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Shades of Blue

Chapter Text

Where are you?

Where...

Where did you go?

Have to...find you...

Supposed to find you, when...

Remember, remember—have to...

When he opened his eyes, he was alone.

Something about that phenomenon felt...wrong. Like he had fallen asleep expecting someone there...like he had...like someone was supposed to be here. Someone was...wait...something was wrong. He had been...he couldn’t recall. He couldn’t remember. Why couldn’t he remember...anything? All he had was this vague recollection, a half baked thought that he had been...waiting for someone? Here?

But where was here? Who was that someone his mind was foolishly expecting?

Who was he?

Trying to cease the encroaching panic at that terrible thought, he blinked the daze out of his eyes, focusing his blurry gaze upward as he dragged his sluggish thoughts back into order. There was a horribly bright light coming from...somewhere. It was blue. A blinding, garish blue, staring down at him from the ceiling of whatever strange place he found himself in. He hated it. His vision blurred again, and he rubbed dazedly at his eyes as he sat up, looking around the dark...cave, that he found himself in. He was in a cave.

Why he thought his location odd, when he couldn’t even recall his own name, he really couldn’t say. All he had was a fuzzy sense that something was amiss, with where he was. He was not meant to be here. Not here, and not alone. Certainly not alone.

It felt as if he had been asleep for a terribly long time, drifting in something he couldn’t see, lulled off until nothing was left of him but his scrambled consciousness and a sense of something missing.

And oh, that sense was massive. Less than a minute of conscious thought and he could already tell with sweeping clarity that there was a terrible amount of information he was missing. There was a swath of space in his hazy thoughts left devastatingly blank, thousands of questions reverberating off the emptiness and demanding answers he could not supply.

His breathing had picked up pace without his notice, and he shook his head at himself. He needed to focus, not drown in the sense of dread lurking in the back of his muddled thoughts. There was no sense in thinking of these things now, not when he had so little idea of where he was. A deep, unbreakable part of him was telling him to calm himself, to focus on what was in front of him, the task at hand, orient and understand. There was a time for panic, and moments after waking in a strange cave was decidedly not the time.

What had drawn him awake in the first place? There had been something, something beyond whatever strange draining sound he had faintly heard as he opened his eyes. Something had really caught his weary attention, and had carefully pulled him from the thickness of death like sleep. He’d followed it here, whatever it was...though he had very little idea of where he had been prior to this moment. And he still didn’t quite know where here was.

No, no he was not going to think about that. Panic later, understand now.

As if in response to his meandering confusion, he heard a voice—a far off, echoing sort of voice that was familiar and yet...not.

Wake up, Link, it whispered, a hint of desperation in its musical tone.

That was it. That was his name. How could he have forgotten his own name? He’d never had another. It was only Link, he was only ever Link. Nothing else could have been his name, and yet he had utterly failed to remember it until this strange, oddly familiar girl’s voice had told him it as she whispered for him to wake up. It was her voice he had followed out of that seeping darkness. Her voice that had pulled him from the slumber he had somehow ended up in.

But...that wasn’t the right voice. She wasn’t the someone he had...been waiting for? Expected? He wasn’t quite sure how she failed his scrambled mind’s test, to be honest, but she still was not the correct voice. Something in him demanded that she was not who he had been listening for...at least not in his deepest thoughts.

Why on earth did he think that? He frowned as he rubbed again at his eyes, looking blearily around the cave as he thought. What should make this voice any more wrong than if it had been another? He had only just recalled his own name. It was ridiculous to have such thoughts seconds after waking in a strange, dim cave with nothing and no one.

He had no one. But he had the sense that he used to have someone...someone of great importance.

What gave him this overwhelming sense that even as he drowned in neverending darkness, he had been calling out (desperately, he had a feeling) to someone else? He had received reply, thank...whoever it was he had to thank, but still he had not been seeking this girl in his thoughts. He had been...oh, it was so close and yet so far, he had them and then they slipped away from him. Still, he knew she was not them. He had called out for another. But why should he have expected...someone else?

Why should he have expected someone at all?

Where was he?

What was...what was going on?

Link, the voice said again, imploring.

Right. Right. No sense in sitting...wherever he was...just to continue being confused. He had to...find a way out of here, and then...well, he would sort that out as it came. But he wouldn’t sort a single thing out if he kept sitting here in this strangely lit cave for no reason.

Looking around once more, he lifted himself from the odd place he had been laying. There wasn’t much in the cave, except an oddly sectioned off wall (likely a door, although he had no clue why he thought such) and a glowing pedestal of some kind not far from it. It shone with the same light as the rest of the cave, but there was something resting in the top of the pedestal that drew his eye. Pushing himself to his feet, he wandered over, glad to have something to focus on, to quiet the empty spaces in his memory.

As he came upon the strange pedestal, it suddenly flashed a brighter blue. In a bout of sheer (and unexplainable) panic, he flinched away from the terminal, stumbling back a step and breathing fast. His heart was pounding audibly in his ears, and his gaze was stuck on the pedestal, wide eyed and shaking.

What on...why did he just...it hadn’t even done a thing to him, and he was cowering from it like a child.

Something vague flashed before his eyes, a fragment of some...memory, maybe? A nightmare? He didn’t know, but it was gone before he had the chance to understand it. All he had time to catch was cold, and pain, and far too much of that same garish blue light. Then it was gone, and he was left reeling in this dim cave, hugging himself and breathing fast.

Why did he have such a drastic reaction to a flashing blue light? And what had that...vision, he supposed...why was that so filled with that light—and why did it terrify him? Well...it hardly mattered. It was over now. It was over.

He didn’t want that to happen again.

In the midst of his half panic, the pedestal’s light had dimmed once more, and something in it began to turn. There was a faint clicking sound, and then something lifted out from the top of the pedestal, glowing a rather pleasant (thankfully not blue) orange. The object was covered in strange symbols, predominantly something that greatly resembled an eye, glowing a much softer blue than the pedestal itself—and it was a flat sort of color—there was no change to it, no rise and fall like the lights at the edge of the room.

He stared warily at it for a moment, but nothing happened. No horrible flashing, and (he didn’t know why he expected it, but) no pain or anything of the sort. The strange object just sat there in the pedestal, glowing softly, without shifting. Perhaps that was why it didn’t bother him so much...the fact that this little rectangular...thing...sat and glowed blankly at him. Although he had so little clue why anything bothered him at all that he didn’t feel qualified to say exactly what about this strange object didn’t frighten him.

That is a Sheikah Slate, the voice from afar said softly. A shift had happened somewhere, and he got the sense that this girl had seen his panic, softened her tone even more in response. Take it. It will help guide you after your long slumber.

He frowned at the voice, wondering at this girl’s vague phrasing. Long slumber. What did that mean? He needed answers not...strange attempts at comfort. Because he could tell that this girl, whoever she was, was attempting to calm him somehow. Could she see him?

What did she want with him, anyway? He trusted her (reasons unknown) but that didn’t mean he understood why she was speaking to him, pulling him from the ether and prodding him along.

But there were more pressing things to think about than this girl’s intentions. She had, after all, somehow managed to wake him from his death-like sleep. He knew such a feat took effort. Not to mention the fact that whoever this girl was, he had the sense that she was quite a distance from him, and yet still able to speak to him as if she were a few feet away. She was guiding him far more than this supposed Sheikah Slate was.

He stared at the small object jutting out from the pedestal for another second of hesitation before reaching for it, pulling it from the terminal with surprising ease. It was quite small, smooth and dark like the walls of this odd cave, but as he’d noticed before, the glow from it seemed softer, more flat. He was glad for that, at least, though he had no idea why.

The slate began to hum as he turned it over in his hands, and suddenly a portion of it came to life, glowing a dark blue. An insignia briefly flitted across the surface, the same as had seen on the back of the slate, though this time the eye was in blue rather than orange. A sort of menu appeared, but he had less than a second to look at it before there was a heavy thunk, and the door at the front of the room began to slide open. Hoping for an escape from this cave (it was beginning to make him nervous, and he really couldn’t say why) he hurried toward the door, still holding the slate in both hands.

