger turkey to prove that he couldn't be outdone by a girl."
"And I won," Link said triumphantly. He grinned proudly.
"He has an unhealthy need to win at everything," Railan said matter-of-factly.
"And I always do," Link countered. "Eventually."
Zelda snickered. "You know that shooting gallery in the Castle Town?" Zelda asked Lily. She nodded. "Well, years ago he beat the game repeatedly. He won so much that the owner wouldn't let him win prizes anymore. So not too long ago the gallery owner added a newer, much harder game. He designed it specifically to challenge Link."
"And guess who won again?" Link said smugly.
"Yeah, but it took you three weeks of playing nonstop for twelve hours a day to beat it. No normal person does that."
"I don't think that matters. None of you are normal anyways," Railan commented. The others just rolled their eyes at him.
Lily laughed at the comments. "Come on, they can't be that bad. You're all so...interesting."
"It's a little more than 'interesting,'" Railan added. "When you meet a new friend and then you're suddenly whisked away thousands of years into the future to fight goddesses-knows-who, and then sent millions of years into the past to kill a guy who existed in the present but was reincarnated, then you die and are brought back to life by the goddesses themselves, then you can tell me it was interesting."
"Oh..." Lily said quietly. She turned to Zelda. "I thought you were exaggerating."
Zelda shook her head. "That was just one adventure that I didn't even participate in."
Railan pointed at Lily. "It'll happen to you. You just wait. I wouldn't trade my friends for anyone else in the world, but just be prepared for when it happens."
Lily looked confused and a little wary. "But everyone came out okay, right? A little adventure might be fun."
Railan's annoyed demeanor softened. He simply couldn't resist Lily's naive charm. "Yeah, I guess it wasn't so bad. If anything happens, being with you will make it much more tolerable."
Solo gagged on her mouthful of food. "Oh come on! You've known each other for two days and you're already acting like total saps. I see enough of that from Link and Zelda."
Railan gave Solo an annoyed look. "And who's the one who hired a six-man flute band to play romantic songs all day for Malon's birthday?"
Solo blushed. "It seemed like a good idea at the time."
"It scared the crap out of the horses. Literally. I had to clean it all up."
Lily stared at the group, dumbfounded. She'd never met such an unusual group of people. Zelda leaned over and whispered to her, "Don't worry, you'll get used to it. After a week or two, this will all be normal. I promise."
Keizen awoke feeling confused and disoriented. Whatever teleportation Majora had used felt far different than what he was used to. He sat up and opened his eyes, waiting for them to focus properly. What he saw was an immense forest, thick with trees. The slowly setting sun was barely visible through the thicket. On the surface it seemed like every other forest he'd ever seen, but deep inside he had a sense of foreboding. There was something not quite right about this place, but he couldn't figure out why.
Keizen slowly got to his feet and looked around. Behind him was an enormous tree with a strange opening carved into it. He looked inside and saw a bottomless pit. "This must be the gateway Majora was talking about." Keizen backed away from the pit, with a sudden feeling of vertigo. He jumped off the ledge and sat on an old tree stump. He removed the map Majora had given him, and studied it quickly. He should be in the Lost Woods, part of the Kokiri Forest. Majora had warned him of the dangers lurking in the Lost Woods, but assured him that the abilities he'd be given would protect him.
Keizen began to plan the first stage of his heist. One of the stones he needed to steal was a large emerald that resided somewhere in this forest. Majora had mentioned it being contained inside a large tree, that the forest inhabitants called the Great Deku Tree. He'd said it would be larger than any tree he'd ever seen. He somehow had to find this tree and the emerald contained within. The map Majora gave him showed a rough route to the main part of the forest, where he could find this Deku Tree.
He wandered through the forest, trying to get his bearings. That unnerving feeling that gnawed at him didn't want to go away. Each noise and rustle of leaves made him stop and examine his surroundings. He could hear the woodland creatures scurrying about, but couldn't see anything. This place gives me the creeps. The loud cry of a wolf startled Keizen. He turned around to see a huge, wolf-like creature staring at him from a dozen yards away. The creature growled and displayed its fangs before suddenly charging him. Reacting unconsciously, Keizen vanished from the path of the wolf's charge and reappeared some distance away. The wolf stopped, confused, and turned to see where its prey had gone. Seeing its target once more, the wolf charged again. In a fluid motion Keizen extended his arm and use his sheer force of will to propel the offending creature away from him. The creature flew through the air and let out a startled yelp as it hit a tree. Startled and stunned, the creature ran off into the forest. Keizen breathed a sigh of relief.
He decided that trudging through this forest on foot would get him nowhere. He focused his mind and teleported himself hundreds of yards away, to a location at the end of his line of sight. He repeated his jaunts until he finally came to a clearing. Off in the distance he could see a small village dotted with tiny houses. He knew this village to be the home of his double from this world, so he was definitely going in the right direction. As he reached the border of the village, Keizen used his newfound abilities to make himself vanish. Although no one could see him, they could still hear his movements, so he had to tread carefully.
Keizen cautiously entered the little village, on the lookout for anyone who could detect him. It was nearing dusk, and few of the town's inhabitants were out and about. Keizen sneaked past a couple houses and stopped suddenly when a child walked directly into his path. The child was a young girl, wearing strange green clothes that resembled Link's. Feeling some sort of presence, the girl stopped and looked around her. The fairy that floated above her head fluttered about, trying to see what had interested the girl. Keizen remained completely still, holding his breath and trying not to make a noise. "Do you hear something?" the girl asked her fairy.
The fairy rested on the girl's shoulder and replied, "No, Hoshi. There's no one there. You're imagining things again."
The girl nodded, satisfied with the answer. "Yeah, you're probably right." The girl turned and walked away, going about her business. When she'd gone far enough away Keizen slowly let out the breath he'd been holding. That was too close. Off in the distance he saw an impossibly tall tree poking through a rocky grove. That had to be what he was looking for. Keizen decided to not risk walking through the rest of the village, so he teleported himself to where he thought the tree lay. He'd miscalculated slightly, and reappeared a few feet above the ground.
Majora had been right about the size of this tree. It was massive in every possible way. The tree towered above the forest, soaring so high that he wondered how a tree this large could even exist. The arrangement of bark on the front of the tree made it look as if it had a human face, an idea that made him shudder. However, upon closer inspection, Keizen now wondered if he had in fact found the right tree. Although it matched the description Majora had given him, the tree itself appeared to be dead. The trunk was pale and lifeless, and its branches were totally bare of leaves. Not so great anymore, are you? A short distance in front of the dead tree was a much smaller tree, which was nothing more than an oddly-shaped sapling. Keizen approached the sapling, eyeing it curiously. ﾠThe sapling also had a strange, creepy-looking face. There was something different about the smaller tree. He sensed some sort of presence there, as if someone was watching him.
"Theft will get you nowhere, young man," said a strange, slightly masculine voice. Keizen frantically looked around him for the source of the voice, but found none. "You are above that."
Keizen wondered who had seen him, considering that he was still invisible. He felt silly for thinking it, but he could have sworn the voice was coming from the tiny tree in front of him. Since he'd obviously been detected, Keizen willed himself to be visible again. He approached the tiny sapling, really nothing more than a sprout, and eyed it curiously. "Trees can't talk," Keizen said defiantly.
"This one can," replied the sprout. "Don't think for a moment that just because I'm not as large as I used to be that I have no power at all. Unfortunately, I can't physically stop you, so go right ahead and take what you want."
Keizen looked dumfounded. Not only was a tree talking to him, it seemed to know what he wanted. And it was willing to give it to him. "Who are you, and how do you know what I want?" asked Keizen.
The tree replied, "I know your counterpart from this world. Regardless of what events in your world have caused you to be the man you are today, I have no fear that my prized possession will not return to me in time, unharmed. I do not wish for you to harm my children, and only ask that you take what you want and go."
A brilliant, blinding flash of light appeared in front of the huge dead tree and coalesced into a shining, green gem. The emerald, bordered in shining gold, glowed with an ethereal green light. Keizen hesitantly walked over to the gem, which floated freely a few feet above the ground. He reached out and grabbed it, holding it protectively. It couldn't possibly be this easy, could it? "Why?" asked Keizen.
"My wayward cousin from your world has plans for these special gems, but he won't succeed. His anger has blinded him from the truth. I wish to cause no harm to anyone, and it is simply easier for you to discover on your own that the path you have chosen is the wrong one. A stubborn man such as yourself will not listen to someone like me. So leave this place, and do not return. But be warned, the owners of the other gems will not give them to you so kindly as I have. I only hope that you will come to see the error of your ways. Now be gone."
Keizen felt a sudden, jarring sensation similar to the feeling of teleportation. His forest surroundings blurred and dissolved around him to be replaced with an open field. Somehow that tree, or whatever it was, had sent him out of the forest and into the open plain of Hyrule Field. Keizen still clutched the Kokiri Emerald tightly in his hand, wondering if this was actually real. He smiled greedily, astonished that he'd completed the first part of his mission with no effort at all. He really didn't care what that stupid tree had said. He would complete his mission, get his reward, and damn the consequences. But he had to be more cautious now. Someone, or something, knew what he was up to, and it would undoubtedly tell others. He had to hurry to fetch the other gems before their owners could be warned.
Link had finally returned home after a long day with his friends. Although he enjoyed being with them, Zelda's antics had the tendency to tire him quickly. Now he could finally sleep and prepare himself for the sword-fighting class he had to teach tomorrow. Link walked Epona through the entrance of the Kokiri Forest, leading her toward the stable he'd constructed years earlier. He'd arrived home at nearly midnight, and the inhabitants of the Kokiri Forest were undoubtedly asleep in their homes. Link led Epona to her stable, but didn't close the door, knowing all too well that she didn't like to be locked up. The nights of incessant neighing had led him to leave Epona's stable open so she could wander around as she pleased.
When Link climbed up the ladder to his house, he was startled to see his lamps lit. Saria was sitting on his bed with a worried expression on her face. "I'm so glad you're home," she said, running to hug him.
Link didn't like the expression on Saria's face. "What's wrong? Did something happen?"
Saria shook her head. "I'm not sure, but the Deku Tree said he wanted to see you as soon as you got back. He said it was important."
The memories of his very first adventure flew through Link's head. The Deku Tree had only ever summoned him once, and that had led to the bizarre series of circumstances that had made him the man he was today. He wondered what could be so important that the Deku Tree, or more accurately its new incarnation, would summon him this late at night. "It's probably nothing," Link said, trying to reassure Saria. But his tone betrayed his discomfort. The Deku Tree wouldn't request to see him unless something was desperately wrong. "Don't worry, I'll take care of it. Go on back home. I'll go see what's the matter." Saria kissed him on the cheek and left.
Link took a deep breath and tried to calm himself. He left his house and walked the short distance to the Deku Tree's grove. The dead husk of the old tree towered over the tiny sprout that now lived in its place. After his time travelling adventure had been complete, the original Deku Tree had remained dead. But several years later, much earlier than the original future he'd seen, the new sprout had emerged from the ground. The Kokiri were overjoyed that their guardian had returned to them. But Link wasn't surprised at all; he knew it would happen eventually.
Link stopped in front of the sprout and bowed respectfully. "What do you wish of me, O Great Deku Tree?" Link said formally, remembering the words he'd been trained to say as a child if he were to ever speak to the guardian of the forest.
"It is good to see you again, Link," said the sprout. "I wish I could say that all is well, but unfortunately it is not. My precious emerald has been taken."
"What?" Link blurted in surprise. "How could that possibly happen? It's too protected."
"I gave it away," the sprout replied nonchalantly.
Link blinked in confusion. Why would the Deku Tree give away the gem that was sacred to his people? A sudden twinge of jealousy fluttered through Link's heart. Who else other than him could even be worthy of it? "I mean no disrespect, but why would you do such a thing?"
"Everything happens for a reason, Link. Even this. The one who wanted it was meek, but had the potential for much violence. I don't believe he would resort to that, but it was far easier to simply give him what he wanted. I did not wish to see any violence in this sacred place. I have no doubt that the emerald will return here in time. You need not worry."
"I'll go get it back for you," Link said confidently. "I won't let it get away. Who took it? I'll find him and we'll solve this before things get out of hand."
"Link, I'm afraid that things have already gotten out of hand. The fact that this man was in this world at all shows that someone else behind the scenes is planning something dreadful."
"Who was it? Who did this?" Link really hated the riddles that the so-called higher beings told him. For once he would like to have a straight answer.
"It was you, Link. Or rather, your counterpart from the other world. He was here. And if he was here, then something not quite right is happening in that world. I cannot see what is happening in that world unless I leave this place, and my place is here."
"My counterpart?" Link asked, slightly confused. "Do you mean from Termina?" He remembered many of the familiar faces in Hyrule had exact doubles in the strange world of Termina, but they all had different names and different lives. "I never saw another version of myself in Termina. No one there ever recognized me or called me by another name. I assumed that I didn't have a double there."
"You apparently do. It's quite possible that no one you met had ever met him. The problem is that he's here. I sensed much confusion and anger in him, but not evil. He is being misled by another powerful being into doing its bidding. I fear that simple greed is the man's sole motivation. His better judgment has been clouded."
"Who in that world would be misleading him?" asked Link.
"There are many there who would tamper with poor mortals, just as there are those here. I don't know for sure. It could be one of many. I believe you are destined to travel to that world once again, if not merely to save the soul of your brother. Unfortunately, this man has been given powers that far exceed yours. He can be very dangerous if he chooses to be. I would recommend against confronting him directly."
Link couldn't help but wonder about this mysterious double of his. What kind of life had the man lived to make him resort to robbery? If this man truly was him from another world, perhaps he could simply talk to him. Link was sure he could figure out something to do. "I need to warn the Gorons and the Zoras about this. If I can stop him from stealing the other stones, it'll be that much easier."
"I fear you may not have the time. He will be able to sneak into those places and steal the stones before you will even be able to get there. Instead you should prepare yourself for travel to Termina. Once you arrive there, others will be able to help you."
"Others? What do I have to do? Can't you give me some idea of what I'm doing?"
"You must retrieve the Spiritual Stones, that much I know. As for the rest, the ones there will inform you. They will be people you trust. But I do not know what you must do exactly. My ties to the other world are weak, and will not reform for some time. I am still growing back into this world, and at the moment I have little access to my old knowledge. I don't want to risk damaging this world by growing too quickly. It will take some time, and you do not have enough of it. I trust you Link, as I trusted you before. Your courage will get you through this, as it always has. I believe in you."
"Thank you," Link said humbly. Hearing kind words from the being he had respected and revered for so long helped his confidence. "I won't let you down."
"Of that I have no doubt. Now go to your friends and tell them what you must do."
Link nodded and left the Deku Tree's grove. He hurried over to Saria's house, hoping she hadn't fallen asleep yet. As he expected, all her lamps were lit and she was sitting at her table waiting for him. "I had a feeling you'd still be up."
"The Deku Tree doesn't summon people for petty reasons," said Saria. She remembered the first time Link had talked to the Deku Tree, and how nervous he'd been about his mission to save Hyrule. But this time he didn't seem nervous at all. He seemed content with his duties. "What's happening?"
"Someone stole the emerald." Saria's eyes went wide with shock, but Link continued before she could say anything. "The Deku Tree said it was...me who took it. Or, it was some other me from that other world of Termina."
Saria remembered the stories Link told her when he returned from his journey to the parallel universe, how he met so many people there who were seemingly exact duplicates of the people in Hyrule. "It makes sense in a certain way," said Saria, pondering the possibilities. "Maybe you just never saw him. I always wondered why you never found a counterpart to the Kokiri there. Maybe they were hidden, just like we are here."
"I need to at least tell Zelda where I'm going. And maybe if I get to the Zoras or Gorons before my double does, I can stop this all from happening. I don't know when I'll be back, though. Wish me luck."
Saria stood up and hugged Link tightly. "I know you'll be fine, but that won't stop me from worrying. Take care of yourself."
