In Which Strange Messages are Received
The basement was quiet and still, crammed with boxes and crates all covered in a thin layer of dust. Link stood at its centre, determined to finally unpack his things but not sure where to start.
He had been calling this house home for almost a year now, and yet most of his stuff was still packed away, abandoned in the basement. Possibly because he’d only ever come back maybe six or seven times over said year; he always had more important places to be.
But now, he was determined. Today, he would unpack his things. If he could just…decide where to start.
Taking a breath of stale air, he adjusted his grip on his crowbar and picked the largest box. He didn’t know what was inside it – he’d forgotten what was in most of them, honestly – but he figured he might as well start big and work his way down.
'What a waste of time,' a voice murmured, an elbow leaning on his shoulder. It dug in with deliberate force and Link arched away, glaring at the empty air beside him. 'Why unpack when you’re never going to get to use any of it? I know I certainly won’t have any use for it.'
'Fuck off,' Link replied, then returned his attention to his chosen crate. Ignoring a faint snicker from that strange just-behind-him-but-also-inside-his-head direction, he wedged the crowbar between the box and its lid and heaved.
It took a surprising amount of time and effort to open crates and sort through the bric-a-brac inside them. After a while, Link shrugged off his tunic and draped it over a nearby box, surprised to find himself sweating. It was warm in the basement, he supposed, the air muggy and dusty.
As it always did, his attention caught on the markings that covered his right hand and arm. Blood red and surprisingly intricate, they stopped just below his shoulder. They could have – and had – passed for a tattoo from a distance, but Link was never fooled. Given that they were on his arm, he could always see the way they constantly shifted ever so slightly, like they were alive. Even in the basement’s dim light they shone wetly, looking for all the world like he had just carved them into his skin and they were welling with blood.
That familiar resigned dread rose in his chest as he looked at them, though today he couldn’t muster much more than a brief flare of fear and loathing as he ran his fingers down his arm. He always felt like he should be able to wipe them off, but they never so much as smeared.
His fingers stopped at the thick, raised scar that ran all the way around his right wrist, tracing it softly. He couldn’t feel it; he hadn’t been able to feel anything in his right hand for years now, and he couldn’t use it either.
But the thing possessing him could, and it chose that moment to use his hand to flip him off. It never failed to terrify him, to see his own fingers moving without his permission no matter how hard he willed them not to, and his stomach twisted just as it always did.
'Would you stop?' he growled, knowing he shouldn’t engage with it and knowing it would just disregard him but unable to help himself. He grabbed his right hand with his left and squeezed until it stopped moving.
'You’re no fun,' the demon whined, but this time Link managed to ignore it. He felt its presence, cold and always lingering on the edges of his awareness, recede as it sulked.
He was about to return to unpacking when someone knocked on the door upstairs, three loud, deliberate thumps. Squinting at the ceiling like he could somehow see through it, Link hesitated, then grabbed his tunic and headed upstairs. Both of his housemates were away and had keys, so it couldn’t be them, and Link wasn’t expecting anyone. A door-to-door salesman, maybe? Someone from the temple?
He was just straightening his clothes as he reached the door, and he tugged it open to find…nobody. There was nobody there. People wandered by on the street that ran past the house, but none of them so much as spared him a glance as they went about their business. It wasn’t the local kids, either; he could always hear them sniggering from wherever they were hidden nearby.
Had he imagined it? Or maybe the knocking had come from elsewhere on the street and he’d just happened to notice it?
When he went to close the door, annoyed by the distraction, a splash of colour on the ground caught his attention. Brightly painted, it appeared to be a tiny wooden mask. Link picked it up, and it fit snugly in his palm, staring up at him vacantly with its empty eyes. The wood was strangely warm, like it had been sat out in the sun for a while, despite the sky being grey and gloomy.
He turned it over. As he read the words written in black ink on the back, the world around him turned quiet and still, muffled by a blanket of shock. Even the demon was silent – which was unnerving because that asshole always had something snide to say – but as Link read the message again, he thought he understood why.
It was brief, just two lines. One listed a place, a time, and a date, and the second sent a shiver down Link’s spine because there were maybe only three people in the world who knew about the curse on him.
Want to be free of that shadow following you? I know a way, so come see me.