Rather than an exit, however, he found the door opening on a short corridor. It was as dimly lit as the first small room had been, pale blue lights rising and falling in brightness around the edges, giving the already drafty corridor a frigid feeling. There were crates scattered about, looking weatherworn and decrepit, and two chests shut tight just by the small set of stairs. Taking the slate in one hand, he shuffled over to them, curiosity getting the best of him.

The locks were rusted off, and so with some effort he forced the chests open, finding a worn out shirt and set of pants inside. They were both threadbare (and strangely too small, but he wasn’t sure why he thought that strange...they were clothes from a closed off, drafty cave, there was no reason for them to fit him) but he pulled them on anyway, glad for the mediocre warmth of the fabric even if it was barely better than before. The crates, he discovered, were empty. Perhaps they had held something once, but nothing was there now. Just dust and moldy smelling wood.

Brushing his hands off and picking up the slate once again, he turned and gave the little corridor another once over. All that was left was another terminal and the door at the opposite end. This terminal, however, was glowing the bright orange of the Sheikah Slate, not blue like the other. It was simpler as well—it didn’t look like it could hold the slate, or rotate as the other did. There was only that ever present eye symbol, glowing brightly through the darkness on the flat surface of the terminal.

Hold the Sheikah Slate up to the pedestal, the girl said. That will show you the way.

Unintentionally, he stepped back from the terminal, holding tighter to the slate in his hands, gaze still stuck on the (thankfully) orange glow of the eye symbol. What was he doing? Clearly this was the only way out of the cave, if this terminal was anything like the last had been. Doing as the girl said would open the door, would let him out of this place.

He wanted out of this place.

But if this terminal was like the other, then that horrible blue light would come back. That...memory would come back. He didn’t want that at all.

Glancing just once more at the slate in his hands, he steeled himself for the inevitable and stepped forward again. There was no reason to be afraid of this tiny terminal. It couldn’t do a single thing to him, and yet here he was, hesitating to do the one thing he had been told to do (the one thing he could do, really) all because of this oddly debilitating fear of...something in his past. A vague notion of something that must have happened, but he had no idea what exactly it was, or why he was so terrified of it.

The part of him that had dragged him from his panic earlier found his actions useless. Cowering from a harmless terminal, all because of a flash of blue light that hadn’t even touched him was foolish, embarrassing even. But who did he have to embarrass? There was no one here, and he had no scale to judge his actions on.

He was alone, after all.

Nodding a little to himself, he stepped carefully over to the pedestal, grip deadly right on the Sheikah Slate. He stared down at the glowing eye, then toward the door, and finally back at the slate again. With a steadying breath (and more than his fair share of inexplicable trembling) he shut his eyes tight and practically slammed the slate down on the terminal’s smooth surface.

There was a chime, identical to the one that had rung through his ears when the last terminal had shone brighter, and then the clunk of the door pulling open. Cautiously, he pulled the Sheikah Slate away from the terminal and pried his eyes open.

Bright light was pouring in the door, white and warm and that was sunlight.

The exit. Finally. Finally.

He didn’t give the voice a chance to nudge him along again, shoving the slate onto the strap of the shabby belt he’d found and scrambling out of the corridor. Faintly, he felt water splashing up against him as he stomped through a puddle, but he was too focused on getting out to really care. He hurried his way up a short sheet of rock and tumbled onto muddy grass, but he didn’t care. Stumbling to his feet once more, he practically sprinted from the cave, bursting out into the sunlight and coming to a screeching halt at the sight laid out before him.

He found himself on the edge of a high cliff, tucked into the side of a mountain. Sprawling outward from where he was, he found a mass of green—grass, trees, a thin patch of forest just below the ledge he was on—then lower, farther out, a massive, seemingly endless field. Mountains were dotted around the edges in the distance, seemingly in all shades of rock. He could just make out the shape of a burning volcano to the northeast, snow capped peaks to the northwest, and who knew how many other things in the directions he couldn’t clearly make out. The sun shone brightly here, and the air was warm as he looked around. Frankly, he was stunned.

Something pulled at him as he looked around at the land spreading outward as far as he could see. Something tugged at those dark, empty spaces in his thoughts—and for a flash, the world shifted.

Clear skies became stormy, blurring and flickering as he struggled to focus—light turned to darkness, warmth into cold, and absence of feeling into terrible, unfathomable pain. It was exactly the same as he had felt in the cave when the terminal flashed at him, only this was far more intense. The chill was seeping into him, and he thought he heard voices, a terrifying mechanical whirring, and that awful light—

Just as quickly as it had come, the hellish vision was gone, and he was left shivering in the heat, eyes fixed on the shadowy form of a castle, at the northernmost point he could see. It loomed at the horizon, dark and dismal and—

He looked away quickly, hands pulling at his shirt, half expecting to find it...he didn’t know, but whatever his body thought was wrong was not there. He was fine. Alone, utterly baffled, and shaken by the half remembered nightmare, but uninjured. Breathing deeply, he let go of the hem of the shirt as a breeze picked up, brushing stray leaves past him in the wind.

It was quiet here, wherever he found himself exactly. He could hear birds chirping, and the distant sound of churning water, the occasional rustling of grass, but besides that, there was nothing. None of that awful clicking whir that still rang in his ears (he was trying to ignore it) and no voice of a distant girl he couldn’t quite recognize.

It would seem...he was alone again.

Or, perhaps not.

As he looked around the clearing below him once more, his eyes landed on a shadowy figure near an outcropping of rock. The old man had an unlit lantern in his hand and wore a heavy hood, and Link could not see his expression, but the old man appeared to be watching him. For how long, he couldn’t say. Before he could settle on how odd it was, the old man turned away, using the lantern like a walking stick as he moseyed back toward a small overhang of rock.

Frowning slightly (and wanting nothing more than to turn away from the massive view of that terrible castle in the distance) Link turned to follow him. It seemed the girl’s voice was gone, and so he had nowhere else to turn for answers to the dozens of questions flying through his thoughts.

Why had he been sleeping in that strange cave? Where was he anyway? (And the more existential varieties—who was he, besides just his name, where did he belong, how did he get here, because this felt wrong on every level, not just in the sense that he wasn’t meant to wake up here, but he...he wasn’t sure, exactly, but...) There were too many questions to ask of course (and the old man wasn’t likely to know all the answers), but if he could just sort out the simplest things, then maybe he could...figure out the rest.

Nodding to himself, Link began to wander away from the little cliff he had emerged onto.

It felt...inexplicably good to walk around this place, to feel dirt and grass beneath his feet and feel the sun on his face. He was beginning to get the sense once more that he really had been asleep for a great length of time, but it was quickly becoming overshadowed by another heavy thought—that he hadn’t expected to wake up at all. Opening his eyes (even if it was in a cave that felt wrong, somehow, and to a voice that was not the one he so desperately needed to hear) had been...a relief. That feeling only grew as he walked, to the point that if he managed to pull his thoughts away from the darkness of uncertainty for long enough, he almost felt normal.

The feeling of unease was still there, and he doubted it would leave. But the longer he spent out here, in the sunlight, walking and breathing and picking his way through a landscape both foreign and comfortably familiar, the quieter those empty spaces in his mind seemed to become. Sure, he remembered almost nothing of himself, besides his name and vague ideas that he couldn’t form to words, but surely those things would come back.

Right?

“Well met, stranger!”

Link turned his attention back to the present, and the old man looking quizzically at him from the other side of a campfire. He was sat under an overhang of mossy rock, hidden in his thick hood and the shadows of the alcove, but Link could see his expression far more clearly here than he could on the cliff.

“It’s rather unusual to see another soul in these parts,” he grumbled, watching Link with a bit of a downturned expression. “Particularly those appearing from sealed caves.”

Link only stared at him with a slight frown. There was something...vaguely familiar about this man, almost the same as that strange girl’s voice from before. He couldn’t place just what about him it was he recognized (and he was not the person he was still stubbornly searching for, that he was sure of implicitly) and he couldn’t be certain he was correct in his recognition (he wasn’t certain of practically anything at this point).