After his first successful heist, Keizen was giddy with anticipation for the second. His next stop was the domain of the Zoras, which housed the sapphire somewhere. He found that making many short teleportation jumps was much less tiring than even walking, so his journey to Zora's Domain took very little time. The dark, nearly moonless night made his cover far more effective. He wanted to avoid using his invisibility trick unless absolutely necessary, as it was extremely tiring.
Many short jaunts later, Keizen found himself at the source of Zora's River. An immense waterfall obscured the passageway that he was sure existed on the other side. Taking a deep breath and hoping for the best, Keizen jaunted himself to the other side of the waterfall. He breathed a sigh of relief when he didn't materialize into solid rock. He slowly crept through the rocky passageway and stared in awe at the beauty of the Zoras' home. He could imagine this place being a wonderful vacation spot if he didn't have more important things to do.
Keizen crept his way along the cliffs surrounding the clear blue water of Zora's Domain, constantly on the lookout for anyone who could see him. The Zoras from his world slept at night like any other species, so he didn't expect many people to be awake at this hour. Now all he had to do was find the Zora princess, Ruto, who had possession of the stone he sought. He knew that this female Zora was the double of the popular singer Lulu in his world, so identifying her would not be much of a problem. He only hoped that stealing the gem would be as easy as it was in the Kokiri Forest. Still, he'd heard horror stories about fights with Zoras and their razor-sharp fins.
Keizen wandered the domain, trying to figure out where the Zora princess would sleep. He crept up the winding cliff faces and into another large, watery area. He nearly gasped in shock when he saw the largest, fattest Zora he'd ever seen. The Zora king sat atop his watery throne, snoring loudly. Behind the sleeping king was a passageway secured by a gate. Keizen quickly teleported to the other side, turning to make sure he hadn't woken the sleeping king. Keizen walked slowly through the ankle-deep water, trying to make as little noise as possible.
The area he emerged into looked like a shrine of some sort. In the darkness of night, he could make out a gigantic fish resting near a dock. At the foot of the dock he saw a Zora woman kneeling in front of the fish. Although his vision wasn't perfect in the darkness, he suspected that the figure kneeling in front of the fish was the Zora princess he sought. And around the woman's neck was a gem that he suspected was the sapphire he coveted. Keizen quietly slinked towards the figure.
Princess Ruto gently placed her offering of a fish in front of Lord Jabu-Jabu. It was unusual for others to give him an offering at nighttime, but she had made a habit of it. She enjoyed the quiet solitude of night instead of the busy parade of supplicants usually there during the daytime. Jabu-Jabu did not seem very interested in the fish tonight, however. Normally he would open his gaping maw to gladly accept her nightly offering, but today he remained still and silent. He seemed pensive, if this creature could actually be so. "Lord Jabu-Jabu, I brought your favorite tonight," said Ruto to the great creature. "Aren't you hungry?" Jabu-Jabu simply stared in response. "I guess not. I'll leave this here for you just in case you want a midnight snack." Ruto stood and turned around, deciding to go home for the night. But when she turned around she froze, startled. An intruder, possibly a human, stood some distance away at the entrance of the shrine. She wondered who could possibly be here at this hour, let alone a non-Zora. Ruto cautiously approached the figure. Zoras weren't known for their ability to see in the dark, so she could barely recognize the figure from that far away. As she walked closer she saw that a Hylian man was standing there. The man seemed familiar, and as she came closer she recognized Link's face. The only strange thing was the clothes he was wearing; she'd never seen him outside of his Kokiri clothing. "Link is that you?"
The figure in the darkness smiled sinisterly. "Not quite," replied Keizen.
Ruto stopped walking, suddenly fearful at the man's tone. The voice sounded exactly like Link's, but this wasn't Link. "Who are you?" she asked menacingly. Before she could call out for the guards, the man suddenly vanished and reappeared behind her. Keizen grabbed onto Ruto tightly and covered her mouth with his hand.
"Scream and you'll regret it," Keizen whispered. This definitely wasn't Link. She attempted to struggle but the man's grip was too tight. She only wished she could get to the water where she could swim to safety. Keizen kept his grip on Ruto and quickly turned her to face him. He removed his hand from her mouth and gripped at her neck instead. Ruto thought about screaming, but the look in the man's eyes scared her enough to remain quiet. "Don't make a sound, or I'll rip your gills out."
Ruto glared at the man defiantly. "You're not Link. Who are you? What do you want?"
Keizen eyed the Zora's Sapphire dangling from her necklace. "I want this." In the blink of an eye, Keizen snapped the sapphire from the chain and pocketed it. Before Ruto could protest, he covered her mouth again and slammed her to the ground. A sudden loud splashing from behind startled Keizen, and he turned around, accidentally releasing his grip on Ruto.
She quickly jumped away and screamed for the guards as loud as she could. Near the dock the huge figure of Jabu-Jabu opened its mouth and let out an ear-splitting roar. Keizen took that as a cue to quickly teleport away to safety. Ruto stood there, dumbfounded. Everything had happened so quickly that she was having trouble coping. A few moments later several armed guard emerged from the water and ran frantically toward their princess. "It's too late," Ruto said sadly.
"What happened, Your Highness?" asked one of the guards.
"Someone stole the sapphire. He looked like Link butﾅwasn't. It wasn't him, it was somebody who looked like him. I have no idea where he came from. He seemed to come from nowhere and vanished into thin air. Send word to Hyrule Castle immediately that I wish to speak to Link, the real one. Princess Zelda will know how to contact him. If Link, or someone claiming to be Link, comes here, keep him under guard and bring him to me."
"But Princess, someone looking like him just attacked you," protested another guard.
"Don't question me," Ruto shot back. "I think I can tell the difference. Do as I say. I need to tell Link that there's someone running around pretending to be him." The guards nodded and left to perform their new tasks.
Ruto still felt shaken by her strange experience. Surely Link would never do anything to harm her; he was the kindest person she knew. And he would have no need to steal the Zora's Sapphire, she'd already willingly given it to him once. She was surprised when he returned it to her not long after she'd given it up. She'd kept it on a necklace ever since as a reminded of Link's generosity. She would have gladly let him keep it, but he insisted on returning it. Now she had to figure out why an impostor wanted the precious stone.
Link finally arrived at Hyrule Castle, after a frantic ride through Hyrule Field. Epona was exhausted by his insistent prodding to go faster. The guards stationed outside the walls were surprised to see Link arrive at such an hour. It was past midnight and the sun wouldn't rise for another few hours. "Sir Link, what seems to be the problem?" asked the guard.
Link seemed frantic with worry, but he hid it well. "I need to see the princess. It's a bit of an emergency. Could you open the bridge for me?"
The guards had been under orders for years to allow Link free passage in and out at any time of day, but he'd never done so in the middle of the night. "I need to know your password for entry," said the guard formally.
Link racked his brain trying to think of the password he'd been given for just such an occasion. "It'sﾅlet me think. Oh! It's 'Impa is no fun.'"
The guard smirked and nodded. That phrase had been Zelda's idea. The guard blew three sharp tones into his whistle and a few moments later the drawbridge began to lower. "I hope nothing's the matter, sir," said the guard.
"I'm not sure about that yet," replied Link. He hopped onto the still moving drawbridge and ran in toward the castle. "Watch my horse for me, will you?" he shouted back toward the guard. Epona stared at the guard for a moment, then wandered off to take a nap somewhere.
Link frantically ran through the castle town and toward the castle itself. The guards at the gates saw him and wondered what was going on. He flashed his pass at them and the opened the gates. He squeezed through the crack of the opening and ran through the main grounds. After checking with the numerous confused guards, Link finally made it into the castle.
Link jogged through the corridors and up the stairs towards Zelda's room. The guards stationed outside the princess's quarters gave him a confused look. "What seems to be the problem?"
"I need to see Zelda right away, and I'm in a hurry." The guards knew better than to question Link's motives. If the princess had ever found out that they hassled him, there would be hell to pay. An angry princess was something no one wanted to deal with. The guards nodded and Link quickly flung open the door to Zelda's room.
Zelda was sleeping peacefully in her bed, oblivious to the commotion outside. Link approached Zelda's bed and gently shook her. "Zelda, Zelda. It's me, Link. You need to wake up."
Zelda groaned and stirred, wondering what was going on. She opened her eyes to see Link hovering over her. She looked at him, confused, and said the first thing that came to her mind, "Oh, Link. Did you decide to take me up on my offer of a little midnight tryst?"
Link was thankful that she couldn't see him blush. "Actually, it's not that. There's a bit of a problem."
Zelda got out of bed and went to light a lamp so she could see better. The worry on Link's face was evident. He'd never come to the castle in the middle of the night unannounced, and she wondered what could possibly make him do so. "What's wrong? Did somebody die?"
"Huh? Oh no, it's not that. Remember that journey I went on right after the whole Ganondorf thing?"
"The one in Termina?" She remembered the bizarre stories she'd told about the people there.
"Yes. It seems that the me from that world is here, and he's trying to steal the Spiritual Stones. He already took the Kokiri Emerald."
"You mean you had a double there? I thought you said you never saw a version of yourself. Or me, for that matter."
"Just because I never saw him doesn't mean he doesn't exist," Link said. "He's obviously real. And he's going after the other stones. I have to go stop him before he causes more trouble."
Zelda sighed in resignation. Trouble always found Link. She was no longer surprised when he had to go on some special journey. "What if he's doing it for some good reason, like you did?"
"The Deku Tree seemed to think he wanted it for evil purposes. I have to take his word on that."
"But you're a good person. Why would your double be evil? That doesn't make any sense."
Link shrugged his shoulders. "Who knows? Maybe he isn't evil. Maybe he'd doing it out of greed. I don't know. But I have to find out, and I need to stop him. I just wanted to let you know before I left. I hope you'll tell everyone else. And I'm supposed to teach a class tomorrow, can you send someone over to the University to tell them I won't be there? And tell Solo I might not be there for dinner tomorrow."
Zelda sighed, exasperated. "Link! I'm not going to let you run around on some dangerous journey all by yourself. I'll help you. Our friends will help you. You just need to let us."
Link shook his head. "No, I'm not putting anyone in danger again. I got Solo and Railan killed and it was only by the power of the Goddesses themselves that we're here today. I won't risk anyone else. I'll be fine. I'm always fine. You can't argue with results."
Zelda crossed her arms and grumbled. He had a point. "Fine. I'll let everyone know, but you better watch out for yourself. Where are you going?"
"I'm going to Zora's Domain first to warn them. Then I'll go to Goron City. Hopefully I can stop this before it gets out of hand." Link hugged Zelda tightly and kissed her passionately. "I'm going to do my duty, and then we can go back to arguing about table settings for the wedding."
Zelda tried not to be upset. She knew this would happen again, eventually. "Be safe."
"I will." Link kissed Zelda one more time and ran off. She sighed again. I guess I can forget sleeping tonight, she thought. Since she wasn't going to be able to fall asleep again, Zelda decided to go down to the kitchen and try to make a cup of tea. She really didn't feel like bothering the cook. Zelda, still wearing her nightgown, left her room and wandered down the hall. She stopped when she saw Impa standing just outside the door of her own room.
"Something I should know about?" asked Impa, raising an eyebrow. Impa was wearing her normal clothes, and didn't look like she'd just gotten out of bed.
"Do you ever sleep?" asked Zelda.
"Not when Link decides to come here in the middle of the night, unannounced. What's going on?"
Zelda explained everything to Impa, hoping that she could offer some sage advice.
Link wandered up the path of Zora's River, hurrying toward the home of the Zora people. He hoped that his double hadn't gotten there and caused trouble yet. When Link reached the secret entrance to Zora's Domain, he was startled to see several guards standing there. They eyed him curiously and pointed their sharp spears at him. "Oh no," said Link. "He's been here, hasn't he?"
One of the guards cautiously approached Link, sporting a highly-decorated but still deadly dagger. The guard felt suspicious after hearing about a strange doppelganger of Link running around, but the familiar sight of Link's green clothing made him feel slightly more at ease. "If you are referring to the man masquerading as Sir Link of the Kokiri, then you are correct. Are you the real Link?"
"Of course I am," Link replied as if it were obvious. But then he felt stupid because a man who looked just like him had just been here. Although he was armed with his sword, shield, bow, and several daggers, Link made no move to wield them. "Please, Princess Ruto will know who I am. Just let me see her."
"That is exactly what I intend to do. But first I must ask you to disarm yourself." Link grudgingly agreed and slowly placed his weapons on the ground. The other guards each took one of his weapons and held the away from him. "Come with me," the guard said, leading Link into Zora's Domain.
Princess Ruto paced incessantly around her room, waiting for some word about Link. She figured it would probably be the next day before he got there, but knowing him, he could be here at any moment. Then there was a knock at her door. She opened it and saw the Captain of the Guard, along with several of his men. In the middle of the throng of Zora guards was an obviously annoyed, but complacent Link. Ruto motioned for the guards to move out of her way. She approached Link, or the man who looked like Link, and eyed him curiously. He was wearing the familiar green clothes that she remembered. This had to be the real Link. The impostor couldn't be so stupid as to return here. "Is that you? Prove yourself."
"Yes, princess. I'm sad to see that my double has already been here. But I assure you, it's really me." He tried to think of something only he and Ruto would know. Then it came to him. "I'm sorry that your engagement ring was stolen. I guess we can't get married after all."
Ruto's face flushed a pale blue. It was definitely the real Link. "Guards, let him go and give his weapons back." The guards did as they were told. "Now leave us. Come on Link, we need to talk." Ruto led Link down a few paths and towards her private office. Link was surprised to see that it was rather dry for a typical Zora's taste. Although they could survive just fine in air or water, most Zoras tended to prefer a wetter environment. She motioned for Link to sit in one of the leather chairs. "You know, that whole 'Zora engagement ring' idea was just a joke. I like you, but I never intended to marry you. Besides, I think Zelda would be a little jealous. But down to business." She explained her encounter with Link's double, and how he'd stolen her sapphire. "Everything happened so fast, and then he just vanished into thin air."
Link raised an eyebrow. He'd been practicing his latent teleportation abilities for years, but had yet to master it. He wondered if he ever would. "I wonder what other abilities he has. Are you all right, did he hurt you?"
Ruto shook her head. "No, I'm fine. Just a little shaken up, that's all. He threatened me, but didn't really hurt me. He seemed a little reluctant to cause any real harm."
"Then maybe there's hope for him yet. I'm sorry this had to happen. I hoped that I would get here before he stole the sapphire."
"It's not your fault, don't blame yourself. But since he's gone and taken the sapphire already, you should hurry to Goron City. I wish you luck."
Link rose and bowed his head. "Thank you, princess. I promise I'll bring your sapphire back."
Keizen had one more stop before he could return home to claim his riches. However, he worried about how difficult stealing the ruby from the Gorons would be. Although they were usually a gentle people, they could crush rocks with their bare hands, and he didn't want one of them to do that to his head. The early morning twilight highlighted the towering form of Death Mountain, where he was headed to next. He effortlessly teleported himself across Hyrule Field, and toward the base of the mountain.
As he entered Kakariko Village, he saw some of the early-risers milling about. No one paid him any mind as he walked toward the gate that lead to the Death Mountain Trail. Making sure no one noticed him, Keizen teleported to a point far beyond the gate. He gazed up the steep trail, thankful that he didn't have to walk up it. But when he attempted to jaunt to the top of the trail, nothing happened. He took a deep breath, concentrated, and tried again. He didn't move. Suddenly he wondered if he was possibly using his teleportation abilities too much. It wasn't tiring at all, and Majora had made no mention of the possibility of overusing his abilities. Keizen looked at the boulder beside him and willed it to move. Slowly but surely, the boulder rose from the ground and hovered in mid-air. He released his mental grip on it and it came crashing to the ground.
So he could still move things with his mind, but he couldn't teleport. This might make things a little more difficult. But still, Keizen was confident that his other abilities would still protect him. He muttered to himself and began to climb the steep trail. After only a few days with the ability to teleport, he'd forgotten how taxing climbing a hill was. But it would all be worth it to live a life of luxury.