Zelda had been drifting for a while now, travelling aimlessly from place to place. For the most part, she had got by on fake fortune-telling, scamming people out of rupees with vague promises of the things they wanted. Love, money, success – it was easy, and far better than telling them the truth of what she really saw when she looked into their futures. Not that she ever really did that, either.
When her luck, or money, ran out, she would take refuge in the city temples, but she could never stomach staying long. Their lofty halls, the smell of incense, and the soft hymns and prayers always brought back memories she would much rather forget.
For now, though, she had a decently full coin purse at her hip and had rented a room in an inn she had stumbled across. It stood at a crossroad between several small villages and it smelt like smoke and old food. The beds were scratchy and it was never quite as quiet as she might have liked, but it wasn’t the worst place she’d ever stayed in.
She was lying on her itchy bed, listening to a child screaming in one of the nearby rooms, when there came a knock on her door. Sitting up slowly, she frowned, running through a list of people it could be. It was a short list, and she quickly concluded there was no reason for any one of them to be knocking on her door. So far, her stay at the inn had been uninterrupted; she was just another traveller passing through, soon to be gone and never seen again, and if her covered eyes had drawn any attention…well, she hadn’t noticed.
Sat on her bed, she made no move to get up, straining her ears for any more sounds from the door.
When the knocking came again, she jumped.
The child was still screaming, and if she listened closely she could hear some people having a row in another room, but the knock had definitely been on her door. No one called through the wood to explain themselves, and the handle remained untried.
Still frowning, Zelda slipped from the bed and grabbed her walking stick before picking her way across the room. She skirted around the beam that, unhelpfully, ran right through the middle of it – she had walked right into it on her first night at the inn – and halted in front of the door.
Pressing an ear to it, she scrunched up her face in concentration and listened. With all the persistent noise in the inn, she couldn’t make out any sound coming from just outside her door.
So, when the third knock came, directly in her ear this time, she leapt back in surprise and raised her stick to defend herself. Someone giggled and a shiver shot down her spine. There was nothing she could do but wait for something to break into her room or attack her; she couldn’t bring herself to speak or reach for the handle.
But then footsteps began to thump away down the hall. Away from her room.
She waited until the sound had disappeared completely, then reached out and opened the door a crack. Her stick stayed raised, and she was ready to thump or stab someone with it, but when she jabbed it into the hall a few times all it met was empty air. There was no one there anymore.
A prank? The laugh had suggested whoever it was had known she was in there, but why knock at all if they didn’t have anything to say?
Pursing her lips, she opened her door fully and bent down to run her hands across the floorboards outside her door. They could have been delivering something, even though the rational part of her brain told her that no one knew she was here in this inn, and nobody would have any reason to send her something anyway.
But then her fingers met something smooth and wooden and she grasped it, straightening as she ran her fingers over it. It was small, about the size of her palm, and had two holes near the centre. It took her a minute to work out it was a mask.
With a fresh frown, she retreated into her room, shutting the door firmly behind her before she crossed back to her bed. There was something about the mask that unsettled her; when she lifted it to her face she thought she heard whispers for a moment, and felt something like a presence brush against her consciousness. She contemplated burning the thing, but she was curious. What was it? Why had it been left outside her door in such a deliberate manner?
After a moment of dithering she tugged off one of her gloves and gingerly touched her fingertips to the mask. At first, nothing changed, but then with a jolt and the sensation of being doused in icy water, she was dragged into a vision. Her surroundings melted away as she fell through a whirlwind of fleeting sounds and impressions, swirls and bursts of colour that gradually settled into a hazy, muffled scene.
Another inn, as far as she could tell, murky and full of shadows. The only thing in focus was a man sat at a table, illuminated by a beam of light that had no source. His hair was the colour of copper, his eyes dark and impenetrable, and his face was stretched into a wide, unnerving grin. His teeth were neat and white, and in the haziness of the vision every so often it looked like they were fangs. His face was a myriad of different colours.
No, not his face. Zelda realised it was a mask; the only real detail was the colour of his hair.
He stretched out a pale hand and beckoned, and when Zelda drifted closer he leaned forward and whispered in her ear. A place, a date, a time – and a question that made her shiver so violently she snapped out of the vision. She didn’t know how the man knew, but he knew the one thing she wanted more than anything in the entire world.
Cursed girl. Pitiful child. Want to close those eyes of yours for good? Come see me, I know a way.