“You look like you’ve seen a ghost,” the old man said with a smirk, unphased by Link’s deepening confusion at his odd words. “Oh, don’t mind me. I’m just an old fool who’s been living here, alone, for quite some time now...what brings a bright-eyed young man like you to a place like this?”

He looked away, eyes drawn inexplicably to the west, but the view was not as visible from here as it had been on the cliff earlier. There were too many trees in the way to see what he wanted to (even if he could remember what exactly it was...it seemed he had stumbled upon an old habit that he didn’t know the reason behind). Unfortunately he could still pick out the towers of that terrible castle in the distance, and he turned from it just as quickly as he had before.

Almost of their own accord, his hands rose without a thought as he looked again at the old man.

“Where are we?”

The old man stared at his hands for a few seconds, a frown briefly crossing his face. “Answering a question with another...I suppose that is fair enough. As I doubt our meeting here to be a simple coincidence, I shall tell you.”

He glanced briefly around the place before his eyes settled on Link again. “This is the Great Plateau. According to legend, it was here that the kingdom of Hyrule was born. Since the decline of the kingdom one hundred years ago, however, this place has sat abandoned, in a state of decay.”

The old man sighed, and for a moment looked quite weary. But he seemed to brush it off quickly, pushing himself to his feet and waving for Link to follow him. Having nothing better to do (and a strange feeling in his chest about this place) Link followed him to the edge of the overhang, where the old man stopped and pointed out a dilapidated building in the distance.

“That temple there...it is called the Temple of Time. Long ago, it was the sight of many sacred ceremonies...quite a beautiful structure,” he said, a certain wistfulness to his voice as he stared at the building. “And yet...now it has become another forgotten entity. A mere ghost of its former glory...”

Link was quiet, staring at the old building. Moss was crawling its way up the face of the temple, and many of the structures near the front of the building were crumbling, chunks of brick and glass falling strewn about while others were just...gone. Decay might have been an understatement—that building looked forcibly destroyed...

“I shall be here for some time,” the old man said, leaning on the unlit lantern and watching him carefully. “Please let me know if I may be of service to you somehow.”

Link nodded, and the old man seemed satisfied, sitting down by his fire once again. Unsure what else to do, Link turned back to the meandering path that lead to the rest of the plateau. As he started off, the Sheikah Slate hummed at his side, and he looked down at it curiously before taking it out and examining it warily.

It had drawn up another screen without his notice, lit up a soft dark blue at him as he pulled it out. The screen appeared in strangely sectioned off lines. There was a light yellow icon near the center, an arrow of sorts that shifted as he moved the slate in his hands. It took him a few seconds too long to realize that this strangely broken image was meant to be some kind of map, and the little icon near the center was his current location.

The Sheikah Slate has been damaged, a warning at the bottom of the screen read.

Well...that wasn’t ideal. But there was a glowing gold mark on the slate as well, not very far from where he was at the moment. It was smaller than his icon, round and blinking slowly at him.

Head for the point marked there, the girl’s voice said from afar, gentle still, and quieter than before. Tread carefully, Link.

Turning the slate in his hands once more, he managed to find the general direction of the glowing gold point, and looked north. Down the overgrown path, across a stretch of decayed rubble and swaying grass, there was a massive cluster of tan rock. It looked a bit out of place amidst all the greenery, and he could see something just under it, though it was too far to make out exactly. That had to be the place the gold point was designating, blinking at him as he stared at it.  Putting the slate back on his belt, Link set off, walking carefully down the dilapidated stone path.

The sun appeared from behind the clouds again as he walked, and for a moment he paused. He wasn’t quite sure why, but he wasn’t keen on questioning all of his actions. It was a waste of time, and this wasn’t anything dangerous—to stand here and enjoy the sun for a few seconds peace before wandering off into some unknown task given by a mysterious voice. No, he could spare a few seconds to just stand here on the worn stones and feel the sun on his face, and the wind in his hair.

There came a funny sinking feeling then, a pang brought about by the sensation that he really had not expected to wake from his sleep. Whatever had happened to him in his mysterious past, it had been bad enough to make him fall into that dark ether believing himself to go there for eternity. It was a dismal thought to have when he knew so little about himself.

By some sheer luck (at least, so it seemed) he found himself awake again, opening his eyes in a strange cave with nothing and no one to orient himself somehow. He had no recollection of how he came to be here, or where here was, or who he was.

And most naggingly in the back of his mind, he could not remember who he had been...trying to find, he supposed, in that odd sleep. It was foggy, this sense he had of the person he was so desperate to find while floating in that strange space between the blank past and the current moment—but it was persistent nonetheless. He wanted to find them—more than he wanted to learn his past, more than he wanted to know who the girl speaking was—more than anything, he wanted to find them.

His memories were filled with phantom spaces, little pieces of a half recollected thought that seemed to run in the background even now as he walked toward the edge of the plateau. Little things he could remember, like his name now, and (though he thought almost nothing of it) how to sign properly. But the larger swaths of emptiness—his entire past, how he had come here, what the strange vision of all that painful blue light was, this person he so desperately needed to find—they were the pieces of him he knew mattered most, and they were the most evasive to him.

He didn’t know how to recover those pieces. He didn’t know how to find the person haunting his thoughts even now. He did not have the slightest idea of what to do with himself, where to start trying to put the pieces of his past back into place.

But following that girl’s voice...making his way out into that sprawling green field far below him, and even further...it was as good a place to start as any. And it was all he had to follow.

A strange sound came from his left, drawing his thoughts back to the current moment. He paused on the path, looking into the tree line warily. The Sheikah Slate hummed again, but his eyes were fixed on a patch of red mixed in with all the greenery, looking very out of place.

There was...something crouched next to a tree there, snorting and grumbling, claw like hands swinging a stick around as beady blue eyes swept the path in an irregular rhythm. It looked like a strange sort of...pig monster, with a short snout, a wide face, stubby legs, and sharp fingers.

He had seen these before. Hundreds of times. He’d fought them, although he hadn’t the slightest clue where this sudden conviction had come from. No memory came with the realization, but his hands were itching for some kind of weapon now, something to defend himself with. His mind was buzzing with dozens of ways to get around the monster (a bokoblin, some fuzzy part of him insisted) or to get rid of it if he could find something to attack it with.

Glancing around once more he found almost nothing he could use. There was an axe stuck into a tree stump not too far off, but it looked heavy and dull—he would have to use two hands just to swing it. For some reason he didn’t like that idea. No, no, he needed something lighter, more efficient—and a shield, if he could manage it.

He wanted a shield very badly, now that he thought about it. He suddenly felt terribly exposed, standing here with nothing but a strange (and conveniently damaged) slate and his bare hands. With the remembrance that there were beasts roaming these forests, old routines were lit up in his mind—he needed a shield, and a sword of some kind, anything really, as long as he could swing it and keep his grip on a shield. He would have to find some kind of equipment before leaving this place...

The bokoblin had not noticed him yet, still preoccupied with swinging its stick at passing bugs, grunting and shaking its head. Without a thought, Link crouched low to the ground and slowly started to creep away, keeping his gaze fixed entirely on the snorting beast in case he needed to make a break for it. He hardly made a sound except for the low rustling of the tall grass as he slipped through it. The slate hummed again at his side, but he ignored it, focused completely on the monster until he was a good fifteen or so feet away from it. Satisfied, he got to his feet quietly and turned back toward the marked point where he needed to go.

As he walked, he managed to find a rather strange wooden club, discarded by a careless bokoblin that was chasing after a boar and screeching occasionally as it failed to catch the animal. Link watched the beast for several seconds before taking its forgotten weapon and creeping away. He paused to examine it as he came back onto the path.

The club was by no means a good weapon, made of rough wood with a haphazard handle of sorts and a bluntly cut top. There was some ratty string wrapped around its base, making a poor grip, but better than if it had just been the splintering wood. It likely wouldn’t last very long, but it was light and thick at the top, good enough for a few hits. Link shook his head wearily as he moved on. It would have to do for now.

It felt much better to have something in his hand, something to knock beasts out of the way if he needed to. And while he still (desperately) wanted a shield, he was thankful to have something at least. Either way, he didn’t have to wait very long to find better equipment along the path.