After climbing nearly halfway up the trail, Keizen paused to catch his breath. He rested for a moment and continued on his way. As he walked up the trail, he heard a strange rumbling noise coming from farther ahead. In the distance he saw what appeared to be a boulder rolling down the trail. He quickly jumped out of the way as the boulder flew past him. It wasn't until it passed that he realized the boulder was a Goron. "I guess I'm headed in the right direction." Keizen continued walking, keeping an eye out for any more errant Gorons.
Finally, after what seemed like an eternity of climbing, Keizen reached the summit of the trail. He noticed a Goron happily tending to a patch of bomb flowers. The Goron noticed Keizen and happily trudged toward him. The Goron opened his arms and smiled. "Link the Dodongo Slayer! It's been a long time! How have you been?" The Goron pounded Keizen hard on the shoulder, intending it as a friendly pat.
Keizen had no choice but to play along. "I'm just uhﾅvisiting. It has been quite a while since I've been here."
The Goron nodded agreeably. "Yes, that's true. You should visit more often. I'm sure Darunia will be overjoyed to see you. Shall I tell him you're here?"
Keizen searched his memory for the name Darunia. Then he realized that was the name of the leader of the Gorons. Link truly did have an eclectic group of friends. Keizen tried to act casually, so as not to arouse suspicion. Hopefully no one had yet warned the Gorons about his thievery. He knew it was only a matter of time until the real Link found out about what he was doing. "Oh, no. You don't need to do that. I'll find him on my own. I know those bomb flowers need careful care. I should let you go back to your work."
"So true, brother!" laughed the Goron, striking Keizen in the shoulder once again. "Why, just last week I accidentally set one off and it blew up my lunch. I worked so hard for that delicious rock. Well, I'll let you go on your way. Take care, brother."
"You do the same," replied Keizen. He walked toward the entrance to Goron City, relieved that the Goron hadn't detected his ruse. That Goron obviously didn't know Link very well, or he would have sensed the deception. He entered the city and was slightly disappointed. It was far less ornate than the Gorons' home in Termina. He looked around, checking if there was anyone around. The city seemed quite deserted at this hour, and he couldn't see any Gorons wandering about. Then Keizen's eyes locked onto his prize. Suspended near the top of the cavern was the Goron Ruby, casting a warm, red glow throughout the city. This gem was by far the most beautiful of the three.
Because his teleportation abilities no longer worked, he had to climb the precarious ropes that suspended the ruby's platform. Making sure no one saw him, Keizen grabbed onto the ropes and climbed toward his prize. The ropes swayed slightly, almost causing him to lose his grip. But Keizen persisted, and he reached the platform no worse for wear. He stared at the glowing ruby for a few moments before finally grabbing it. He looked around the city, still not seeing anyone around. Keizen climbed the rope again and returned to solid ground. That was easier than I thought it would be. He stuffed the gem into his pocket and turned to walk away.
A sudden rumbling came from the distance and Keizen saw a Goron rolling toward him. He considered running away, but realized that the Goron would easily be able to catch up with him. Maybe he could bluff his way through this encounter. The Goron stopped a few feet in from of Keizen and stood to its full height. He couldn't help but stare in awe at the monstrous Goron standing before him. The gigantic figure of Darunia was by far the most massive one Keizen had ever seen. Darunia smiled and pounded Keizen on the shoulder. "My brother! It's good to see you again."
"Um...same here," Keizen replied nervously. "I was just visiting, but then I realized that I forgot something important, so I need to go..."
Darunia's attention suddenly went from him to the platform that once held the Goron's Ruby. It was missing. He eyed Keizen suspiciously. "I see. So you're the one to be on the lookout for."
Keizen faked an expression of confusion. "I'm not sure what you mean."
"News travels fast," Darunia growled. Before Keizen could even move, Darunia seized him with a vice-like grip. Keizen attempted to struggle, but Darunia's bear-hug left him with very little chance for movement. Darunia was nothing short of an immovable boulder. "Did you think I would not be able to tell the difference between my sworn brother and an impostor? Link the Dodongo Slayer is not a petty thief like yourself." Darunia rifled through Keizen's pockets and retrieved the three Spiritual Stones. "I see you've been busy." Keizen attempted to speak, but Darunia knocked him on the back the head. "Silence! You will be allowed to speak at your trial. But first we need to return what you've stolen to their rightful owners. I believe a nice shaming is in order for you."
Keizen squirmed fruitlessly, racking his brain for any possible method of escape. His teleportation abilities didn't seem to work on Death Mountain, for some odd reason. Keizen closed his eyes and tried to focus on going anywhere but here. He could almost feel the tingling sensation of vanishing, but nothing happened. Darunia grinned at Keizen. "Do you think me a fool? Your magic powers won't work here. The ores inside the mountain make an excellent shield. Even Link himself had trouble practicing here. But he succeeded because he has a pure heart. You have the heart of a scoundrel. But perhaps I should show mercy. We'll wait until my brother arrives, and see what he thinks."
Keizen groaned and finally surrendered. He honestly wondered what the real Link would do with him. But at the moment, he would do anything to be free of Darunia's crushing grip.
Link hurriedly dismounted Epona inside Kakariko Village, leaving her to fend for herself. The gate to the Death Mountain Trail was open and he rushed past the guard without a word. He hurried up the trail as fast as he could, hoping to get to Goron City to warn them about the impending theft of their precious stone. He was breathing hard and sweating profusely from the exertion of climbing the hill so quickly. He wanted to stop and rest, but his mission was too important. He plowed forward, pushing his exhaustion to the back of his mind.
Near the entrance to the city, he saw a familiar Goron tending to a patch of bomb flowers. The Goron looked at him strangely. "Link. Why did you change your clothes?"
Link looked on in shock. The impostor was already here. "Which way did he go? Did you see him come back out?" The Goron confusedly pointed toward the city. Link ran down the incline into Goron City and skidded to a halt before Darunia. He was tightly holding a man that looked just like Link.
"Brother! I'm glad you're here," said Darunia. "I think I've found our little problem."
Link stared at Keizen, amazed at the resemblance. The impostor looked so much like Link that it was as if he were staring into a mirror. But after careful inspection, he noticed many minor differences. The man wore garish clothing that Link would never dream of putting on. The man also appeared far less fit than Link; he was thin and had a physique much less toned than Link's. But the look in the man's eyes was what struck Link the most. He saw fear and loathing in those eyes, and expression he would never make. "Who are you?" asked Link.
Keizen was getting sick of that question. He spat in Link's face. "I'm not talking to you."
For a brief moment Link felt pity for this man. What could have possibly gone wrong in his doppelganger's life that would cause him to do something like this? "I know where you came from," Link added. "I know you're from Termina. I've been there, but I never met you." Link wanted to despise this man, but he couldn't bring himself to do it. Seeing his own face staring back at him disrupted any angry thoughts he would have had. "Why do this? Why come here and steal from my friends? What could possibly go wrong in your life that would lead you to this?"
"You don't know me!" Keizen shouted angrily. "What I do is none of your concern." He futilely tried to struggle against Darunia's iron grip.
"He's quite feisty," Darunia commented.
"What is your name?" asked Link. "At least tell me that."
Before he could stop himself, Keizen replied, "My name is Keizen."
"Well, Keizen, it seems that your little plan is over." Keizen growled and spat at Link again. Link wiped off his face and stared at the defiant Keizen. Now he saw sadness in the other man's eyes. Link's feeling of pity nearly overwhelmed him. That was the same look Solo had given him when they first met. "You're a thief because you're poor and homeless, aren't you? I've seen it before."
Keizen willed his expression to harden. He didn't want to acknowledge the truth of Link's words. "He warned me about you," Keizen grumbled.
Link's curiosity was piqued. "Who warned you? Was it the one who sent you here? Because I ended up in your world by the actions of another, and it seems the same was true for you. Do you have any idea what these stones are, and why they're so important? You're dealing with powers I don't think you fully understand."
Keizen glowered. "I know exactly what I'm doing! I'm going to take these stones with me and get my reward. You're no match for me."
"I can help you," Link said sincerely. "Just let me. You don't have to resort to this."
A feeling of anger unlike anything he'd felt before bubbled inside Keizen. He wasn't going to let his double's false platitudes dissuade him from his goal. He had to focus and try to escape. He couldn't teleport here, because those abilities were somehow blocked. But he knew he could still move objects with his mind. Expending all the mental effort he could, Keizen slowly cause Darunia's grip to loosen. As soon as the pressure was released, Keizen ducked out of Darunia's grip and ran away. Darunia angrily pursued, but Keizen lashed out his arm and caused Darunia to fly backward and fall all the way to the bottom of the city. Darunia screamed angrily and began to make his way back to the top. Keizen saw his precious stones lying on the ground, and he quickly retrieved them before Link could stop him.
"Don't do this," Link begged. Keizen paid Link no mind and he quickly ran away. Keizen would have disabled Link, but Majora's warning about harming his double kept him from doing so. Link rushed after Keizen, hoping to stop him before he could leave the mountain. Link chased after him, dodging the boulders that Keizen effortlessly hurled toward him. Link took out his boomerang and hurled it toward Keizen. In a brief moment of inattention, the boomerang struck Keizen in the ankles, causing him to crash to the ground. Link quickly pounced on his double and held him tightly. "Think about this for a minute. I'll let you go home if you promise to give the stones back."
"Never!" shouted Keizen. He mentally flung Link off him and into the rocky wall. Keizen turned to run away again, but found his path blocked by a half-dozen angry Gorons. More surrounded him from the other end of the trail. He looked to his right at the sheer cliff face towering above him. To his left was a thousand-foot drop to the valley below. He had nowhere to go. Then an inspiration came to him. If he could use his abilities to move other objects, why not himself? He focused his thoughts and slowly began to levitate off the ground. He made an obscene gesture at his would-be captors and flung himself backwards off the cliff.
Link saw Keizen slowly float down towards the ground below. He had to catch him before he could leave the shielding of Death Mountain. Without thinking rationally, Link dived off the cliff. As he fell faster and faster, Link opened his arms and wrapped them tightly around Keizen. The sudden addition of another man's weight caused Keizen to lose his balance and tumble. Both men, clutched tightly together, accelerated. Keizen cried out when he saw the ground rushing up toward him. With one final push of his mind Keizen was able to slow their descent enough to prevent certain death.
The descent was far from controlled however, and both men came crashing to the ground, knocking the wind out of both of them. Keizen shakily rose to his feet and tried to run off, but Link, still on the ground, grabbed him by the ankles. "I won't let you get away," Link growled. Keizen kicked Link's arm away and backed away slowly. Link stood, brushed himself off, and stared at Keizen.
"You don't know when to quit," Keizen said, exasperated. Link jumped toward Keizen, but was stopped by an invisible force. "I should have let you fall to your death, but that would have killed me too." Keizen could feel something different in the fabric of his being. He could feel Link's latent abilities trying to come forth, and attempted to suppress them. "You can do it too, can't you? I can feel it. But I don't think you've quite mastered it."
"Stop this now," Link said. "It doesn't have to end like this."
Keizen smiled wryly. "Let's see you try to fight your way out of this." Keizen extended his hand toward Link, which began to glow a bright blue. He knew he could teleport other people and objects, and using Link's own abilities against him would make it far easier to jaunt him to another location. If he could send Link away, then he wouldn't be a problem anymore. He didn't particularly care where Link ended up, so he took no time to envision a specific destination.
Keizen extended his arm, palm outward, toward Link. Link saw a seething cloud of energy burst forth from Keizen's palm, heading right toward him. As the cloud engulfed him, the last think Link thought of were his friends and family. Then everything went white and he vanished.
Lily wondered exactly what was bothering Zelda so much this morning. When she'd reported to the castle for the day, Zelda had been frantic with worry, muttering incoherent things about Link and Spiritual Stones. Zelda had insisted on Lily following her to Lon Lon Ranch, where she had something important to say to her friends. Now that they'd arrived at the Ranch, Lily wondered if Zelda would finally explain what was bothering her so much. "I don't mean to be rude," began Lily, "but are you going to tell me what's going on? You seem worried."
"Just a minute, I want to get everyone together first," replied Zelda. She hurried around the ranch, trying to find her friends. She saw Railan in the distance, grooming one of the horses. She ran up to him and tapped him on the shoulder. "Railan, where's Solo and Malon? I have something important to say to everyone."
Railan saw the look of worry on Zelda's face and knew that she wasn't here for a social call. "I think they're still eating breakfast. Come on." Railan led the way to Solo and Malon's house, with Zelda and Lily following closely behind. He went to knock on the door, but stopped. "You do it, they won't pay any attention to me."
Zelda pounded on the door. "Hey! Are you two in there? It's important."
A few moments later Malon opened the door. "What's wrong?"
"It's about Link. I need to talk to all of you."
Malon ushered everyone into the house and sat them in the living room. Solo was nowhere to be seen. "Solo! Wake up, Zelda's here and she says it's important. It's about Link." Malon looked at her friends. "She wanted to sleep in today."
A minute later Solo emerged from the bedroom, bleary-eyed from sleep and still wearing her nightgown. She yawned widely and looked curiously at Zelda. "What are you doing her at this ungodly hour?" asked Solo.
"It's almost noon," Zelda said dryly. "Sit down. Everyone needs to listen to this. It seems that Link is in a bit of trouble."
Railan looked at Zelda quizzically. "Link doesn't have 'trouble,'" he said sarcastically. "He has full-blown catastrophes."
"Do you remember the story he told about that other world, called Termina?"
"Yes," Railan replied. "And if you're saying what I think you're going to say, I'm not going anywhere. One adventure was enough for me, thank you."
"None of us are going anywhere. But Link is, or he might. It depends on if he finds who he's looking for." Zelda explained everything that Link had told her to her friends. She told them about Link's mysterious double, and the theft of the Spiritual Stones. "And he's not sure if he'll be able to catch this guy in time. He might have to go back to that other world. He wanted everyone to know what he was doing."
"I'm sure he'll be fine," said Malon. "He always is."
"I'm curious to see what this other version of him is like," said Solo. "I bet he's a jerk, otherwise he wouldn't go around stealing Spiritual Stones."
Lily was the only person in the group who seemed startled by Zelda's revelation. Everyone else seemed to expect it. "Does this, uh, happen often?" asked Lily.
"Once is more than enough," Railan said with a hint of annoyance.
"It's been a couple years," said Zelda. "I think he's overdue for an adventure."
"Wow, you really weren't kidding," said Lily. She looked at Railan. "Didn't you say that you got dragged along with him last time?"
"Yes, but it wasn't really his fault. I'm just glad he had the decency to not get us involved this time. He can handle anything. And I can continue my normal life without being whisked off to some strange new world."
Zelda gasped suddenly, startling everyone in the room. "I think...I think there's something wrong. Link has to be in trouble." Zelda shuddered and started to sway. Lily grabbed her before she could stumble over. Zelda had never felt such a sense of danger and foreboding. "I have to go find him." But before she could move, and eerie blue glow surrounded her. The light expanded until it engulfed everyone and the house around them vanished. A sudden feeling of disorientation and nausea plagued everyone as the bright light blinded them. Then just as suddenly as the light appeared, it vanished. The house around them had disappeared and been replaced by a wide open field. But this field was unfamiliar to them. At the very center of the field was a large town, whose most prominent feature was a giant clock tower.
"Oh dammit! Not again!" shouted Railan, stomping his foot angrily. "Link did it again!"
"What?" asked Lily, still reeling from the effects of the sudden transition to a new world. "How did we end up here? Where are we?"
"Who knows?" Railan said, exasperated. "Maybe the future, the past, some other world. I swear, being friends with Link should come with an insurance policy."
"Maybe we should check out that town," Malon offered. The others seemed to agree, and followed her toward the foreign village.
Lily sidled up to Zelda and said, "Is this what you meant when you said Link was a magnet for trouble?"
"I'm so sorry, Lily. I didn't know this would happen, I swear. I'll pay you triple for this."
"Um, that's okay, I guess. But I just want to go home."
"Don't worry. We'll find a way. We always find a way."