As the sun drooped beneath the horizon, the air finally began to cool, deep blue shadows unfurling in every direction as the city grew quiet. Ganondorf watched the streets empty and grow dark from his spot on one of the palace balconies, elbows propped up on the smooth railing, chin resting in his hands.
He ached. From head to toe he was sore and stiff and spent. Another day spent endlessly talking, of sitting upright and stately until his back and neck screamed, of listening to petty complaints and legitimate concerns. There was a steady throb in his temples, and he dropped his face into his hands with a soft sigh, lightly digging his fingertips into the space between his eye sockets and eyeballs.
The queen had been steadily increasing his princely duties around the palace for weeks now, preparing him for the inevitable day she stepped down or died; whichever came first. The thought of ruling filled him with dread and an excitement he wasn’t entirely sure was his own. He supposed it had to be, for there was no one else it could belong to, but all the same it felt malicious, somehow.
The old hags called it "the curse of the royal family"; specifically, the King’s Curse. If their stories were to be believed, the royal line was descended from a demon, which had once battled with a neighbouring goddess and been struck down. But its hatred and desire for total destruction lingered across generations, corrupting every man bearing its blood.
The last king had fallen to it, and so many others, across the annals of time. So many before him had succumbed to this darkness.
Or, so his aunts said. For much of his life Ganondorf had written it off as the ramblings of the elderly, but in recent years he had begun to wonder. Whenever his thoughts turned to the future he found a…hunger growing inside him, for death and chaos and misery. Sometimes, he lay awake at night and considered how he would go about destroying the world – imagining how his armies would march on each country in turn and leave nothing but devastation in their wake – until he realised what he was doing and broke out in a cold sweat.
There was something inside him that whispered cruel thoughts whenever he let it, and for the most part he resisted. Sometimes, though, no matter how hard he fought, it surfaced all the same. It was this that filled him with dread at the thought of being crowned king.
Pressing his fingers more firmly to his eyes, Ganondorf let himself slump against the balcony rails, finally away from prying eyes and able to let his exhaustion show. If he hadn’t been so tired, he might have sought out Nabooru and pestered her to spar with him. He didn’t want to be alone with his thoughts, but exhaustion dragged at his limbs and he couldn’t stomach the notion of doing anything.
A breeze flitted by, blessedly cool, and Ganondorf breathed in deeply. This time of year, evenings were full of the scent of the palace’s flowering night gardens, sweet and fresh, and he took a few more lungfuls of the fragrant air before hauling himself upright and turning away from the sprawling city below.
His chambers were brightly lit, and he watched the candlelight flicker in that soft breeze before it died down, leaving the candles’ flames swaying lazily. These were his favourite kind of evenings, and he wished he wasn’t so worn out so that he might enjoy it properly.
Slowly, he made his way back into the room, pulling all the pins and ornaments from his hair as he went. He couldn’t help a sigh of relief as his hair fell free, the tension in his scalp lessening piece by piece. He massaged it for a moment, discarding the pins on a nearby table with a clatter, then found a seat piled high with cushions to collapse into.
As he sat, eyelids drooping, he realised he’d dropped the pins next to something on the usually-empty table. He hadn’t noticed it before, and as he stared at it he realised he didn’t recognise it either. It wasn’t one of the few decorative ornaments he had placed around his rooms, at least as far as he was aware.
Barely suppressing a groan, he pushed himself to his feet and staggered back over to the table, narrowing his eyes at what he found atop it.
A mask. Small – too small for anything but perhaps a newborn child – with a crooked grin and unsettling face painted in garish bright colours. Narrowing his eyes further, Ganondorf picked it up. It was smooth and oddly warm and, upon further inspection, he found words painted on the back in black ink. A time, a date, and a place – somewhere in Hyrule, it seemed – and the most curious offer.
He looked towards the door and considered calling in one of the guards stationed outside, but something compelled him to stay quiet. If it was in his chambers, it had been deemed safe by Nabooru or one of the countless other guards; unless someone had taken on the near-impossible task of climbing in through one of his windows to put it on the table, there was no other way for it to have got there.
Running his tongue across his teeth thoughtfully, Ganondorf turned the mask over and over, considering the words written on the back.
I bet the creeping dread of a fate you can’t escape gets pretty tiring sometimes, doesn’t it? Come see me, I know a way to solve all your problems.