As he reached the base of the hill, the path opened up into what must have been a courtyard at some point. Now, it was just an overgrown little field, stones covered in moss and grass growing between them. Several bokoblins were scattered about, two on a little hill to his right, and one directly in front of the cluster of tan rock he knew he had to reach. The space was too open for him to creep past them. There would be no silent retreat this time.

He would have to fight them.

Spinning the wooden club around in his hand, he felt (for the first time since opening his eyes in that cave) completely sure of his next move. Keeping his position some distance from the little huddle of monsters, he scanned the area quickly, looking for the best approach.

The bokoblin nearest to his destination had a sword and shield—two things he very much needed. It was crouched on the ground, its poor vision aimed in his general direction, but it had not noticed him yet. There were two more of the beasts on a hill nearby, shooting arrows at the flowers below them. Link smirked for a moment as he watched them. These monsters had never been very bright.

Skirting around on the heavier armed bokoblin, Link spun the club again and made his move. There was a startled snort as the shortsighted beast finally realized someone was there to attack it. With a screech, it swung its sword wildly, and Link quickly avoided it, rolling to the side and coming back to his feet. A quick blow to the bokoblin’s left arm and it dropped its shield, which Link quickly grabbed, slinging his hand through the grip and facing the monster once more.

Furious, the bokoblin narrowed its beady eyes at him and screeched again, flinging itself at Link with reckless abandon. Link dodged its foolish slash, hitting it hard on the back of the head. The monster stumbled, but got to back onto its stubborn feet, swinging its sword with a grunt.

But Link had a shield now, and he realized very quickly why he had wanted one so badly.

Acting on instinct, Link waited. He waited for what should have been too long, waited until the bokoblin’s dirty blade was inches from the surface of the wooden shield strapped to his arm. For a fraction of a second, he felt perfectly in place—like everything had sorted itself in his mind, the whirlwind had quieted and he was as real as he was whenever he went to sleep.

Then he pushed back on the bokoblin’s sword, forcing it away from his shield in a maneuver too fast for the monster to properly react. It stumbled, and the rubber band snapped. Time resumed its lightning pace, his thoughts cluttered again, and he landed a final blow on the bokoblin as it struggled to regain its lost footing. The beast cried out one last time before it burst into a cloud of rancid purple vapor, leaving only a horn, a few teeth, and a dirty blade, shining in the bright sunlight.

How the hell had he done that?

The Sheikah Slate vibrated more intensely at his side and Link pulled it out quickly, glancing once toward the other bokoblins. Thankfully, they were still shooting their arrows into the ground, snorting and grunting at each other quietly. They had not noticed his short fight with the other monster.

As he looked at the slate, the screen shifted, displaying a blank menu of some kind. Jagged text began to scroll across the bottom, and Link read it quickly, happy for the distraction from his (once again muddled) thoughts.

Useful items can be stored temporarily using the Sheikah Slate, it said, and the screen blinked at him, shifting again. Monster parts identified—would you like to store?

He glanced briefly at the remaining pieces of the bokoblin he had killed, then back at the slate, which blinked at him and asked its question again. He tapped quickly at the screen and the slate hummed. A second later, and a dull blue light shone out the back of the slate, casting strange lines across the worn stones.

Scan items you would like to store, the slate chimed, and the lines flickered, like they were searching for something across the surface of the rough ground.

Curious, Link ran the light over the bokoblin horn. Immediately it glowed blue, then fragmented into dozens of lines, dissipating into the air. The Sheikah Slate buzzed, and new text appeared on the screen—a small image and description of the horn, and a small numeral indicating the amount in the slate. It even included potential uses for the strange little item.

Link stared at the slate for a few seconds, surprised, before he brushed it off and scanned the rest of the items in. There was no point questioning things he had no chance of understanding. He threw the wooden club in for good measure, then put the slate back on his belt and grabbed the sword off the ground.

It was a short sword, a little dull and plenty dirty, but it was leagues better than the club. The weight was light enough that he could swing it with ease, and even if it likely wouldn’t do much damage, he felt far better with this in his hand than he had with the club.

As he looked at the sword, another fragmented image flitted through his mind, just for a moment, and so broken he could hardly put together what it had been. But it was nothing like the last of them—this was of green, and sunlight streaming through high trees, and...far better feelings than that terrifying image from before. Still, it was so brief he couldn’t place it, more than a little filling of those empty spaces in his memory—too small to tell from here, but undoubtedly better than before.

He stared at the sword in his hand for a few seconds, trying to understand. Something about...holding this sword had made that image come back. It was something like what had happened when he deflected that bokoblin’s attack—a second of clarity before he was dropped back into this foggy reality. A space in his memory had been filled, but the relief from it was so brief it was almost forgettable.

But this moment had left something...missing. Perhaps it was more similar to when he had realized the girl was not who he called for. The realization that he had someone to find was partly good—he had a goal, a purpose to move, to find his way, rather than wandering aimlessly and drowning in the unknown. It was the same way with the sword, yet more difficult to decipher the exact thing he was missing. He felt...better. But at the same time, it left him feeling hollow—gutted out by the remembrance of things he had lost, whether that be a person he needed or this vague memory.

He might not have remembered what or who those things he lost were...but he felt the loss all the same.

Shaking his head at himself, he pushed on. In a manner well practiced (and thus utterly baffling to him) he strapped the sword and shield to his back and pulled out the slate again. The glowing gold point was straight ahead. Glancing toward the two bokoblins to his right (who were now gabbering at each other, having run out of arrows to shoot at the flowers) he decided to take the time now to face whatever it was under that crop of tan rock. There was no sense in delaying any longer.

With the slate still in his hands, he walked quickly over to the rock, ducking under the lowest portion to reach the secluded area inside. No sunlight could reach here, but a recognizable orange light lit the place from the center outward. In the middle, under a strange protrusion of darker rock, sat a terminal, glowing softly. It looked very similar to the one he had first seen in the cave, with a mechanism on its raised surface, open and ready...like it was waiting for something.

As if in response, the Sheikah Slate hummed, screen illuminating, and Link looked down at it warily.

Place the Sheikah Slate in the pedestal, it read.

Frowning, he looked at the pedestal again as it pulsed a brighter orange. His thoughts wandered back to the bright flash of blue from the first terminal, and he winced. Would the same happen here?

But there was no other option, no way of connecting to this pedestal without placing the slate in it. This was what he had come here to do (there was nothing else he could do, anyway).

Bracing himself once more, he looked curiously at the pedestal for a few confused seconds before carefully putting the slate into the port. It pulled the slate down, and the terminal spun before lowering, a faint clicking sound echoing against the tightness of the rock formation.

The terminal hummed and then shone a brighter orange (and he was relieved). The surface of the slate lit up once again, chiming at him as text scrolled across the bottom of the screen.

Sheikah Tower activated, it said. Please watch for falling rocks.

Falling rocks?

Before he had a chance to wonder what on earth that meant, there was a deep set rumble, and the ground began to shake violently. Resting birds were sent into panicked flight, animals running quickly through the brush, and bokoblins looking around in suspicious confusion. Link lost his footing a second later, landing hard on the smooth ground. He was left to stare upward as the tower began to rise beneath him. The tan formation of rock fell away, revealing an overhang made of the same material as the cave had been, and the sky beyond it.

Wind whipped past for what felt like eternity as the tower rose from deep beneath the ground. He could hear rocks hitting the ground far below, and the many sounds of fleeing animals. As the tower came to a stop, there was a heavy clunking sound, and the top of the tower folded in on itself. Blue rose up the core (which had been orange before) at a rapid pace, and the slate flashed blue in the terminal.

Wary of more movement, Link pushed himself to his feet and found himself hundreds of feet in the air, all of the land sprawling out underneath him. More towers had risen out there, lit an orange so bright he could see their glow even at the farthest points. He found himself staring at them for a few seconds before the Sheikah Slate chimed and his attention was brought back to the present.

Scanning area, the text read, and the entire tower began to hum. Worried that it would sink (or rise even more, both were terrible) Link grabbed the edge of the terminal. But the slate only hummed again, more text appearing on its surface as the rumble ceased.