Link awoke, feeling groggy and disoriented. One moment he was facing-off with his bizarre twin, and the next moment he was gone. He looked around and saw that he was lying in a nondescript alley. But something about this alley seemed familiar. He wandered into one of the main streets and saw the familiar surroundings of Clock Town. I never thought I'd see this place again, he mused. At first he wondered how he'd arrived here. He hadn't fallen through the mysterious gateway, and as far as he was concerned, that was the only way to get to Termina. But it seemed that his mysterious double's powers also included the ability to send other people to his home world.
Now that he was here, he had to find out what he needed to do. The Deku Tree had said that someone here would explain what was in store for him. He briefly wondered if he should try to find the mask salesman. That man had been far too knowledgeable about certain things to be just a simple salesman. But he had no idea where to find him.
Link wandered toward the center of the town, unconsciously heading toward the clock tower. Everything strange in Termina seemed to revolve around the clock tower. With a sudden feeling of dread, Link looked up toward the sky to make sure that the horrific moon wasn't hovering above. He was thankful that the moon wasn't visible. That's one less thing to worry about. He knew that he had to do something important; however he couldn't help but admire the town. It hadn't changed much in the several years since he'd been there, and he wondered if anyone would recognize him. He doubted it. Although he had made significant impacts on several people's lives, they probably wouldn't remember the strange boy who had come from afar and vanished mysteriously a few days later.
Link's musings were interrupted by familiar voices coming from the entrance of South Clock Town. He stopped and stared at what appeared to be the figures of his friends. Briefly he wondered if they were simply Termina's versions of his friends. But then again, what were the odds that the same people would be friends on this world as well? Link also saw that they were wearing familiar clothing, and behaving as he would expect. Link cautiously approached, and began to overhear the conversation they were having.
"I can't believe that Link did this to me again," Railan whined. "I don't know how you guys can put up with this!"
"You get used to it after a while," Solo said with a shrug.
"I think it's exciting," Lily said giddily. "Maybe we'll meet our other selves. I just hope they're not evil like Link's twin."
"I'm not evil," Solo said defensively.
Lily blushed. "No, not you. I meant...the other guy. The fake Link."
"Link!" Zelda shouted. The others turned to where Zelda was pointing and saw a man in familiar green clothes approaching them. At the sound of his name, Link ran over to the group. Zelda hugged him tightly and kissed him several times. "Linkie-pooh, I was so worried about you. I thought something terrible had happened, and..."
"How did you get here?" Link interrupted.
"We were about to ask you the same thing," Zelda replied. "What happened?"
"Well, I found Keizen being held by Darunia in Goron City..."
"Keizen?" asked Zelda.
"The other guy, the one who looks like me. Anyways, he was caught by Darunia after stealing their ruby. Then we had a fight, and he jumped off a cliff, so I jumped after him..."
"You jumped off a cliff?" Zelda exclaimed. "Are you insane?"
"No, it's okay. He could basically fly, so we ended up crashing to the ground without being hurt too bad."
"See, I told you he's crazy," Railan said to Lily.
Link glared at his friend and continued his story. "So anyways, he still had the Spiritual Stones, and I tried to talk to him, but somehow he sent me here. I woke up just a minute ago. But that doesn't explain how all of you are here."
"I don't know how it happened," said Zelda. "I was at Malon and Solo's house, explaining what you were doing, and suddenly I got this terrible feeling that you were hurt. Then there was this bright blue light and we woke up here."
Link seemed deep in thought for a moment. "Keizen shot some sort of blue light at me just before I wound up here. And the last thing I thought of was all of you. Maybe Keizen somehow connected with you and sent you here along with me. I don't know. This has never happened before."
Railan cleared his throat loudly. "Ahem. I think you're forgetting our little adventure through time."
Link dismissed the suggestion. "But that was time travel. This is different. This is just a parallel world."
"Oh, yeah, thanks Professor. I guess there are many subtle differences between being whooshed away to the future and whooshed away to a parallel universe."
"He's been complaining the entire time," Lily pointed out. "I think it's kind of cute."
Railan's expression softened. "Oh, but you're much cuter, honestly," said Railan.
"Why don't you two go on a date already?" Malon said in exasperation. "You've done nothing but talk about Lily since you met her."
Link decided to ignore the adoring looks Railan and Lily were giving each other and focus on the problem at hand. "I don't know why we're here, but I'm sure I'll figure it out. The Deku Tree said I'd meet someone here who would help be, but I'm not sure who. We should look around."
"Is there a restaurant or something?" asked Solo. "I haven't eaten yet." She looked down at herself and realized that she was still in her nightgown. "And maybe a clothing shop? Zelda, do you have any money? I didn't bring my purse."
Zelda reached into the purse on her belt and counted her rupees. "I didn't really think to bring much money. I have...about two hundred. Do they even use rupees here?"
Link got an idea. "Wait, hold on. Let me check something." He wandered off toward the western part of Clock Town, with the others following him blindly. Link was relieved to see the familiar banker he'd used to preserve his money across time jumps. "Hi there," he said to the banker. "It's been a while, and I don't know if you remember me, but..."
The banker leaned forward and touched Link's forehead. "Ah, yes. Link. I remember you. It's been a while. You've earned quite a bit of interest. Your balance is 10,243 rupees. I let you earn interest even though you're past the normal deposit limit. I was wondering when you'd drop by to collect. So, you wanna make a withdrawal? How much?"
Link decided to take out two thousand rupees. He had plenty to spare. The banker handed him his money and thanked him for the business. Everyone stared at him strangely. "You have a bank account here?" Zelda asked.
"Yeah, I had to. Because every time I went back in time I lost most of my stuff, so this was the best option. I honestly didn't think my money would still be here after all these years."
"He has a bank account in a parallel universe," Railan said incredulously. "I give up trying to understand you. At least Lily here is normal. We need to stick together, Lily. We're the only rocks of sanity in a world gone mad." He turned to look at Link. "Well, you're the expert here. Know any good restaurants?"
"I'm sure there was a cafe around here somewhere. Let's go this way." Link wandered toward the east, where many of the shops were located. Many of the familiar businesses were there, plus new ones that hadn't existed the first time he'd been in Clock Town. A building that had been empty before now sported a colorful sign that read Clock Town Crock Pot. Link wondered if it had anything to do with the Stock Pot Inn.
They entered the restaurant and a perky hostess greeted them enthusiastically. "Hi there! Welcome to the Clock Town Crock Pot! Will this be a table for six?" Link nodded. "Great! Follow me." The lady seated them at a large, round table and handed them menus. "We've been voted the best new restaurant in all of Clock Town! I hope you enjoy everything! Your waitress will be right with you." The hostess happily skipped away and returned to her post at the door.
"Wow, she was awfully perky," Solo commented. She then looked at the menu. "I'm starving. I hope they have something good here." She examined the numerous food items for sale.
A young waitress, about eighteen years old, walked over to the table. "Hi, everyone. Can I start you with some drinks..." she trailed off when her eye's landed on Zelda. The others stared back in shock as well. The waitress was the spitting image of Zelda. She had the same blue eyes, and the same golden hair color. There were numerous differences, though. Her hair was cut shorter, barely shoulder-length, and she carried herself in a much more casual way, far different than the patrician gait of Princess Zelda. "I'm so sorry, miss. But you look so much like..." she trailed off. It was like looking in a mirror. "It's uncanny."
Zelda stared in shock as well. Zelda tried to speak, but couldn't make a coherent sound. Link tried to break the tension. "Well, you know, they say that we all have a double somewhere. I guess we've just found hers." At the moment he didn't want to reveal the actual truth to Zelda's double. He laughed politely and tried to brush everything off as a joke. "We're not from Termina. We're from quite a ways away, and we're just visiting." He nudged Zelda.
Zelda finally managed to squeak out an introduction. "Um..h...hi." Zelda calmed herself and politely extended her hand. "My name is Zelda."
"I'm...I'm Jade. It's, uh...weird...I mean, nice to meet you." Jade seemed a little unnerved from the experience. "I guess we could be long-lost sisters," Jade joked nervously. Then she realized she had a job to do. "I'm sorry. I should get you some drinks. Or do you want to order now?"
Everyone in the group decided to order a meal and a drink. Jade wrote the orders down on her notepad and stumbled off to the kitchen, still confused by the sight of a woman who looked just like her. "That was really weird," Zelda said after Jade went out of earshot. "I thought you said you never saw my double here."
Link shrugged his shoulders. "I didn't meet everyone."
"Should we tell her?" asked Zelda.
"I think we should wait on that. Let's just make her think you're just someone who happens to look like her."
"I can't believe I'm a waitress here. I'm sure it's far less demanding than royal life. She has it lucky."
"She seems nice," said Malon.
ﾠ"That was kind of strange," said Lily.
"You don't know the half of it," said Railan. "We're in for a lot of strange things. I just hope everything works out. I have important things to do. I hope the ranch hands don't screw everything up while we're gone."
"I'm sure everything will be fine," said Malon.
"Your father is probably going to launch a manhunt any minute now," said Link to Zelda.
Zelda shrugged. "I don't know, I would think he'd be used to this by now. It's not like I haven't run off on some adventure before. I'm an adult and can make my own decisions now. Besides, I told Impa what you were planning, so she'll probably assume that I'm out telling everyone else what's happening. They probably won't know anything's wrong until tomorrow. But I bet Impa's probably already flipping through her giant book of contingency plans."
Link gave Zelda a questioning glance. "Contingency plans?"
Zelda nodded. "No, really. I've seen it. She has this huge book filled with every possible plan in case something goes wrong. Strategy and tactics were her specialty, so she showed it to me during our classes. You should see it. She has an emergency plan for everything."
"She really is weird," said Link, remembering the first time he'd met the dour-faced woman.
"I thought she seemed nice," said Lily. Everyone gave her a strange look, as that had been far from everyone else's first Impression of Impa. "She reminds me of my grandmother."
"I know we all know her better now," began Solo, "but my first thought when I met her was that she would bite my head off if I spoke out of turn."
"She's like a...guard dog," explained Zelda. "She's warm and friendly to friends and family, but she'll tear your throat out if you hurt someone she loves." The conversation stopped for a few moments, each of them thinking about what was going on back home, and wondering how long they would be stuck here. "I just wish I knew what we were supposed to do."
"We'll figure it out," said Link, trying to reassure everyone. "The Deku Tree told me someone here would help, and he wouldn't lie. He just didn't happen to mention who I should look for..." Link trailed off and realized he had no idea who would help him.
At the end of the dining room they noticed Jade carrying a huge tray of food from the kitchen. Some of her coworkers were whispering to her, and gesturing toward Zelda and her friends. Jade gave her coworkers and annoyed look and finally marched toward the table. She smiled politely and placed each meal in front of its owner. "Sorry about the wait, one of our cooks was out today, so it's been a little crazy back there." After doling out the food, she glanced nervously at Zelda. Everyone else couldn't help but stare back at the poor, nervous waitress. "Please, Miss Zelda, I'm so sorry...but my friends were bugging me relentlessly about my look-alike. I don't want to be rude. I kind of just wanted to know where you were from. Your friend said you were from far away, so..."
Zelda smiled politely and Jade noticeably relaxed. "It's okay, I'm a little curious, too. We're from Hyrule."
Jade shook her head. "I'm sorry, I guess my geography isn't that good. I'm not sure I've ever heard of Hyrule."
Zelda quickly tried to think of an adequate fib. "It's pretty far away actually. It's kind of small, most people don't even know it's there."
Jade gave a sudden look of understanding. "Ah, I get it now. You must be students at the University. Everyone seems to flock here during the fall break. The University of Termina is really well regarded, and I plan on going there when I save up enough money. I figured you were foreign when I heard your friend's accent." She gestured toward Link, and he gave a bewildered look. "I don't mean to pry into your business, but if you need anyone to guide you around town, I could help sometime. Clock Town doesn't have much of a night life, but there's still things to do. I'm working here pretty much every day, so you could stop by and we could figure something out."
"Maybe we'll stop by again tomorrow," said Zelda. "I would like to get to know you a little better. It's not every day that I meant my own duplicate."
Jade smiled. "Okay, maybe I'll see you around. But I'll leave you to your meals; just let me know if you need anything." Jade left the table and went to help her other customers.
"I guess that's our story, huh?" said Zelda. "University students. That seems to fit."
Link simply looked annoyed. "I don't have an accent."
The others at the table giggled. "Actually, you kind of do," said Zelda. Link glared at her.
"Yeah, you sound like the other Kokiri," said Solo, in between mouthfuls of her enormous steak. "They have this way of speaking that's a little different, other than having their own language."
"Yeah, your vowels are a little farther back than normal Hylian," explained Zelda. "And your t's and d's are more dental than the alveolar ones in Hylian." Everyone gave her strange looks. "Never mind, you just pronounce some of your sounds differently."
"No one ever told me that," said Link defensively.
"I figured you thought the rest of us talked funny," said Zelda with a shrug. "It's really not that noticeable unless you pay attention. At least we have a good cover story for why we're here. Maybe we should check out the University while we're here. Maybe someone there can help."
"I didn't even know there was one," said Link. "We should probably figure out where it is so we don't look completely stupid. But before that, we'll need to arrange transportation. And I think I know just where to go. I'll take you there after we're done."
Keizen had finally managed to go far enough away from Death Mountain so that he could teleport again. And he'd done it just as a pack of raging Gorons was about to pounce on him. He reappeared in the Lost Woods, not far from the gateway that linked the two worlds. He reached into his pocket and retrieved the three shining stones. Although he'd had a few setbacks, his mission had been far easier than Majora had made it out to be. He'd also expected Link to put up much more of a fight than he did. Perhaps it was his hesitance to harm his twin from another world that caused him to falter. But that didn't matter anymore. Link had vanished to some other place. Where that place was, Keizen didn't care.
Keizen quickly navigated the thick brush of the forest until he reached the familiar tree with the gaping hole in its trunk. This was his way home. And after he arrived home he would no longer be a destitute peasant. He could eat gourmet foods for every meal, and bathe every day in warm water. He could wear clothing made of fine silks and wools, instead of tattered rags. He could live in a real house instead of a dirty grotto. And he could show his face proudly to the denizens of Termina, rather than hiding it with a mask or bandanna. And he would have all of this because of a few pretty, but useless stones. Things would finally change for the better.
Keizen stood at the precipice of the bottomless pit that led back to his home world. He fought the brief sensation of nausea and vertigo and took a deep breath. Then he jumped into the pit. For a few terrifying moments, Keizen felt the acceleration of freefall. The dark pit transformed into a blinding white tunnel that seemed to stretch on to infinity. The freefall sensation waned and was replaced by gentle floatation. Then the tunnel vanished around him and Keizen landed hard on the ground of Majora's lair.
Keizen stood and brushed the dust off his clothes, and looked around the familiar cavern. In the short time he'd been gone, the room had been transformed. Many strange devices filled the once barren area. Strange, glowing crystals sprouted from the floor and walls, filling the cavern with a soft, pulsating light. Arranged around the perimeter of the cavern walls were six large chambers, each over six feet tall. The chambers looked like inside-out geodes, with stone on the inside and crystal on the outside. Numerous glowing cables emerged from each chamber, snaking across the floor toward an array of three crystalline pedestals at the center of the room.
Keizen briefly wondered if he'd ended up in the wrong place. But the familiar, ghostly visage of Majora appeared from the far corner of the room. He approached Keizen and smiled disturbingly. "I see you've returned, and far more quickly than I'd anticipated."
"What is all this stuff?" Keizen asked, gesturing to the multitude of crystalline devices.
"That is none of your concern. All that you should be worried about is whether or not you've brought me my stones."
Keizen retrieved the Spiritual Stones from his pocket and showed them to Majora. "Here they are, just as you asked."
Majora snatched them away greedily. He examined them closely, and after a quick appraisal, determined them to be genuine. He had longed for these precious stones for much of his exiled existence, and all it had taken was finding the right man to retrieve them. His wait for the proper person to do so had been long and tiring, but it had been worth it. He briefly wondered how long his wait would have been if that strange boy from Hyrule hadn't stumbled into this world. That boy had been the key to everything. And if Link hadn't come to Termina, his wait for another key could have taken centuries. "You have completed your mission satisfactorily. And you will be rewarded." If Majora didn't need Keizen, he would have simply ended his life then and there. Majora took the stones to the three crystal pedestals at the center of the room and placed one on each. The crystals floated above the pedestals, causing each to glow with the color of its respective stone.
Majora returned to stand in front of Keizen. "Your part of the mission is complete. And as such, you no longer have need of the powers that I gave you." Before Keizen could react, Majora thrust his hand onto Keizen's chest. A jolting shock of pain radiated through Keizen's body, and he felt as if his very life force was being sucked out of him. Then as quickly as it had begun, the pain disappeared. Keizen felt exhausted and nauseated, but otherwise fine. He attempted to teleport, but nothing happened. He tried levitating the rocks in the room, but nothing happened. The powers that had become such a part of him were now absent.
"Why did you do that?" Keizen asked angrily.
"I can't have you running around Termina causing trouble, now can I?"
"Where's my money?" Keizen spat angrily. A large sack materialized in Majora's hand, and he gave it to Keizen. He looked inside and saw that it was filled with orange rupees. There was a lot of money here, but not as much as he'd hoped. This was far from the glorious riches he'd been promised. "This is it? I could rob a bank and get more than this."
Majora chuckled at Keizen's insolence. "That is to tide you over for a few days. I know how young men with newfound wealth behave. They spend like drunken sailors. Your riches are in a safe place." A leather satchel materialized in Majora's hand, and he gave it to Keizen. Inside the satchel were numerous highly decorated pieces of parchment, finely engraved and embossed with the royal seal. "These are negotiable bearer bonds from the Royal Bank of Termina. Each is worth one hundred thousand rupees. You have fifty bonds there. You can exchange them for real rupees only once per week. In addition, I have placed a treasure chest in the old grotto you call a home. You may open it once per day. Every time you open the chest, it will be filled with rupees. You would be wise to create a good story to explain your wealth, one that will be believable. Investment banking is highly reputable, and highly profitable. I suggest you use that." Majora had no qualms about giving such an enormous amount of money to this young man. The ways of mortals didn't concern him, and in the near future, he would no longer have to deal with the wretched realm of the mortal world. Everything about it disgusted him.
Keizen suddenly felt ecstatic. His wish had come true. He was rich and could do anything he pleased. But a sickening feeling in his stomach made him question the reality of what was happening. "Why? Why are you giving this to me?"
Majora glared angrily. "Your place is not to question why, but to merely accept or reject what I have given you. Money is of no importance to me, but is valuable to you. These stones are worthless to you, but valuable to me. We have merely traded trash for treasure. You also went above your mission and helped me in a far greater way, and for that I thank you."
Keizen felt curious. What else had he done that Majora had wanted? "What did I do?"
"That is also none of your concern. Go out and enjoy your life. You will not be allowed to return here again unless I wish it. If I need you, I will come for you. Now leave."
Bewildered, but happy, Keizen left the mysterious cavern. When he reached the impassable bottomless pit, Majora appeared and ushered him to the other side. Keizen walked through the twisting passageway and into the lower level of the clock tower. The door quickly rumbled shut behind him, never to open again. But Keizen didn't care. He was giddy with excitement about spending his newfound wealth.
"I don't really like this one," said Solo unhappily. She was standing in front of a mirror in a fancy clothing shop, staring dejectedly at her reflection. The woman at the shop had excitedly tried to ply Solo with a dozen different dresses, each more ridiculous than the last. The one she wore now was a simple sundress, adorned with orange, red, and gold flower patterns. Solo looked at her friends forlornly.
"I think it looks cute," said Malon. "You look good in a dress."
"But I hate dresses," Solo pouted. She looked at the saleswoman, who was smiling politely. "Listen, I appreciate that you want to dress me properly, but can I just have some pants and a shirt? I would prefer that. And maybe some sandals. I forgot my shoes."
"Or course, miss. Right away," said the saleslady.
Solo's friends stood in the background, quietly snickering and trying to stifle full-blown laughter. The moment they'd step foot inside the clothing shop, the saleswoman had been all over Solo, trying to force numerous expensive dresses upon her. Solo had a first been polite and insisted on plainer clothes, but the woman had kept finding more elaborate dresses. Solo didn't want to be mean to the woman, but her patience was beginning to wear thin. The woman arrived with armfuls of frilly blouses and dressy slacks. "Perhaps these will be more to your liking."
Solo growled in frustration. Her friends snickered again. "No, not that. Just let me pick it out."
The saleswoman appeared slightly shocked, and a little apprehensive. "I apologize, but I assumed that someone of your stature would appreciate more refined clothing."
Solo gazed at her quizzically. "'Someone of my stature?' We're just visiting. I've never been here before. I think you have me mistaken for someone else."
The saleswoman gasped in shock. "Oh! I'm so sorry! I thought you wereﾅ" She trailed off. "I guess not. I mistook you for someone else. My apologies."
"Wait, who did you mistake me for?"
"Why, Miss Tui La, of course," replied the saleswoman, as if the answer were obvious. Then she covered her mouth in shock. "Oh no, please, forget I said that. We're supposed to keep our customers' names a secret. I'm sorry, but you look so much like her. But you have longer hair. I just assumed that you'd grown it out. Sorry, sorry. Please don't tell her I mistook her for you."
Solo nodded, but still felt confused. "Okay, fine. I have no idea who 'Miss Tui La' is, but if I ever meet her, I won't say a thing. I promise."
The woman nodded gratefully and bowed. "Oh, thank you. Please, choose whatever you want. I'm so sorry for the misunderstanding." Finally released from the woman's over-attentive ministrations, Solo grabbed some pants and shirts off a nearby table. She ran off toward the fitting room. "But those are men's clothes," the saleswoman called out as Solo ran away.
"I don't care," replied Solo, slamming the door to the fitting room shut. She quickly stripped off the annoying dress and put on the much more comfortable men's clothes. She didn't have a problem with dresses per se, and even wore them occasionally. But most of the dresses she found were ugly, too frilly, or simply uncomfortable. After dressing, she emerged from the fitting room with a smile on her face. "This is much better." She grabbed a pair of sandals off another table and took those, along with the remaining clothing she'd chosen, toward the saleswoman. "I'll take these. Link?" Link happily paid the bill and everyone left the store.
"I wonder who this Tui La person is that she seems to think you are," said Malon.
Solo shrugged her shoulders. "I don't know, maybe my twin here? Who knows? We already met Zelda's twin, so maybe I have one too."
"It's possible," said Link.
"Okay, so now that Solo has some clothes, what's our next stop?" asked Railan, eager to complete whatever mission they had to do and return home.
"If we're going to travel, then we'll need horses," replied Link. "So we just need to take a little trip to Romani Ranch. I'm sure they'll let us rent horses for a while."
Malon's eyes lit up at the mention of a ranch. "Oh, that sounds like fun. I've always wanted to see how someone else would run things."
Link paused, wondering how he should say this. "WellﾅI should warn you ahead of time that your double lives at this ranch. Her name is Romani. I'm not entirely sure if she's named after the ranch, or if the ranch is named after her."
Malon seemed curious about the revelation. "I guess great people think alike, huh? I guess I'm destined to be a ranch owner in any world." She laughed nervously, wondering what her double was like. Long ago Link had mentioned meeting a girl in Termina that looked like her, but he didn't say much about her. She wondered if there was a reason for that.
"Romani is a littleﾅweird. I'm hoping that she was just going through some phase and has since grown out of it."
"Weird how?" asked Malon curiously. Some people would consider some of her habits weird, so she wasn't sure how Link would define "weird."
"It's hard to explain, you'll have to see for yourself. I just hope she doesn't freak out when she sees you. I did tell her I had a friend that looked just like her, so maybe she'll be all right with it. I don't know. We'll have to see. And she also has an older sister named Cremia, who's a lot more normal."
"Oh, that sounds nice. I always wanted a sister. I hope we can at least be friends."
The group left Clock Town and headed through Termina Field toward the ranch. Lily moved away from Link and Zelda, who were chatting with Malon, and went to walk beside Railan. "Do you think we'll be all right?" she asked Railan. She knew he'd been through a similar experience with Link and Solo a couple years ago, and wanted to hear his opinion. Plus, she wanted an excuse to talk to him.
"It'll be okay. I didn't mean to sound pessimistic earlier, I was just a little annoyed that Link's trouble found me again. He really is a nice guy; he didn't do this intentionally."
"Yeah, Zelda said as much about him. I just didn't expect this to happen so soon."
"Neither did I when it happened to me," said Railan. He thought about the crazy adventure he'd been through with Link and Solo. "I'd only known him for a couple days, then poof, we were in another world. Or the future, I guess. But this time will be different. I have a nice, normal person like you to talk to."
Lily giggled. "Well, some people wouldn't always call me 'normal.'"
"Yeah, but you're not always running around on adventures, travelling through time, and rescuing the princess, are you?"
"I guess not. I suppose we're normal compared to them." They walked in silence for a couple minutes, and then Lily nervously glanced at Railan. "Can I ask you a personal question? If you don't mindﾅ"
"Sure, go ahead."
Lily twirled a lock of hair nervously. "You seem nice, and I was wonderingﾅSorry, I'm not very good at this. You don'tﾅhappen to have a girlfriend do you?"
Railan was surprised by the question. He'd suspected that Lily might like him, as his friends had pointed out. But he wasn't sure if she was serious or just flirting. "No, not now at least. I did a while ago, though. She wasﾅcrazy. She was jealous, and pushy, and was always upset when I spent time with my friends. Especially Solo and Malon, she hated them. We didn't see each other for very long. That's when I realized that a pretty face isn't the only thing to look for. What about you? Boyfriend?"
Lily blushed slightly. "No, not really. I've tried to date some guys I liked, but my stupid brothers would threaten them and scare them off. I suppose they had good reason to, most of them turned out to be jerks. I guess I'm a terrible judge of character." Lily nervously laughed at her self-deprecating comment. "But I think you're a nice person. And if the princess speaks highly of you, then maybe I can trust my own judgment of you. I'd like to get to know you better, maybe I could be your girlfriend. I promise I'm not crazy." She blushed at the comment and mentally berated herself. You sounded so stupid! What's wrong with you?
Railan smiled and held her hand. "I think I might like that. I swear I won't run away from your brothers like a coward. I've had Link's Goron friends give me a bone-crushing 'brotherly hug', so I think I can handle them. As long as it doesn't come to a swordfight or something, I'm not very good at that." Lily and Railan didn't pay much attention to their surroundings until they collided with Solo and Malon. The others had stopped at the entrance to Romani Ranch, and were staring at Lily and Railan.
"Are you two lovebirds even paying attention to where you're walking?" asked Solo.
"We were just talking," Railan said defensively.
"And holding hands," said Malon. "I'm glad to see you're getting along."
"Well, this is it, everyone," said Link. "Let's go inside." Everyone followed Link into the ranch, deferring to his knowledge of the place. Everyone gazed at the expanse of the ranch, which was still a bit larger than Lon Lon Ranch, even after its expansion. Malon seemed the most excited of the bunch, happy to see so many different horses wandering around. She silently judged each horse she saw, trying to determine which ones would be best for them to use.
They reached the ranch house, and Link wandered around, trying to find someone who could help. The others stood a fair distance away, not wanting to interfere. Link finally knocked on the door. A few moments later it opened and he saw Cremia's face. She smiled politely and stepped outside. "Hello, there. I'm Cremia. Welcome to Romani Ranch. What can I do forﾅ?" She repeated the phrase out of sheer habit, but paused when she got a good look at Link's face. He seemed eerily familiar, but she couldn't quite determine who he reminded her of. "I feel like I've met you before."
"You might not remember me, but my name is Link. Iﾅ"
Cremia's eyes widened in recognition, and without warning she hugged him. "I knew I recognized you! And those clothes, I thought they seemed familiar. It's been so long, I thought I'd never see you again! I don't think I ever thanked you enough for helping me with the Gorman brothers. And Romani, she was so happy when you played that space alien game with her. She'll be happy to see you. What brings you here after so many years?"
"I need a little help. My friends and I came here unexpectedly and I need to rent horses for us." He reached into his pocket to retrieve some rupees, but Cremia gently grabbed his hand.
"No, that's not necessary. The least I could do to thank you is loan you some of our horses. I'm surprised you didn't bring yours with."
"We sort of left suddenly," Link explained. "I didn't have the time."
"Well, let me go find Romani, I'm sure she'll be ecstatic to see you." She led Link toward the barn, but stopped when she saw Malon with Link's group of friends. "Oh, I see she's already found your buddies."
"Well, actually, that's not her," Link said hesitantly. Cremia gave a confused look. The girl standing among Link's friends looked identical to Romani. "Remember how I told you and Romani about my friends back home? And how one of them looked a lot like Romani? Well, that's her. I know it seems strange, but it's true."
Link gently coaxed Cremia toward his friends. She was taken aback by the resemblance this strange woman had to her little sister. Link also noticed that her attention was also focused on Solo. He wondered what that was about. Link introduced Cremia to his friends. "Cremia, this is Malon. She also owns a ranch where I come from. This is my sister Solo, my fiancée Zelda, Railan, and Lily."
"It's nice to meet you," Cremia said, still feeling weird about meeting an exact duplicate of her sister. She looked at Solo. "And youﾅI take it you're not Mei. You look so much like her, though. But you have much longer hair. Romani's going to beﾅinterested to see you both."
Solo looked at Cremia curiously. "Who's Mei? I was curious to know if I had a look-alike here. Is she a friend of Romani's?"
Cremia coughed nervously. "Yeah, uh, you could say that. Let me go get them. They're probably in the barn." Cremia's face reddened slightly and she seemed embarrassed. "I'll be right back." Cremia entered the barn and closed the door behind her.
"She seemed a little weirded-out by you," said Malon to Solo.
"I can't imagine why," she replied.
"I hope this Romani girl doesn't freak out on me," said Malon worriedly. "I'm feeling a little nervous about it myself."
"She's a little weird, like I said, but otherwise likeable," said Link.
A few minutes later, Cremia exited the barn with Romani and a girl that looked a lot like Solo. Both of the girls seemed extremely annoyed, but followed Cremia anyways. "See, Romani, this is who I told you about. It's Link, remember? And his friends."
Romani looked at Link oddly, and then looked at his friends. "Link?" said Romani. "You seem familiar."
Link sighed. He didn't want to reveal his stupid nickname, but it was obvious that Romani didn't recognize his real name. "I'm Grasshopper, remember?"
Romani's eyes lit up in recognition. "Oh! Grasshopper! Romani remembers you!" Link's friends laughed heartily at Link's nickname. She grabbed the Solo lookalike's hand and dragged her over to the group. "My name is Romani!" she said happily, extending her hand toward Malon.
Malon shook it and replied, "I'm Malon. It's a pleasure to meet you."
ﾠ"Wow, you look so much like me. We could be twins!" Then Romani looked at Solo. "And you, you look like Mei. You could be twins too! Say hi to them, Mei."
Mei seemed annoyed and aloof about the whole situation. Although she looked a lot like Solo, she had her hair cropped at shoulder-length. The dress she wore was simple, but elegant, and spoke of great wealth. She also carried herself in a manner not dissimilar from Zelda. Mei nodded toward Malon and Romani.ﾠ "My name is Mei Tui La. It's an honor to meet you." Mei seemed surprised to see a woman that looked just like her, and one that looked just like her precious Romani. But she hid her surprise well. "Romani, you seem to know a rather eclectic group of people."
"Romani's never met them before," said Romani. "See, I told you those stories about people having doubles were true. You wouldn't believe me, though. Are you evil twins or good twins?"
Everyone in Link's group was startled by the personalities of Mei and Romani. They expected them to be similar to Solo and Malon, but they seemed far different. Link was right when he said that Romani was odd. "We're good twins, I promise," said Malon.
Romani accepted the explanation. She then grabbed Mei and clutched her to her side. "This is Mei. She's Romani's bestest friend in the whole world. Solo, are you Malon's bestest friend?"
"Yes, yes I am," Solo replied. Solo thought Mei seemed distant and annoyed, while Romani was flat-out weird. She was thankful that the weirdest thing Malon ever did was talk and sing to the animals.