Distilling local information, it said as the object hanging over the terminal began to glow blue. Strange text he could not understand began to run down the sides of it, and the ever present eye symbol glowed at the base. Whatever information it was gathering collected at the bottom in a drop, almost like water. It hung there until it became too heavy and fell, hitting the surface of the Sheikah Slate and immediately dissipating into nothingness.

The screen glowed brighter, pulling up another menu, what Link knew now was the map. The section at the center, where he could see his marker still glowing a cheery yellow, was now filled in, showing a detailed layout of the Great Plateau. Forests, a river, and even a mountain were labelled all about, roads marked and the old temple highlighted. There was a blue icon underneath his own, shaped like the top of the tower, and another odd blue mark where the cave had been.

Regional map extracted, text at the bottom read, and then the terminal spun once again, lifting the slate up and out. Link took it cautiously, looking down at the map and wondering at the strangeness of the device, and its seemingly endless odd uses.

But eventually, his eyes were drawn again to the view. It seemed the entire world was visible from this point, except the areas hidden behind tall mountains. The castle was unfortunately the predominant object in view, massive columns jutting out of the ground and toward it, flashing in the brightness of the sunlight. He could see the whole field as well, ruins sprinkled along the roads curving through it, horses running wild through the grass. The entire place seemed to have a ghostly feeling to it, fog collecting in the trenches of the rolling hills, sunlight dancing off collapsed buildings and eroded roadways.

As he stood there, looking out over a land he could not remember, he found his eyes drawn once again to the west. Far off in the distance, in between the snowy peaks of the northwest and the tan, crumbling mountain to the south, he found himself staring at a space that was seemingly empty. Some part of him was drawn to that empty space, drawn to what lay beyond the mountain, invisible from here, but there, he knew that much. There was...something there, something that he could almost remember, if he focused enough.

An indefinite shape suddenly appeared in that space, rising above a crop of tan rock poking out. Whatever the object was, it was oblong, and gray in the clouds, coming out from below the mountain line and rising rapidly into the sky as Link watched. He couldn’t make out what it was, and he had no idea why he stared at it with such a strange feeling of...longing, or regret perhaps. But something else about it made him uneasy, and he couldn’t take his eyes off of it.

Not until he was overwhelmed, that is.

—"find you, when this is over."—

Remember, remember, remember—

—“I’ll see you at the end.”—

Remember, remember—

—“always find a way to injure yourself, somehow.”—

Remember— have to remember—

—“if something happens...”—

Remember remember remember!—

Link!

There was an ear piercing screech, like the caw of a bird mixed with a scream he—didn’t want to recognize, didn’t want to have this conviction so suddenly thrust upon him, and at such an inopportune time—but he did, he did—

In the distance, the unidentifiable shape took a sudden dive, then rose higher than it had before, and it made that horrible sound again. Without a thought or a care, or anything but the need to go now, Link was running, scrambling to the edge of the tower, not caring for stealth or carefulness or anything but reaching there as fast as he could—

“Woah there—”

Suddenly he was jerked backward just before toppling off the edge of the tower, a hand grabbing him by the back of his shirt and pulling him away. He fought against the old man’s grip, eyes still fixed on the shape in the distance. His vision was blurring, but he didn’t care, he hardly noticed, even as he realized he was crying, he didn’t care. He had to go now—

“Calm yourself, young one,” the old man said heavily, still dragging him back from the edge with surprising ease. “You will be no help to them if you are dead.”

Link shook his head, pulling against the old man’s grip on him, still trying to reach the edge of the tower, reach there— he didn’t care, he needed to go now. He had to, he had to. The screech-like call had not ceased; if anything it seemed to be rising higher, gaining intensity as the beast rose higher and began to circle, like it had found its prey.

And then the call was joined, by three other distinct, terrifying sounds, and the pillars surrounding the castle glowed bright pink, unnatural darkness falling. The old man froze, but he didn’t let go of Link, even as he stopped his struggling too, listening as the sounds grew louder.

In the distance, though they could not see it, something crawled out of the massive volcano, burning bright and yet not damaged at all by the flames as it came down the mountain, sending out sentries and beginning its rampaging patrol.

To the east, another such being rose from the waters of a large lake, trumpeting loudly as a stream of endless water began to shoot into the sky.

And in the southwest, another emerged from the endless desert, lightning crackling at its feet and a powerful sandstorm swirling around it.

Link, however, had eyes only for the first of them in the northwest, as it began to circle a thin formation of rock in the distance. He stared at it, wide eyed, even as the sounds of the beasts’ calls fell back to silence, as the certainty failed him again, and he realized he still knew so little. He could not remember the person there, more than their importance, and...it was more than that, but he had no idea how to put it into words. Still their name evaded him, all the details of them just out of his reach, beyond their voice in that anguished cry and the sense that they were in terrible danger.

But it didn’t matter. It didn’t matter because they were trapped in there, and he had to go. Memory or not, he knew he had to go, and go now, before it was too late.

He started toward the edge once more, not a thought in his mind except this raw determination and terrified need to go, to move now, to act, to sort out all the wrongs and get them out of there—

“Not so fast, my young friend,” the old man said, grabbing him once again by his arm.

He jerked out of his grip only to be grabbed again, signing quickly. “Let me go.”

“Unlikely. We cannot have you tumbling over the edge of this tower. A fall from this height would kill you.”

He shook his head. “I have to go—”

“Undoubtedly, yes, I am sure you do,” the old man allowed, half smirking before his expression became grave once more. “But you must understand—this plateau is surrounded by steep cliffs. The only entrance collapsed many years ago and is now no more than a poor excuse for a lake. If you were to try to jump off the plateau...well, no death could be more certain. Or more foolish.”

Link stared at him angrily, before his eyes were drawn once more to the blurry shape in the distance. His chest felt heavy with an emotion he could not immediately describe...something close to anguish seemed the most appropriate, or perhaps despair...it was mixed somewhere with something undefinable, something utterly blocked from him, out of reach in that foggy emptiness where his memories were meant to be.

He had to save them.

“However,” the old man said, watching Link with a curious sort of expression. “There are other means of reaching the rest of Hyrule.”

Link’s eyes snapped to his. “How?”

He smiled wryly. “Do you see that structure down there?” he asked, pointing.

Link followed his gesture, eyes landing on a strange little building near the edge of the plateau. It was dark like the cave, short and stubby, and looked entirely out of place among the rest of the plateau’s architecture. The surface glowed orange in strange patterns, and near the top was a massive eye symbol, just like the back of the Sheikah Slate.

“It began glowing at the exact moment those towers rose up from the ground,” the old man said. “Curious, is it not?”

Link shrugged.

“Shrines such as that one are tucked away in numerous places all across this land,” he went on, looking toward the field spread out far beneath them. “On this plateau alone there are four. They bear the same symbol as that slate you have there—it is the symbol of the Sheikah. They were a highly advanced tribe that inhabited these lands long ago. When they disappeared their ancient technology went with them, or so it was said.”

The old man looked to Link again, a strange glint to his eye. “The appearance of these towers and the awakening of the shrines...it is all connected to the Sheikah Slate you carry. It has been quite some time since I have seen that slate...”

Link frowned. “You’ve seen it before?”

The old man laughed. “More than you know, my young friend. But that is a discussion for another time. You must hurry, yes?”

Link nodded, looking to the west once more, where the beast continued to circle. The old man, however, had his eyes set on the castle (which Link was decidedly avoiding). The columns surrounding it were still flared a bright pink, and the darkness lay like a thick blanket over the place. It had been an intimidating building before, but now...now it looked truly terrifying.

“Time is short,” the old man said darkly, and Link looked at him again. “I believe if you were to visit the four shrines here on the plateau, you would find their rewards helpful to you. When you have found all four...there is something I must give you.”

He met Link’s eyes for a moment, and he looked very grave then, something weighing on his expression that had not been there before. Something about the shift was...familiar, though Link had no clue why. Perhaps his confusion showed in his eyes, because the old man smirked again.

“There will be time for questions later,” he said. “Be careful as you descend the tower. We are quite a distance from the ground.”