"Romani and Mei are also lovers," said Romani bluntly. "Aren't we, Mei?"
Mei sighed and replied, "Yes, Sweet Pea. We are."
"What about you?" Romani asked Malon and Solo. "Are you lovers, too?"
"Romani, please, it's not polite to ask people questions like that," admonished Cremia. She looked at Malon and Solo with apologetic eyes. "I'm sorry, but she has absolutely no sense of tact. Some people are offended by their relationship, but please, don't be."
"Don't worry about it," replied Malon. "Solo and Iﾅwe're the same. It's actually a little strange to see people that look like us having the same relationship."
Solo looked at Mei. "You must be the Miss Tui La that the lady at the clothing shop thought I was. That damn woman wouldn't leave me alone."
Mei chuckled. "Ah yes. She was the short, chubby one, no? She can be quite the handful."
Romani interrupted the conversation. "Grasshopper! What brings you here today with our good twins? It's been so long since Romani's seen you, and I'd love to chat for a while."
"I think we have a new name for Link," said Railan with a smirk. Link glared at him. "Why 'Grasshopper?'"
"Because he's green and patters around," replied Romani matter-of-factly. "That's why he's Grasshopper. That's Romani's name for him. You should come inside for lunch. There's enough for everyone." Romani dragged Mei and Cremia toward the ranch house, and Cremia looked back at the group with an apologetic expression. Everyone else stood there for a moment, wondering what had just happened.
"That girl is absolutely insane," said Malon, finally breaking the silence. She was completely bewildered by Romani's behavior. "Link, you said she was weird, but I wasn't expecting this."
"She seemed pleasant enough," said Zelda.
"She refers to herself in the third-person," said Lily. "Who does that?"
"Malon, I think your twin took a blow to the head when she was a baby," said Solo. "At least my twin didn't seem so weird. She does seem a littleﾅhaughty though. She's a lot like I expected you to be before I met you, Zelda."
"She acts a lot like many of the aristocrats I've met before," said Zelda. "I'm willing to be she's very upper-class. Anyways, we shouldn't be rude. We should go inside and have lunch with them."
"Good, I'm starving!" said Solo. She hurried into the house, and everyone else followed behind. Inside the house, Cremia was setting places at the table for everyone.
"Grasshopper, I'm glad you brought your friends with you this time," said Romani. "I still remember when you helped me fight the space aliens that were going to steal the cows." She leaned toward Link and whispered, "You know, them."
"Romani has always had an overactive imagination," explained Cremia.
"Umﾅthat actually sort of happened," said Link. "But I don't know if they were space aliens, though."
Cremia seemed surprised. "Oh? Really? I thought Romani was just playing a gameﾅ"
"That's why Romani set up the targets. For practice. But they haven't come back since you fought them, Grasshopper. You must've scared 'em good."
"If I may interrupt, Sweet Pea," said Mei. She looked at Link and his friends. "Romani's always told me stories about her friend from another world. And she reads those comic books about people from other universes. Now I'm beginning to wonder if some of those stories are true."
"I don't know about the comic books," Link replied, "but we definitely are from another world. I was shocked when I first came here and saw so many people who looked like the ones I knew."
"My curiosity is piqued," said Mei. She looked over at Solo. "It's not every day that one meets her double from another planet."
"Soﾅyou don't think we're crazy?" asked Solo.
"Oh my, heavens no. My little Sweet Pea here is crazy, but I do love her so. Simply seeing you is proof enough that some other world exists. I'm curious to know more about you. What is your life like where you live? How did you come to know Malon?"
Solo told Mei and abridged account of her life, explaining her short time in the orphanage, her life on the streets, and meeting her long-lost brother. Then she told her about how she met Malon, and how their relationship developed over the years. Mei was hanging on Solo's every word, fascinated about the stories of her double's life. She felt so bad for what this girl had gone through.
"My, such a harrowing tale," Mei said honestly. "I think there are many parallels in our lives, though. I too was an orphan. But when I was an infant, a wonderful Alteran family adopted me. They'd moved to Termina from their homeland, looking for a better life. They couldn't have children, so they decided to adopt me. My mother teaches languages at the University and my father is a rather wealthy banker. He runs the largest private bank in Termina."
"Bun-Bun," said Romani to Mei, "tell them that Alteran phrase Romani likes."
"Of course, Sweet Pea. Shi yong fai wo to te."
Romani smiled and kissed Mei on the cheek. "Shi yie fai wo zhe."
Railan's attention was drawn by those words. They sounded identical to the Kolonan language that he often spoke at home. "Mei, if I may askﾅdo your parents and Iﾅlook like we could have come from the same country?"
Mei nodded. "Well, yes. But I thought it would be rude to mention something like that. Why, are you familiar with Altera?"
"Well, the country my parents were from is called Kolona. But the language sounds the same. Maybe your parents' Altera is similar to the Kolona in my world."
"So what did they say?" asked Solo. Then she gave an apologetic look to Mei. "If you don't mind my asking." Mei nodded, and gestured to Railan.
"Mei said 'you are the light in my life,' and Romani said 'you bring my life happiness.'"
"Romani's a quick learner. She'll speak fluent Alteran in no time."
Cremia interrupted the conversation with the food she'd prepared. It was a simple beef stew with numerous vegetables and a side of baked potatoes. They all began eating, while continuing with the conversation.
"How did you two meet?" asked Solo, curious about her double's life.
"Well, it's only fair that I tell my story, isn't it? The story of meeting Romani has some parallels with your story about Malon. My parents brought me here with them one day when they were looking to buy a horse. I was about twelve then. Of course, I was monumentally bored being taken along with them, as I would have preferred to stay at home. But as they were negotiating, I saw Romani with her bow, shooting arrows at those balloons. She looked about my age, so I figured we could talk for a while. I didn't get out much, and I had very few friends. So offered to let my try the bow, and I'll admit I was abysmal at it. As odd as I thought Romani was when I first met her, we quickly became friends.
"Later I would often ride my horse to the ranch to see Romani. I didn't know why at the time, but I felt a certain attraction to her. Then one day we were having a picnic in the field and I just blurted out that I loved her. I felt so embarrassed and ashamed, but then she said 'Romani loves you too.' And then she kissed me. We tried to keep everything a secret, but one day Cremia caught us in the middle of a little romantic interlude we were having in the barn. Cremia seemedﾅsurprised, but not as shocked as I'd assumed she'd be. As it turned out, my parents had come looking for me at the ranch because that's where I'd often go in my free time. I ended up telling them everything. I was afraid they would disown me and send me back to the orphanage. I was quite surprised when they told me that they would love me no matter what.
"But that didn't stop other people from being disgusted at us. We've had our fair share of people spit on us and insult us. The Gorman brothers were particularly offended by our relationship."
"Romani kicked them in the nuts," said Romani proudly. "They deserved it."
"I hope that in your world, that people treat you more fairly than in mine," said Mei.
"We've had our experiences with prejudiced people," said Malon. "But it doesn't really matter. They can believe whatever they want."
"But you've never kicked anyone in the nuts, though," said Solo with a smirk.
"I've wanted to."
"If you need any help on your journey, please don't hesitate to ask," said Mei. "I would be quite wrong to not want to help our kindred spirits from another world. I have to spend my allowance on something, and even buying gifts for my little Sweet Pea here doesn't quite use it up."
"You can borrow any of the horses you'd like to use as well," offered Cremia. "After we're finished eating, we can go outside and pick them out."
"I'd really appreciate that," said Link with a smile. "I only hope that when I figure out what I have to do, that I can spend some more time getting to know you. I hope that this won't be the last time we ever meet."
Link and his friends returned to Clock Town near dusk, after spending most of the day conversing with their new friends at Romani Ranch. Link knew that they would need a place to stay for the night, and he hoped that the Stock Pot Inn still had rooms available. After stabling their borrowed horses, they made their way toward the tiny inn.
"I can't believe that your doubles in this world can look so similar, but be so vastly different," said Railan to Malon and Solo as they walked toward the inn. "There's similarities, like their relationship with each other, but their personalities are so different. I just assumed that they'd be just like you."
"Just promise me you won't start referring to yourself in the third person all the time," said Solo to Malon.
"No, Malon wouldn't ever think of doing such a thing," said Malon with a smirk. "But I'll hand it to her, Romani is really a crack shot with her bow. I think she go give you a run for your money, Link."
Link scoffed at the idea. "Please, everyone knows I'm the best."
Zelda patted Link on the shoulder. "Don't worry, Linkie-pooh. We won't bruise your ego."
They arrived at the Stock Pot Inn and walked inside. Link was disappointed that he didn't see Anju manning the front desk; he'd hoped that he would be able to talk to her for a while. He approached the woman at the desk and smiled politely. "Hi. We were hoping that you had some rooms available tonight for me and my friends. I know we don't have reservations, butﾅWell, we'll take whatever you have. There's six of us total."
The woman behind the counter smiled and flipped through her guest log. "It's not a busy season right now, but we still have quite a few people staying here. We have two rooms available right now that aren't reserved, and they're both dorm-style rooms with six beds each."
Link was willing to take whatever he could get. "Okay, we'll take both rooms. We don't really know how long we're staying, so is it possible to reserve the rooms for a while so no one else takes them?"
"We'll reserve the rooms for you as long as you pay at least one day ahead of time," replied the clerk. "If you decide to leave, we'll refund what you paid."
"Sounds great," said Link. He paid the woman and she handed him two sets of room keys.
"We have free breakfast from six in the morning until ten, and half-price supper from five in the evening until nine-thirty. Sorry, but you missed supper by fifteen minutes."
"That's okay, we already ate," said Link. "Thanks for your help." He nodded his head toward the woman and led the way to their rooms. "It looks like our rooms are right next to each other, so I guess that's good." They stopped outside the door to the first room. "I guess we could probably just split up by men and women, if nobody objects to that."
The others all nodded their heads. "It seems logical enough," said Zelda. "It'll be like a girls' night out," she said to her fellow females.
"I don't have any booze to party with, so I think I'll just go to sleep," said Solo, yawning widely.
Zelda shook her head. "I didn't mean it like that. But I otherwise agree. I'm really tired." She kissed Link and gave him a quick hug. "Good night Linkie-pooh, I'll see you in the morning."
Everyone else gave their regards and retired to their respective rooms. Railan, not really party to any of the discussion, simply followed Link into their shared room. Link opened the door to reveal a clean, but sparse bedroom. There were six beds, arranged in sets of three bunks, and a couple tables and chairs. "I think we got the better part of the deal," said Railan. "Two people to one room is much better than four." He methodically tested each of the bottom bunks until he found one that satisfied him, and plopped down onto it. "You don't sleep naked, or sleepwalk, or do anything weird like that, do you?" Although they had spent plenty of time together, Railan had never actually spent the night at Link's house. His only knowledge of Link's sleeping habits came from Solo's stories, and he didn't necessarily take her word at face value.
For a moment Link considered making some off-color joke, but decided against it. "No, nothing weird. Although Solo tells me I sometimes talk in my sleep and snore. So I guess you should watch out for that. What about you? Any weird habits I should know about?"
Railan thought for a moment. "Not really. At home the cat usually sleeps on my bed. But every morning at the crack of dawn Jamila will wake me up and drag the cat off to do who-knows-what with it. It's really annoying. I'm glad she's not here. I hate the morning and now that I'm a manager at the ranch, I can come in later in the day. I know we have things to do, but I hope you're not planning on getting up at the crack of dawn."
"I won't interrupt your sleep at all. Trust me, if it were up to me, the day wouldn't even start until noon." Link selected his bed and sat down on it, removing his boots and most of his clothing. He realized that his clothes were dirty and smelly from the fight he'd had earlier in the day. "I can't believe I spent the whole day dressed in clothes like this." He sniffed his tunic and nearly gagged. "Why didn't anybody say anything?"
Railan shrugged his shoulders. "It didn't seem important. I'm sure you can get some new ones and wash what you have. We should all probably get some new underwear or something." Railan lay down on his bed and stared at the bunk above him. He was tired, but not quite ready to go to sleep yet. He saw that Link was doing likewise in his own bed. "I bet they're talking about us right now. Girls do that, you know."
"I'm sure Lily is positively gushing about you."
Railan's faced flushed slightly, and he was thankful that Link couldn't see it. "She's really nice. She sort of asked me if I wanted her to be my girlfriend. I think I said yes. I'm not really sure. I felt like some little child on the playground asking 'will you be my girlfriend?'"
Link couldn't help but chuckle. "Well, she seems great. You both seem to get along really well together. She even liked your story about being swarmed by the chickens. She really seems genuinely interested in you, and that's something."
Railan sighed. "But I don't know anything about romancing women. I'm sure I'll make some huge mistake and she'll hate me. How do you manage with Zelda? She's a princess, and you must have some amazing method to woo her."
Link thought about Railan's statement and realized that he truly didn't have any special skills. "It wasn't like that. I'm not some romance god or something. We started out as friends, and it grew from there. I honestly don't know the first thing about romancing women. I don't know why we go together so well. I've been trying to figure that out since the first day she blurted out that she loved me."
Railan's curiosity was piqued. "Really? She confessed to you first? How did that happen?"
"It wasn't anything spectacular. It was after I came home from my first adventures. We were staying in some village in the middle of nowhere, and she just said that she loved me. We were only kids. I don't think we knew what love even meant then. Our relationship just sort of grew from there."
"But you're both so perfect together. How can someone like me even try to do something like that?"
Link laughed loudly. "No, really, things aren't perfect. We've had our fights and arguments. I was really a big idiot when it came to relationships. After our whole initial meeting, I didn't know the first thing about being in a relationship, or even having friends in general. I'd say stupid things, and generally make a fool of myself. The first night I stayed in the castle I had to pee in the middle of the night, and I had no idea there were chamber pots or even an actual toilet down the hall. I snuck outside in the dark and peed behind a bush. That's how I did it at home, so I assumed that's how everyone did it."
Railan laughed at Link's story for what seemed like an eternity. "Wow. That'sﾅthat's the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard. Did anyone ever find out?"
Link's face reddened. "Well, actually Zelda found me. She claims she went to go check on me and saw that I wasn't in my room. So she eventually wandered outside just as I was finished. She must've been laughing for five straight minutes. Then she had to explain how all the facilities worked."
"I guess you two have had an interesting relationship. I'm sure married life will fit you both perfectly."
Link sighed. "That's what I'm worried about. I know I want to marry her and be with her forever, but I have no idea what I'm supposed to do. And when the wedding finally happens, what about the honeymoon? I have no idea what to do. I mean, I know how, but I'm worried I'll end up screwing everything up."
Railan made a confused sound. "Wait, you mean you two haven't-you know."
"No, we haven't."
"Sorry I just assumed. You're both so close, and I figured thatﾅ Sorry, it's none of my business."
"No, it's okay. Don't think that I didn't want to, or that she didn't either. But we both realized that she has a reputation to maintain. Being the 'royal boyfriend' is one thing, but if people ever found out we'd been fooling around, then they would call Zelda terrible things. A lot of people see her as more of a symbol of purity and righteousness. If she'd been sleeping with some peasant boy like me, then it could ruin her reputation."
"But she's going to marry you," said Railan, confused.
"But that's different. If we're married, then everything's fine. Before we're married, everyone would interpret it as some usurper staining the image of the princess. But after we're married it'll be the heartwarming tale of the people's beloved princess marrying her one true love."
"That's the dumbest thing I've ever heard. No wonder Zelda's stressed. If she has to deal with people like that all day, she must be pulling her hair out."
"And I'm going to be a part of that. At least by then I'll be able to order people around with some legitimacy. Not that I would normally do that, but you should see some of the horrible people she deals with everyday."
"I'm sure everything will work out just fine," said Railan. "Just don't let your power go to your head. Don't forget about us little people."
Link laughed. "I don't think that will be a problem." Link yawned loudly and rolled over onto his side. "We should probably get some sleep. We're going to need it. Good night."
"Night.ﾠ I wonder what they're saying about us..."
Zelda, Lily, Solo, and Malon examined the room they would be sharing. It was nearly identical to the room Link and Railan were in, with three sets of bunk beds and a couple tables. "Well, I don't see any bugs, so that's good," said Lily. She chose a bed at random and sat down on it. "It seems comfortable enough."
Zelda did likewise and chose a bed of her own. All the beds were identical, so it didn't really matter which one she chose. She looked at Lily with an apologetic expression. "Sorry to drag you into this.ﾠ I'm sure everything will be fine. At least you'll get paid extra for this."
"It's no big deal," said Lily, trying to sound casual about the whole situation. While she wasn't exactly scared, she was nervous and uncertain about what would happen to them. "You really don't need to pay me extra. It's not like I'm actually doing my job right now."
Zelda gave Lily a serious look. "Actually, I do have to pay you extra. It's in the contract you signed." She gave Lily a questioning look. "You did read it right?"
Lily averted her eyes from Zelda's questioning gaze. "Well, I sort of skimmed it. It wasn't very engaging reading material."
"One of the clauses in the contract explains extra pay for when you join me on trips away from the castle. You get paid extra beyond your normal daily pay for every day you're away from the castle. If I didn't pay you, you could sue me for the extra money. And you'd win, too. I signed the contract along with you."
Lily laughed nervously. "I can accept that. But who would even bother suing the princess? That's stupid. You're royalty, and royalty can't be sued."
Zelda seemed surprised by Lily's statement. "Not even the princess is above the law. Even the monarch can't break a legal contract. If I didn't pay you, even if that was okay with you, you would be entitled to that pay plus fifty percent in damages. I have to present you with the money in a timely manner, and whatever you do with it after that is up to you. Buy Railan a present or something. You both seem to really like each other."
Lily blushed slightly. "Is it really that obvious?"
"Even a blind and deaf person could see it," Solo chimed in.
"I'm glad, though," added Malon. "He could use some companionship, especially after that last 'girlfriend' of his. Nobody liked her. I don't know what he even saw in her. I think he was just too nice to turn down a date from a woman, even if she was absolutely crazy."
Lily sighed and lay down on her bed. "Yeah, he mentioned her. Who was she? What was her name?"
"Queen Bitch of the Universe," said Solo nonchalantly.
Malon added, "If he hadn't dumped her, I would've done it for him. I don't know what made him want to date her in the first place."
"Big tits," Solo said matter-of-factly. The others laughed at her comment. "No, I'm serious. That was the only redeeming quality that woman had. She had no personality other than 'crazy bitch.' You have no idea how many times I wanted to 'accidentally' push her into the manure pile."
"Well, I'm not a crazy bitch, so I guess I have that going for me," said Lily self-consciously. "But I don't exactly have the biggest breasts in the world, so I hope that's not his only basis for finding a girlfriend."
"Oh, he can't help it," said Zelda. "Do you have any idea how often I see Link staring at my chest when he thinks I'm not paying attention? It's like if he stares hard enough he thinks he can somehow discover the mysteries of the universe."
"You're not so innocent," chided Solo. "'Oh, Linkie-pooh, it's so hot today,'" she said, imitating Zelda's voice. "'Why don't you take your shirt off? You'll be more comfortable.' And he listened to you and did exactly what you said. And you spent the whole time staring at him, drooling. Literally drooling. You had to wipe your mouth."
Zelda's faced reddened like a tomato. "But we were going swimming, of course he'd take his shirt off."
"Not during lunch and a whole hour before we even planned on going swimming."
"Oh please, it's not you're any better," said Zelda to Solo and Malon. "I don't know how many times I've caught you twoﾅ" Zelda then quieted herself and decided not to bring up any more embarrassing stories.
"Railan seems cute enough," said Lily meekly. "But it's not just that. He seems really interesting, too. He seems like someone I can be friends with and not just some hot piece of eye-candy."
"He really is a sweet guy," said Malon. "He needs someone like you." She yawned, and lay down on her bed. "This has been a rather stimulating conversation, but I'm exhausted. We should all get some sleep."
Everyone went silent for a few moments as they settled into their beds. "I hope we can figure out what to do tomorrow," said Lily. "This is a nice place, but my family is going to be worried sick if I'm gone too long."
"Don't worry, Link will figure everything out," said Zelda in a reassuring tone. "He always does." They all slowly drifted off to sleep, wondering what the next day would hold.
Link found himself standing outside in the middle of East Clock Town. The sky was dimly lit, similar to the early-morning hours, but the sun wasn't up. And strangely, there was no one out and about at this hour. Link expected there to be more people up at this hour. But as he wandered around the empty town, a sense of familiarity came about him. He'd experienced this many times before. The normal sounds of everyday life were absent here. There were no birds chirping, and no sign of normal activity. The whole world seemed still and dead, drained of its color and life. He knew that he was at least dreaming, and possibly having another psychic vision. But the part that worried him was that his visions usually took place in familiar surroundings, usually his home. But he shook off his strange feelings, assuming that his presence in this other world was to blame for his unusual surroundings.
Link wasn't at all surprised when a mysterious man emerged from the shadows of an alley. He approached Link slowly, trying not to startle him. As the man drew closer, Link studied his features. The man seemed average in every way, with short brown hair, simple clothes, and average height. But there was something off about the man that Link couldn't quite place. For a brief moment Link though he saw a flash of yellow in the man's eyes, but it quickly faded. "I see you've finally arrived," said the man. "It's nice to finally meet you."
"Who are you?" asked Link warily.
"I was once called Akki," said the man. "But that was a long time ago. The truth is, I'm not supposed to be here, and if the others found out, I could be in some big trouble."
"I see," said Link. "Another one of those Ascendants, I assume."
Akki nodded. "You assume correctly. And I'm sure you're familiar with the rules and why I had to appear this way. I know that your double from this world stole some very precious artifacts from your world. I can help you get them back. A very dangerous man is going to use those stones to do some very bad things."
"Let me guess. He's going to destroy the world, or something like that, and only I can stop him?"
"Not quite, although he is planning dangerous things. Unfortunately, the Ascendants here won't lift a finger to help you, so you need to use the powers you have available. But ﾠthis time you don't need to defeat any giant monsters or go on some kind of fetch quest. You will need your friends' help for this."
Link shook his head. "No, I'm not endangering them."
"The only thing that will endanger them is doing nothing. I think you're well aware of the latent powers that you, Zelda, and your sister have. Their powers are just as potent here as they are in your world. But here, that is not enough. You must also enlist the help of your doubles here as well. Only with all of your powers together can you hope to defeat this evil. Trust me, it's the only way you can defeat him."
"I don't even know who I'm fighting against. And why should I trust you?"
"You trusted that strange mask salesman, and you didn't know him at all. The evil mask that he was entrusted to guard was stolen from him yet again. The spirit that resides inside it is the evil one you must fight."
"Majora's Mask?" asked Link in exasperation. "Again? Has it taken over some poor person again?"
"Not exactly," said Akki. "It's actually considerably worse than that. The spirit that was trapped inside the mask is attempting to break free. Your Spiritual Stones were the key to that. As of now, he has very little power in this world. He can venture out into the world, but he has no way of physically interacting with anything. The only place he has any power is in the tiny place he created between our two worlds. That's where you were turned into a Deku scrub. Although the spirit of Majora's Mask has considerable power there, his power is no match for you and your friends' powers. If you confront him all at once, you could stand a chance against him."
Akki's explanation seemed to make sense to Link, but he was still skeptical. "What do I have to do? What do we have to do? I don't even know where my double is anymore. He might not even be here."
"You'll have to search for him," said Akki. "He's bound to turn up sooner or later. And when he does, you have to take him, Zelda, Solo, and their doubles to the basement of the clock tower. Once there, I can help you get inside. I can't explain everything until you've traveled to the place between worlds. The others are watching me here, and if I say too much, they might try to stop me. But in that secret place, they can't see me. I'll tell you everything then. You must hurry before the evil spirit finishes his plan. Unfortunately, I need to go before I'm detected. We will meet again." Inside Link's dream, Akki walked away and vanished. Then the mysterious world around him vanished, to be replaced by another, more normal dream.
Link was startled awake by a loud, persistent knocking on the door. He sat up in his bed, momentarily confused by his unfamiliar surroundings. Then he remembered where he was. He gazed at the ornate clock on the wall and saw that it was about nine in the morning-far earlier than he would have normally woke. The knock came again. "Link! Railan!" said Zelda's voice from the other side of the door. "I got some breakfast for you. Come on out."
"Just a minute," Link called back. He shuffled out of bed and looked over at Railan, who was still sound asleep, snoring quietly. He shook his friend's shoulder, attempting to wake him up. "Hey, Railan. Wake up."
Railan flailed his arms blindly and groaned. "No, not now, Jamila. We can play with the cat later," he mumbled.
Link finally had enough and pulled away the blankets and shoved Railan onto the floor. Railan rolled over and looked around in confusion. "Huh? What happened?"
"Oh! You're up," said Link cheerfully. "It looks like the ladies were kind enough to get breakfast for us. We should go get some before it gets cold."
Railan seemed startled. "Oh no! Not yet. I probably look terrible. I don't want Lily to see me like this." He ran over to the room's only mirror and frantically examined himself. He quickly tried to comb his hair with his fingers, but didn't succeed very well. He looked over to Link. "I guess I have no choice. I suppose we'll have to get some new clothes or something. Fine, let's get breakfast. I'm hungry."
Railan walked toward the door and was about to open it when Link grabbed his shoulder and halted him. "Um, you might want to put some clothes on," Link said dryly. Railan then noticed that he was only in his underwear. "Unless you want to put on a show for Lily. She might appreciate it."
Railan, embarrassed by his near exposure, quickly picked up his dirty clothes and put them on. "Thanks," said Railan. "I'm not myself in the morning."
Link opened the door to see Zelda waiting patiently outside. "Finally," said Zelda. "You guys took forever." She looked them over and chuckled at their disheveled appearance. "You both look like unwashed, unshaven derelicts."
"Well, I'm not about to shave with my sword," replied. "Besides, your dress is wrinkled and your hair is a mess. So I think we're even."
"Fair enough," said Zelda. She led Link and Railan into the room she shared with the other women. Everyone else had already started eating and they greeted Link and Railan when they entered the room. Their breakfast consisted of a few varieties of fruit, tea, and a pot of some kind of soup or stew.
Link gazed into the pot and frowned. "What is this?" he asked.
"They call it 'breakfast stew,'" replied Zelda. "I'm not entirely sure what's in it. It's not that bad, though."
Link and Railan both filled their bowls with the mysterious stew. "It looks terrible," commented Railan. He looked over toward Malon and Lily, who were hesitantly eating the stew. Solo seemed unfazed by the odd flavor and quickly consumed her entire bowl.
"That was pretty good," said Solo. She looked over at Malon, who was grimacing at her so-called breakfast. "Are you going to finish that?"
Malon sighed in relief and handed her bowl over to Solo. "This stuff is disgusting," commented Malon.
"Oh come on, it can't be that bad," said Link. He ate a spoonful of the stew and nearly gagged. He hesitantly swallowed his single spoonful and calmly pushed the bowl aside. "I don't think I'm hungry." Railan decided not to tempt fate and didn't try the stew. He instead took and apple from the fruit plate. Solo was the only one who didn't seem to mind the stew. "Can you even taste what you're eating?"
Solo shrugged her shoulders in response. "Food is food."
"Did you guys sleep all right?" Zelda asked Link and Railan.
"I had one of those dreams again," replied Link. Everyone quieted and waited for Link to continue. "It wasn't anyone I'd ever met before. He said his name was Akki, and he claimed to be one of those ascended beings. If he's to be believed, the spirit of Majora's Mask is responsible for my double stealing the Spiritual Stones. Supposedly he's going to do something terrible with them."
"Is that it?" asked Zelda. She noticed that Link seemed hesitant to talk about his visionary dream. Usually he would talk with great enthusiasm about his rare visions, but today he was more subdued. If Zelda had to guess why, she would say that Link wasn't sure if his vision was real.
"Akki said that something about our combined powers can defeat the spirit of Majora's Mask. He said I have to take myself, Zelda, and Solo, along with all our doubles, to the Clock Tower. I know we're supposed to have special abilities, but something doesn't seem quite right."
"Sounds like every adventure you've ever had," said Zelda.
"I know, but there was something really strange about this man. It just seems weird that he would come out of the blue and tell me to immediately take all my friends to some mysterious place. The Deku Tree told me that some people here would help me, but he said they'd be people I trust. I've never met the man in my dream. I know it was a real vision, but I don't think I should trust him. Something's not right."
"Then who do weﾅ" said Zelda, suddenly cut off by a knock at the door. "Who could that possibly be?"
Link went to the door and said, "Who's there?"
"Mail!" came the voice from the other side. "I have a package to deliver to a Sir Link of the Kokiri. It was addressed to this room. Is he present?"
Link, as well as everyone else in the room, was shocked at the mailman's words. It was possible that some people in Clock Town would know Link's name, but no one could possibly know his title, as he hadn't even been knighted the first time he visited Termina. Link recognized the voice of the mailman, so he at least knew it wasn't an impostor. He opened the door and saw the mailman holding a package. "I'm Sir Link of the Kokiri. I had no idea anyone knew I was here."
"It was addressed to you, sir. The instructions were quite specific. I was to deliver to this room at this exact time." The mailman handed the package to Link and nodded his head. "Have a great day, sir." The mailman rushed away and Link closed the door. Everyone's face mirrored Link's bewildered expression.
"Wow. You're getting mail in another universe," said Railan. "You're just full of surprises."
Link eyed the strange package, wondering if he should open it or not. He briefly wondered if there was something dangerous inside. "I have no idea who could possibly send me a package," Link mused.
"Go on and open it," urged Solo.
Link shrugged his shoulders and tore open the package. Out came a small, leather-bound book. Link gasped in surprise when he saw it. The title of the book, written in the Kokiri language, said simply The Hero of Time. "This isn't possible," said Link, astonished.
Everyone except Railan seemed confused. He leaned over Link's shoulder and said, "Is that the book you showed me those years ago? It looks the same." Railan would never forget that strange book that Link showed him shortly after they'd met. It had led to their harrowing adventure in the future. Now, inexplicably, that same book was here.
Link cautiously opened the book, and flipped through the many blank pages. Near the middle of the book, there was one page with only a few lines of writing, also in Kokiri. He read it to his friends. "It says, 'Meet me in the little outdoor café in East Clock Town. I'll be sitting outside waiting for you. No matter how hard it gets, remember that I'm here for you and I won't leave you behind.'" He looked up with giddy excitement at his friends. "I think this is the message I've been waiting for. Come on, let's go." Link quickly rushed out the door, and his friends stared confusedly for a moment. They then decided that the best course of action was to follow Link. Everyone rushed down the stairs and outside, where they saw Link running toward the café.
Link stopped suddenly when he saw a familiar man sitting at one of the café's outdoor tables. The older man wore simple brown clothing, and had sandy blond hair, very reminiscent of Link's. The older man could easily pass for Link, if he were twenty years older. The man's face beamed when he saw Link approach. He beckoned for Link to come closer. Link looked back at his friends, and nodded that it was all right for them to approach. Solo sidled up next to Link, hoping that this familiar man was who she thought he was. The man stood from his chair and smiled brightly at Link and Solo. A part of Link was still skeptical at this man's appearance. "Are you who I think you are?" asked Link.
The man replied, speaking in the Kokiri language, "No matter how hard it gets, remember that I'm here for you and I won't leave you behind." Link smiled. "I think that should be our special code phrase. It would be logical, right?"
"You sent me that book, just now, right?"
The man nodded. "I figured that if it caught your attention that one time, that it would work again. It appears that I was right. You saved the future and the past, and by some miracle I didn't get punished by the other Ascendants. And once again, I'm here to help you. The Deku Tree said someone you would trust would help you, and I'm here now. It's good to see you again, son." He looked over at Solo and smiled. "And you too, my daughter. I'm glad to see that you finally decided to go with your heart and live with Malon." He looked over at Link's friends, who still stood a fair distance away. "Have them come closer, because it's likely that I may never be able to see them like this again."
Link turned and looked at his friends. "It's okay. You can come closer." His friends hesitantly approached and stopped a few steps behind Link and Solo. Link turned and faced the familiar older man. "So you're really my father, and not his double from this world?"