With that, he turned his gaze to the north, staring at the dark castle in the distance, expression guarded. Link watched him for a few seconds before looking to the shrine, and then to the beast circling in the west. Its shape was still so ill defined, and he knew very little of what it was. But he knew it all the same, just as he knew the voice that had called out to him from it.

—"I’ll find you, when this is over."—

—“be careful, please...”—

The whispers of the past trailed off into silence, leaving Link with a heaviness in his chest and a goal so clear it almost surprised him. He turned away, to the hole in the floor that lead down the tower’s center. As he started the long climb down, his thoughts were more focused than they had ever been since he woke in the cave. More than when the girl had told him what to do. More than when he had found that sword. More than when the memories were the closest to his reach. He knew what he had to do.

He would find them, this person who he knew meant everything to him, who he had been searching for through his slumber and the foggy aftermath. He would find them.

And he would get them out of that thing.

Chapter Text

Said I would find you...

Promised...

Where did you go?

Why weren’t you there?

Have to remember...what happened?

What happened to you? To...to me?

Remember—

Link shook his head, pulling himself from the daze as he came upon the ruins, the top of the shrine just visible over the wall, shining a brighter orange in the light of the setting sun. Taking the Sheikah Slate in his hand, he pulled closer in on the map, examining what he could of the path that lead to it. Unfortunately the slate was not as detailed when it came to ruins as it was for roadways and mountain ranges. It had been massively helpful in finding the first three shrines, but to be fair, one of them had been right in front of him the entire time.

He put the slate away with a sigh and looked to the ruins in front of him, settling to sort things out on his own. There didn’t seem to be much here, besides crumbling walls and some oddly shaped, overgrown machinery. His newly acquired runes could do nothing here either—there was no metal in his path, and no sense in creating blocks of ice or freezing objects. It was just a small maze of dilapidated former buildings, with doorways leading every direction possible.

The shrine poked out from a section near the center, just visible over the top of the wall. It would be easiest to simply scale the wall and drop into that section, especially considering that many of the doorways seemed to be collapsed over with rock.

This was the last of the shrines on the plateau. After this, he could go, he could leave this place and set off for...wherever it was in the distance that he needed to be. The beasts had remained silent in the hours since their last call, but he could still see the first of them circling in the distance. He could still tell that they were trapped there. He couldn’t afford to waste any more time than he already had.

The first shrine had been so simple, once he understood how to use the magnesis rune. It was only a matter of finding the metal that he could move and maneuvering it into the proper place to move on. He had even acquired a bow in a hidden chest, as well as some odd screws and cogs that had appeared after he flung a metal box at...something. It was gone before he could see it, but he had heard the explosion of it. He had shrugged off the strangeness of it all, scanning the little bits of machinery into the slate with the rest of the items he had found and moving on.

The second shrine had been slightly trickier. The stasis rune was simple, but it was strange to control, and needed a long period to recharge before he could use it again. He had a close scrape with a rolling boulder, but besides that had made it out of the shrine just fine. After finding a heavy sledgehammer and knocking the last boulder out of his way, the rest had been simple. And the rune itself had proven incredibly useful several times already, letting him blast rocks out of the way (or into swarms of bokoblins).

The cryonis shrine was the most difficult to reach. Mount Hylia was absolutely frigid, snow falling even as the rest of the plateau remained pleasantly warm. He had stumbled through snow for what felt like eons before rushing into the shrine, trying to warm his freezing hands. Thankfully, the shrine itself was not difficult, once he had a handle on the rune. The ice blocks were strange, completely unlike regular ice—they were easy to climb and hardly cold at all. But they made finding a path through the flooded areas of the plateau much easier, and he was glad for it.

As he stared at the top of the final shrine, Link found himself wondering what rune would wait inside for him. Each of them had caught him largely off guard in their usefulness, and in the odd way they functioned. He could only hope that whatever rune awaited him inside the shrine would be as helpful as the others had been.

And he hoped this shrine would go as quickly as the others had as well, for the sake of the person waiting for him in the west.

They had remained silent since their frantic shout to him when the beasts first rose, just as the girl had stopped speaking to him. Everything had fallen back into a much more eerie silence. There was no way to know for sure why they were quiet, but...he was trying to believe it to be a good sign, rather than bad. If they were truly in trouble...in pain...then they would certainly call to him again, so that he could reach them. The silence now, while slightly alarming, did not mean everything was for nought. Not yet. He had time, he had to believe he had time.

He would not fail again.

Frowning at the implication of this sudden foreign thought, Link forced his attention back to the task at hand. He made certain that the Sheikah Slate was secure on his belt, sword, shield, and bow strapped tightly to his back. With nothing else to check (and a great portion of impatience and haste) he stepped into the maze of ruins, eyes set on the shrine poking out of the center.

He made it through the first courtyard fine, scaled the slimy wall and dropped into the second. His sword clanged on his back, bumping the metal edge of the traveler’s bow he carried. Both weapons felt wrong (he hardly touched the bow, and still he knew it wasn’t right), as did the shield attached to them. Everything about his existence at the moment felt wrong. But he had resigned himself hours ago to accept it. If not for the sake of his own sanity, than for the sake of not wasting the time of someone trapped miles away in the belly of that beast. His comfort was the least of his concerns (and the feeling of that was not foreign...not at all).

The second courtyard was more destroyed than the first, sections of the walls collapsed, others blackened with burn marks. Recent burn marks...what could have burned the stones of this structure? There was nothing here but—

Directly in front of him sat one of the moss covered relics of machinery, which until now he had not paid much attention to. They were so covered over in grass and decay that he could not make out the details of the intricate carvings adorning their surface. Perhaps in another life, he would have appreciated the beauty of such things, lit up with life and glowing with an energy so foreign and familiar. Perhaps he would have recognized the similarities between this urn-like object and the shrine in the next courtyard, or the slate attached to his belt.

As he had been thinking, looking around the corridor with curiosity, the machine sitting motionless in front of him sprang to sudden life.

There was a grating sort of clunking sound, like dirt being dislodged from long rusted gears, as the machine struggled to move after so long sitting immobile. Still, it managed the feat somehow, long dormant lights flickering weakly as its mechanisms began to turn at the registered movement nearby. Its middle and top sections turned independently of each other, booting up at different speeds, until finally they began to turn in sequence, spinning to face forward.

What had been dead was suddenly alive. What had glowed softly flashed bright pink. What had been silent suddenly sprang into being with an all too familiar mechanical whirring. A single eye at the center of the machine’s upper section illuminated a sickly shade of bright blue, and it froze. It seemed to consider the person in front of it for a moment before zeroing in, and its targeting system engaged.

Link had frozen out of instinct at the movement, but he had remained so for an entirely different reason, one which he could not define. Not when it felt as if every fiber of his being was on fire, raw panic causing him to lose feeling in every limb and yet somehow recall phantom pain so intense that he could not move, even as the thing caught full sight of him. His eyes were stuck on the terrible blue of its eye, the brightness with which it glowed, and the flashing of fragmented and broken images from a past he did not know, pain he did not remember, and yet did. He couldn’t breathe. He couldn’t move. He couldn’t do a single thing but stare wide eyed at this terrible machine as it targeted him.

—cold, and everything burned, and there was blood all over him—up, get up get up get up—pushing himself to his feet by the sword—nearly falling again, everything blurring and tipping over—whirring getting closer—

Stop stop stop stop—

Link!

—a hand on his shoulder, barely there at all for fear of tipping him over—small, gentle voice he knew too well, but not like this—not so afraid, not so frantic—“Link, save yourself, go! Don’t worry about me—run!”—

—different voice, different hands on his shoulders, same message —“if something happens, you have to go...”— all of it mixing up until he couldn’t quite make out exactly what was happening—

Link!

—“I’ll be fine,” she said in the rain, her voice rising in pitch, and she jostled him slightly—he had fallen again, hand loose on the sword, other wrapped around his stomach, vaguely trying to stop the bleeding, but it was failing entirely—“Run!”—

—can’t, I can’t, have to—everything hurt, nothing made sense anymore, she was still talking but they were coming—have to—have to—get up, get up—staring up at the thing as it came closer, its eye landing on him, and targeting—he’d been hit so many times already, this would kill him—flash of bright blue—

Move, Link!