"No, no. Like me in our world, my double died shortly after the birth of his children. I can assure you that I am truly your father. I was watching when you, Solo, and Railan were saved by the Goddesses themselves after your noble sacrifice. I'd like to say that I had a hand in that, but I didn't. That was of their own volition. That's probably the only reason why I wasn't cast out by the others." Link's father looked at the group assembled before him. "Please, introduce me to your friends."
Link took Solo's hand and sheepishly pointed to his father. "Everyone, this is our father, Batai."
"He looks so much like you," said Malon.
Zelda smiled. "Now I know you'll still look good in twenty years."
Lily seemed confused by the whole situation, and being the voice of reason for Zelda, she said, "UmﾅI don't mean to be offensive, but isn't your father dead?"
Batai smiled mischievously. "Oh yes, I'm dead as a door nail. But I was able to able to ascend to a higher plane of existence after I shed my mortal body. I'm only an apparition; I'm not actually physically here." He extended his arm and thrust it toward Link; it phased right through Link's abdomen and came out the other side. Zelda, Malon, and Lily gasped in amazement.
"You're a ghost!" exclaimed Lily.
"Not technically, no," said Batai. "What you think of as ghosts are the spirits of people who, whether willingly or not, wander the mortal world. I am ascended, and have traversed the normal afterlife into a level of enlightenment and understanding that has the potential to lead to godhood. I wouldn't normally be allowed to show myself to you, but the Ascendants on our world can't see me here, and the Ascendants of this world don't really care. I have far more leeway here than I ever would back home. That's why I can actually show myself to you now. All I really wanted was to meet Link's friends and loved ones, and although I have a mission here, I couldn't pass up this opportunity. It truly is a pleasure to meet you all."
Link looked at his friends' shocked faces and said, "I'm not sure how to explain how or why he's here. But trust me, this is my father."
"Oh, I can explain that," said Batai. "When people die, their souls usually travel to another realm that most would call 'heaven' or the afterlife. What a person experiences is dependent on how he lived his life. People with good souls tend to congregate with others like them, and people with evil souls do the same. There really is no 'heaven' or 'hell', just what each individual interprets as his own afterlife. Then there's the ones like ghosts, who don't know what they want, and wander the world endlessly. Some of them find their way, others don't. But then there are special people, who eventually learn about ascension. Everyone is theoretically capable of it, but not everyone discovers how. Ascension will lift a person's soul to levels far beyond the mortal world and normal afterlife. The Ascendants are those who will gradually unlock the mysteries of the universe. Discovering ascension is like having a blindfold removed from your eyes.
"But the problem is that ascension is supposed to be reserved only for those who are worthy. Generally, only those who are pure of spirit can ascend. Ascension has many rules associated with it. Some very evil people have learned those rules, and tried to take advantage of ascension. People like that are usually cast out by the others, but that doesn't always happen right away. An Ascendant with enough power can hide what he's doing until it's too late for anyone else to stop him. By then the others can only try to fix the damage done.
"The whole reason I'm here is because I'm bending the rules a little bit to prevent one of those people from causing more trouble."
"I had a dream last night," said Link. "A vision. And it was a lot like how you've appeared to me before."
Batai seemed surprised by Link's revelation. "Well, it wasn't me, I can tell you that. And it wasn't anyone I'm working with, either. Who spoke to you? What did he say?"
"He said his name was Akki. He said that he was ascended and that he needed my help. He told me a lot of the same things you've told me. But he said that he needed me, Zelda, Solo and their doubles to go to the Clock Tower. He said that our powers could help defeat the spirit of Majora's Mask, and that only we could destroy him. I didn't quite trust what he said."
Batai sighed. "I was afraid of that. I'm glad I came when I did. Don't trust that man. The word 'akki' means 'demon' in one of the older languages of this world. He's either very clever, or thinks you're an idiot. Or both. He is right about one thing, though. You, your friends, and their doubles are all necessary to his plan. Majora himself is responsible for this mess, and I'm pretty sure that was him talking to you last night."
"But I killed him. I defeated whatever power was inside that mask. He can't possibly be just wandering around, can he?"
"That's exactly what I've been investigating recently. He was once a tyrant that ravaged this world long ago. He discovered the secrets of ascension, and used his powers in secret to manipulate not only mortal people, but other Ascendants. The others here tried to cast him out, but they only partially succeeded. Most of his power was sealed inside that mask, which over the ages has been found by numerous people and caused havoc. Now what's left of his spirit wanders the world, trying to find a conduit to escape. Unfortunately, your entry into this world gave him the ideas he needed to escape from his prison. The power you have, and the power your double has, is enough for him to break out of the mask."
"So why does he need my friends, too?" asked Link.
"Because Majora isn't content to just escape. If he did that, the other Ascendants would quickly banish him again. That little series of caverns you landed in when you first arrived here aren't part of this world or our world. He built that place in between our worlds so he could work without the prying eyes of the other Ascendants. The only reason I could see him at all was because I came from our world through the gateway he created. He knows how to keep the Ascendants of this world from spying on him, but I have a few tricks up my sleeve that I've used to keep an eye on him. I've been trying to contact the Ascendants here and tell them what Majora's planning, but so far they haven't listened to me. They're even more aloof and inattentive than the ones where we come from. And I've found out why he needed the spiritual stones, and why he needs you, your friends, and your doubles.
"Those crystals, like the Triforce, contain the powers of the Ascendants. The Spiritual Stones existed long before the Triforce ever did, and long before the Goddesses."
"But the Goddess are eternal," said Link. "Nothing came before them."
Batai gave Link a grave look. "No, they aren't. The Spiritual Stones have existed for a very long time, and so far no one knows who created them. They were found on our world billions of years ago by the first people to inhabit it. Our world is far, far older than most people could ever dream of. The first people to inhabit the world discovered that these mysterious stones could grant spiritual enlightenment to those who were worthy. The first three people to ever ascend were named Din, Nayru, and Farore. Even their wayward brother later managed to worm his way into ascension. The Goddesses weren't always goddesses; they were people just like us. But because they ascended first, they had the time to learn. They became the most powerful ascended beings simply because they had more time. They wrote the Ascendants' rulebook. They gradually evolved into the seemingly all-powerful beings we know today. They set the example for the rest of us. And because of their goodness and purity, they were able to lay down the rules about who could ascend and what they could do."
Everyone seemed shocked by Batai's revelation. Could it possibly be true that the Goddesses that were all-knowing and all-powerful actually began as mere humans? "Ascension eventually leads to what could only be called godhood. The reason they don't interfere and intervene with everything is because they're too busy trying to discover why the universe exists, and who, if anyone, created it. Someone created those Spiritual Stones, and it wasn't them. They've been trying to find that out for billions of years.
"And this is where Majora comes into play. All the power and knowledge that every Ascendant has learned over the eons is shared among everyone. The main goal for each Ascendant is to expand his mind enough to understand everything. It's a slow process, but it's doable. If the Ascendants were to disappear, all of that knowledge and power would still be there, waiting for the next person to ascend and take on that mantle. Majora knows that fact, and until now, there was nothing he could do about it. But the combination of the Spiritual Stones and your own latent powers can enable him to build a terrible device that will change the fate of the universe. If he manages to capture the three of you and your doubles, his device will be capable of destroying all of the ascended beings in both of our universes."
Link remained speechless, not quite cognizant of the true enormity of the situation. "Butﾅbut how is that even possible?"
"The power of the stones, combined with your ties to the higher planes, will focus his energy enough to basically counteract the energy of every other Ascendant. Once his device is complete, he can wipe all of the Ascendants out with a single thought. And it's not just the ones here. Because of the eternal connection between our universes, he will destroy all the Ascendants in our world, too. That's his revenge for being cast out. Once he does that he can take on all the power and knowledge left behind and integrate it into himself. There's no telling what he could do with all that power."
"Wait a minute," said Zelda, butting into the conversation. She'd heard Link's stories about the seemingly all-powerful Ascendants, so she was somewhat familiar with the whole idea. "So these supposedly higher beings are just going to stand idly by while one of their former comrades plots to destroy them? Are they stupid? If this Majora is such a threat to their very existence, why would they do nothing?"
Batai shrugged. "I would think that the threat of extinction would prompt the others to act, but so far no one has made a move to do anything. Rule number one is to never interfere with the lower planes. Because Majora is no longer ascended, he is currently on one of the lower planes. All of the Ascendants claim to follow the rules, but there are some who live on the edge, like me. I know that there are many others who agree with me, but are either afraid or unwilling to act. Or maybe they're waiting to see what happens to me first. I've been chastised many times for dwelling on the fate of the mortal world. But I think the other Ascendants realize that if there wasn't a mortal world, they wouldn't be where they are now."
Zelda was beginning to get irritated at Batai's reasons. "But if that's so, then why would they not do something? Are they heartless?"
"The rules, while they might seem heartless at first, are there for very good reasons. The powers that the Ascendants have at their disposal are immeasurable. It's the differences in scale that are the problem. Trying to fix a small situation in the normal world, from the perspective of an Ascendant, would be like trying to get rid of a mouse by burning your house down. And the universe is so ridiculously complex that even small, seemingly helpful nudges could lead to disaster. It's only when something happens on a truly grand scale that they can safely help."
Batai turned to look at Link. "The moon crashing into this world was an example of this. The four guardians here were this world's equivalent of our goddesses. As a rule, they couldn't interfere with what Majora's Mask was doing. But you, as a mortal, weren't bound by their rules. The actions you took were enough to help move things along. Eventually, they stepped in when your abilities could no longer defend this world.
"I know it sounds crazy, and I don't quite understand it all myself. But in catastrophes like this, it first takes the actions of a mortal to set things in motion. Once you interfere with their domain enough, they're forced to act to correct things. If you want my honest opinion, I think it's all part of a grand plan. I know our goddesses and the guardians in this world have some idea of how they want the universe to unfold. When events veer away from that plan, people like you are given the ability to nudge things back into the right direction. And sometimes that nudge involves a little help from above. The biggest problem with the plan is that they have to tread lightly enough to keep the universe moving towards their grand goal, but not interfere so much as to eliminate the free will of everyone. I think my helping you is close enough to their plan that they're not going to cast me out."
Link was tired of all this rambling. He was happy to speak to his father again, but the philosophical discussion was quickly going nowhere. "Fine. Let's just agree that none of us mere mortals can understand the mind of the goddesses. So what do I need to do? It's always up to me, so just tell me what my mission is."
Batai nodded. "Of course. I didn't mean to ramble, but I had to tell you those things. You needed to know what you're dealing with. I know that there are analogs to the Spiritual Stones that exist in this world. I have someone trying to locate them right now, but the search has been difficult. They don't seem to be as important here as they are in our world, so no one seems to pay them any mind."
"The last time I was here, there didn't seem to be any revered precious stones that belonged to any of the races here," said Link. "But I wasn't really looking for them, so I don't know if that means anything. Masks seem to be the big thing here. Everyone's crazy about masks."
ﾠ"I noticed that, too. It must be some kind of cultural thing here. Precious stones just might not be that important to people here. I think your best bet is to go to the University of Termina and inquire there. It's been around for centuries and is the cultural hub of this part of the world. If anybody would know anything about the cultural history of Termina, it would be the University. Also, you should keep a close eye on your doubles here. I'm sure that Majora will try to lure them to his lair, so you should make sure that they remain safe. And I know you'll run into your double Keizen eventually. Regardless of what he's done to you, you might need his help."
"I was afraid of that," muttered Link.
"There's still good in him; you just need to find it," said Batai. "He won't be difficult to find. I'm sure he'll soon be flaunting his newfound wealth. Go on to the University. Some people there that you know will help you. One of them is working for me."
"Who is it?" asked Link curiously.
Batai gave a wry grin. "I think you know already, but I'll leave it a surprise. I don't get many opportunities to surprise you, so don't take this away from me. I'll be around, and I'm sure we'll meet again. Link, Solo, I love you both, and I won't let you down if I can help it. Take care of each other." Batai gave one last smile to Link and his friends and walked away. The others remain silent for a few moments as Link pondered everything he'd been told.
"You father uhhﾅhe seems like a nice guy," said Lily awkwardly. "I had no idea that the spiritual world was soﾅcomplicated. You lead a rather interesting life."
"This is what I meant when I said that Link and I being together tends to attract trouble," said Zelda.
"Yeah, this is pretty much a normal day for Link," said Railan.
Link glared at his friend. "You're exaggerating. This doesn't happen all the time, really."
"I don't know," said Zelda. "I think we've gone far beyond the statistical probabilities of pure chance. There's a formula you can use that calculates the probability of a certain event happening within a specific percentile thatﾅ" Her friends stared at her in confusion. "Never mind. The fact is: our lives really are that crazy. With a confidence level of 99 percent."
"Finally, I have some validation," said Railan in triumph.
"Well, I suppose we should go to the University, then," said Link. He wandered off towards the stable where their horses were being kept, but stopped before arriving. He turned to look at his friends. "Does anybody know where the University actually is?"
His friends shook their heads. "You're the expert on this world," said Solo. "I figured you knew."
Link appeared slightly embarrassed. "Well, I didn't really know there was a university, soﾠ I'm not entirely sure where it is. I figured there was more to this world than I saw in those endlessly repeating three days, but I didn't exactly get a chance to explore it all. I suppose we could try to find it. It's got to be around here somewhere."
Railan could visualize the thoughts going on inside Link's head and decided to talk some sense into him. "No, we're not going to go on an adventure to find the University. Someone here will know where it is. Why don't we ask? Or go find a map or something?"
"I think I saw a little tourist information stand over there somewhere," said Lily, pointing toward the southern end of the town. Lily started walking south and the others followed her. After a few minutes they stopped at a small booth with a disinterested young man sitting behind it.
"This must be new," said Link.
"Can I help you guys?" said the man in a tone that implied that his time was being wasted.
"We're looking for the University of Termina," said Link. "Do you have a map of where it is?"
"It's in the southeast," said the disinterested man. He handed Link a large folded piece of paper. "The map is 15 rupees. Haveﾠ a nice day."
Link purchased the map and led everyone to the stables. Railan took the map and studied it while they were walking. "It looks like it's only a few miles to the southeast of here. We could get there in no time. Assuming there aren't any bizarre creatures we have to fight off on the way there."
"There might be," said Link. The others gave him worried glances. "But I think we'll be fine. I think the stuff I encountered years ago was just a result of the evil forces preying upon it. After all, when was the last time you saw a giant man-eating monster in Hyrule?"
"Wellﾅ" Railan mumbled. "I haven't seen one in recent memory. But it never hurts to be cautious."
"We'll be fine," said Link. "Let's get going. I want to figure out what's going on so we can go home." He took the map from Railan and mounted his borrowed horse. Everyone followed suit and waited for Link to lead them away. Link looked back at Railan. "I wouldn't worry too much about monsters. What I'd worry about is that giant bird that swoops down and steals all your stuff." Railan gave a worried expression and Link chuckled as he rode away.
The ride to the University of Termina proved to be uneventful, but even so, Railan suspiciously eyed every large bird that flew overhead. He wasn't about to let some demon bird steal what few belongings he had with him. The University itself was far less grandiose than the one in Hyrule, but it still had its wonders. The campus was constructed in a large clearing surrounded by a thin forest. Unlike the varied architecture of the University of Hyrule, the buildings of Termina's University mostly shared the same boxy, granite-and-marble designs.
Link saw a sign that read "Visitor Stables" and led his friends there. They left their horses behind and walked to the main thoroughfare of the campus. "So Link, do you need my expertise on finding a campus map, or are you all right this time?" said Railan with a smirk. They were standing in front of a large billboard that read "Campus Map."
"I think I got it this time," replied Link.
"I feel like there's a joke here that I'm missing," said Lily.
"Well you see, that time we traveled to the future, we went to university there, and Link was wondering if there was a map, andﾅ" Railan said, but Zelda cut him off.
"What we really need to do is find out where we should go and who we should talk to."
"Well, the history department always seemed to work out for us, so maybe we should try there,' said Link.