The beeping of the machine’s targeting had increased in speed, and its eye flashed an impossibly brighter blue as it prepared to fire. Only then could he get his legs to move, to flee from this terrifying thing, even as the eye tracked his frantic movement. He dove behind a column as it fired, the blast hitting the other side and sending fire wrapping around it. The pillar shook, but did not fall.

With its target gone, the machine paused, gears churning with effort as it scanned the entirety of the courtyard twice. It fired again at the last place it had seen movement, and considering its work done, gritted back to its original position. The whirring sound slowed, then stopped with a faint click, and the garish pink light flickered out. Silence fell.

Link didn’t notice. He didn’t notice anything, really. All he seemed able to do at the moment was collapse against the wall of the pillar, legs drawn up to his chest as he trembled. The mechanical whirring was still so loud, it wouldn’t stop, none of it would stop and he couldn’t stand it anymore. He clapped his hands over his ears, trying to block it out, trying to make the sound stop, but it was in his head and it wouldn’t go away.

—running through muddy fields, dragging her along with him, dodging beams as best he could—shouts and cries and death all happening around them—

—“Link!”—

—he turned at her shout and sure enough there was another following them—its beam was already ready to fire, there was nothing he could—

—desperate, he turned quickly, throwing himself between her and the Guardian just before—

—“No!”—

—landed hard on his back, and she was nowhere in sight—no, there she was, staring down at him all—worried—he forced himself to his feet and grabbed her hand, ignoring the burning on his chest, the blood running down his shirt and all over his hands—

Memories were playing in broken pieces, in jagged fragments that were too much, too much for him. He shut his eyes, burying his face in his knees and trying to breathe, trying to convince himself it wasn’t real. It couldn’t be real, it just couldn’t be, he—

—different sets of eyes, different place, same whirring—always the same—carrying him off somewhere, and he was slipping, he was dying—

—“Stay with us, Link—” a high voice said, and he tried, he tried, but—

—another beam of light over them and he flinched away from it weakly—more voices, more—it wouldn’t stop—

He wasn’t sure how much time passed like that. It felt like ages, years that he sat there, curled up against a cold stone pillar, hands clamped over his ears and eyes shut so tight it started to hurt. But the sounds wouldn’t stop, and the shaking wouldn’t stop, he couldn’t move. It felt like he was falling, like he was coming apart at the seams, with nothing to grab onto to stop it, nothing but this crushing, paralyzing fear of that thing—

Link.

He flinched at the girl’s soft voice, half his mind still stuck in the broken memory of a day he never wanted to remember in its entirety. She had been there. She was there when—when—no no, he couldn’t, he couldn’t think about that anymore—he didn’t want to. He just wanted this to stop—

Link, she called sadly, her voice somehow gentler than it had been before. She sounded so...heartbroken. The Guardian has deactivated. You have to keep moving.

A part of him knew she wouldn’t lie. How he knew he couldn’t say, but he was sure she would not lie to him. Still, a far louder portion of his thoughts insisted she had to be wrong. He wasn’t safe here. That thing was going to—

Please, Link. You have to trust me. I cannot help you any more than this. You must move.

Slowly, slowly he opened his eyes, staring at his found shoes, the freshly charred grass just inches away from the soles. His hands, when he managed to pry them from his ears, went immediately to his dirty shirt, bunching up in the worn fabric. Once again, whatever condition he expected to find it in was not the case, and he slumped back against the wall in relief. He didn’t dare close his eyes again, for fear of returning to those terrible memories, and so he stared blankly at his shoes, trying to sort his panicked thoughts back into order.

When the numbness had faded, and he felt certain that the mechanical whirring was long gone, and he could look elsewhere without his vision falling into darkness, Link pushed himself carefully to his feet. He suddenly felt exhausted, more than he had even when he had first awoken in the cave. His hands shook, his legs felt like pudding, and he couldn’t seem to remember why he had come in this place at all. Holding himself up by the pillar’s edge, he tried to regain his bearings. After another minute or so his eyes landed on the soft orange light leaking over the next wall in the darkness.

The shrine. Right. He had come for the shrine. He just had to get to the shrine. Then he would be safe.

He didn’t dare look to see if the Guardian was really deactivated as the girl had said, only kept his eyes as focused as he could on the soft glow of the shrine just ten or so feet from him. His ears were ringing, but at least the terrible whirring had stopped. He still couldn’t feel his legs, but at least he was moving, climbing the short, crumbling wall and landing safely on his feet. The memory still lurked in the back of his mind, but at least he could breathe again.

With shaking hands, he took the Sheikah Slate carefully from his belt, turning his face away and holding it to the pedestal at the shrine’s door. When he heard the chime of the door unlocking, and the mechanisms starting to pull open, he tucked the slate back into his belt and stumbled his way into the alcove. The platform began to sink immediately, and he shut his eyes again, thankful for the weakness of the blue light leading down into the depths of the shrine.

He had heard them again. When the Guardian had targeted him, just before it had fired. He heard their voice again, yelling for him to move. It had snapped him out of his fear long enough for him to dive into safety—the shock of hearing their voice again, and so terrified, had been enough for just a moment. Maybe longer if he hadn’t slipped off into panic so quickly. But he had heard them all the same, just as clearly as he had when the beasts had called out.

He had to get off this plateau. Had to get them back.

The platform came to a stop and he pulled his eyes open, glad that his hands had finally stopped trembling. His legs still felt like mush, though. Shaking his head, he stepped off the platform as a strange voice reverberated through the building.

To you who sets foot in this shrine, I am Ja Baij, an ancient voice said, low and echoing through the emptiness of the room. In the name of Goddess Hylia, I offer this trial. Find your way through the rune’s maze, and receive your reward at its end.

Link looked to the pedestal in the corner of the dim room, ready and waiting for him. He hurried over to it, trying to dispel the last of his panic and focus on the shrine’s task. It was a welcome distraction from all the conflicting thoughts running through his mind—guilt and terror and desperation were all getting jumbled up in the spaces left behind by lost memories. The encounter with the Guardian had only aggravated it all, given him a clear sense of what he was afraid of in his past (and present) but left questions unanswered, as he was discovering his memories tended to do.

He put the Sheikah Slate in the pedestal and tried to turn his thoughts elsewhere as it distilled another rune for him. The effort mostly failed; if anything, attempting to think of other things only made his mind stick more harshly on the fragmented memory the Guardian had triggered.

That girl had been there, he had been...protecting her? He was standing in front of her...she was telling him to run...he had shook his head and tried to stand once more...and then—

The slate rose from the pedestal just as his breathing had picked up pace again, and he lunged for the distraction immediately. He couldn’t think about this now, not when—not when he had things to do. In truth, he would rather forget the memory entirely...he wished he had never walked into that courtyard, that the Guardian had never awoken and seen him. Then he wouldn’t have all these confusing thoughts and this horrible panic that wouldn’t leave him, even as he had a task so clearly laid out before him.

But he wouldn’t have heard them again. Wouldn’t know they were still out there somewhere...and...he wanted to hear them. He wanted to remember them. It was a twisted set of thoughts, but it was the only thing that kept him going.

Holding back a sigh and trying to ignore the weariness seeping into him, he looked down at the slate in his hands, reading its description of the new rune. Two small blue icons had appeared next to the magnesis rune, one round and one square. Remote bombs according to the slate. Frowning, he clicked the round icon with shaking fingers, and sure enough, the slate generated a small, round, (and terribly) blue bomb.

The same blue as the Guardian’s eye, and the beam he now knew came from it. The same blue as all the shrines when he completed them, the tower when he activated it. The same blue that haunted his memories, dragged out what he knew to be the worst of them, left him shaken and muddled and dazed as he tried to bring himself back from the edge.

He hated it. He hated that shade of blue more than anything he could remember.

The wall across from him, down the small slope, had mostly collapsed. Large cracks broke it apart into chunks, and the floor was littered with pebbles and pieces of wall. One of the bombs would probably destroy the last pieces of it. Nodding to himself, he picked up the bomb the slate had generated and rolled it down the slope. When it reached the wall, he tapped the slate quickly, keeping his eyes fixed on the recharging symbol as the bomb exploded with a strange chime and a flash of that horrible blue light. The wall crumbled to dust, revealing another hallway that branched off into two directions.

He went through the rest of the shrine in a daze, hardly knowing what he was doing until he found himself in front of the monk, waiting for his blessing. At the flash of the blue encasement shattering, he flinched, but he was so dazed by his thoughts he hardly had the chance to think on it. The words of the monk washed over him, and he barely noticed when he received the spirit orb. He returned to the rising platform in a fog, shutting his eyes as it began to go back to the surface.

Darkness had fallen while he stumbled his way through the shrine, weak moonlight streaking through the few clouds and hitting off the shrine’s surface. It was a beautiful night. The stars were out, and the world had gone back to a peaceful silence. Hardly a noise rang through the ruins, more than the gentle swaying of grass and the occasional cricket’s chirping call. Fireflies cast their green glow over the low trees, and bokoblins lay unconscious around their campfires. The Great Plateau seemed to slumber, as did Hyrule below it.

Link didn’t look at any of it. He couldn’t. Panic was creeping up on him again, and he could do nothing to stop it. Hands shaking violently, he pulled the slate from his belt once more and went to the map’s screen. Zooming in further on its surface, he tried to decide where to go from here. He certainly did not want to spend the night in this courtyard, with that... thing so close by. No, no he needed to leave, find somewhere else, somewhere...safer. Somewhere that wouldn’t make him panic at just the thought of walking past that thing again.

Couldn’t stay here, had to go—go now. Before he collapsed, and he could feel it coming on. He had to go or—or it was going to overwhelm him again. He couldn’t let that happen.

The tower’s icon flashed in the corner of his vision, and he froze, finger hovering over the travel marker. His thoughts wandered, somewhere deep into the silence of his mind, into the past he had such fuzzy recollections of. For a moment, he caught a glimmer of something, a shard of a memory.

A place—high in the clouds, with the sound of wind blowing through cleverly carved buildings, the gentle rustling of chimes, and another, more difficult to define sound...a melody that seeped through the place and into him, lulling him off into a sleep far gentler than any he had experienced elsewhere. A voice. That was a voice...someone was...He could see mountains from here, snow capped peaks with blizzards always swirling around them, and updrafts visible in the distance, sending the snow higher and higher. And despite the draft he could feel blowing through his hair, pulling at his clothes, he felt warmer than he ever had, so warm and—

He came back to reality with a jerk, still staring at the blinking icon of the tower. There were...tears on his face, and he suddenly felt...cold. Like he was missing something.

Missing someone.

He clicked the icon of the tower, and in a flash he was there, stumbling to the nearest pillar and holding onto it, trying to keep himself on his feet. Only then did he notice how beautiful the night was, but it only served to make his heart feel heavier, longing for a past that seemed so far out of his grasp. The stone was cold under his hands, and somehow that felt right, but he stopped asking himself why when he knew he wouldn’t get any sort of coherent answer.

The wind blew hard against his back, and he turned his eyes to the west once more, to the blurry outline of the beast circling its rock. Vague feelings were lurking in his mind, half memories of things he couldn’t put into words or hope to hold onto long enough to understand. But it left him with a longing for ...them... and an exhaustion he was struggling to combat.

“I’ll come for you,” he signed to the wind, gestures loose and heavy, weighed down by the storm of thoughts quickly dragging him down to sleep. “I promise.”

There was no response, but he had not expected one. He knew they were there...he could tell. And now he was here, far off from the Guardian, far up in the clouds, where he felt safer, for reasons he wasn’t going to question. He knew the answer somewhere in his mind, he just would not attempt to put it into words until he could remember them fully. Until he could see their face clearly in his mind, remember their name as he should. Then he would put it to words. Then he would allow himself to name this strange, feathery feeling in his chest.

With nothing else to do (and more thoughts than he could properly sort out) he let himself sink to the ground, sitting cross legged on the cool stone and staring at the starlit sky. For quite some time he sat like that, staring up, lost in his meandering thoughts. His hands were still shaking, but it seemed to be slowing. At some point, he drifted off into sleep, leaned against the wall of the tower with his face turned westward.

He couldn’t recall if he dreamt while he slept in the cave. Perhaps he had. But the most keen sense he had of his time spent there was of calling for someone, for that person who he had lost, to time or tragedy he did not know. It had been like he was walking through a dense fog, trying to find them. Other times it felt like he was sinking, with no hope of finding the surface again. Their voice haunted him, for a time, but it was all phantom. He knew then that he was crafting their tone from nothing—he wanted to hear them, and so he remembered their voice, in vague terms. But there was a separation from them as he had slept. He could not reach them. They could not hear him.

Now...now it was quite different. Sleep, for one, no longer felt like being dragged into a deep quagmire, unable to fight his way back to the air. It felt as he assumed it ought to—like a slow unraveling of the day, a quiet drift off into peaceful dreams. The sense of floating was still there, but it was no longer a freefall, like when he was in the cave. Now, it felt like there was someone there with him, perhaps someone to catch him would be the proper metaphor.

And then, of course, there was their voice.

“Strange,” they said, and it was barely more than a whisper in his mind, but he heard them as clearly as he ever had. “You’ve lost all your memories...and yet you found the highest ground you could, just to sleep. I’m almost flattered...”

They trailed off, their tone almost playful. Some of that teasing remained when he heard them next.

“I suppose I’m to blame for that. You always did enjoy sleeping in the village. Well...you loved everything about the village. And you could sleep almost anywhere...” he could almost hear them laugh. In a distant sense he thought he might understand the joke. He hardly cared anyway. He just wanted to hear them talk. “But you always shone brightest there, when you had the time to come. Even in your sleep, you seemed much more peaceful when we were there. There was only one other place that came close, and...now that I think of it, they were quite similar, really.”

“I think you just enjoy the heights. Or perhaps it’s my company. I’d like to think it’s the second, at least partially. I’ll have to ask you...”

They fell silent again, and there was a weight to the pause this time, a density in the connection that hadn’t been there before. Link thought he might have known why...but he couldn’t be certain.

“I’m sure you’ll rediscover it all, eventually...” they said quietly. “You’ve never been one to let go of something, and I can see that hasn’t changed. Just as stubborn as you’ve always been...I hope that stubbornness will not bring you to harm...I don’t think I could take it if your fate went the same as it did the last time. Please be careful...not that you were not, but...you make it very easy to worry for your safety.”

A memory pulled at him, old, distant, and vague like most of them were now...but it was gone before he could grasp it. All he was left with was the sense that they had once said something quite similar. If they were face to face, he might have looked sheepish.

“You look the same, you know. Not that you ever cared for that sort of thing...but you look just as you did all those years ago...It’s almost as if it were yesterday, that everything happened...sometimes it feels like it was yesterday...It gets difficult to tell, how long it’s been since everything...Try not to think on it. It won’t help...”

“There’s very little I can do here. I don’t even know if you can hear me,” their tone shifted again, almost bitter if it weren’t so heartbroken. “I could be talking to the wind, for all I know. Although...perhaps that’s it, isn’t it? Talking to the wind...It always worked before. And I’ve seen you doing it, just a little while ago...perhaps you remember more than you think.”

They paused, and when they spoke again, it was softer, more sad. “Sometimes I can see you. I don’t know how...But I saw you in that courtyard...I wish I could have...done something more,” they said, frustration thickening their tone. “I have never been very good at tolerating you in pain, particularly when there isn’t a thing I can do about it. Rather unfortunate for your...line of work, for me to be so intolerable of your pain. But this is different, now. This pain isn’t the same as it was all those years ago.”

They sighed. “I wish I could help you...I wish I could tell you that you’re safe, and none of the things in your past can possibly hurt you from here...I wish I could hold you, and make sure you knew that this moment, this now was real, and we were safe. But I won’t lie to you and tell you that you are safe from it all. Not yet. But you will be...very soon, I hope.”

“I can do very little from here. It comes and goes, this feeling of freedom, the ability to hear you when you call. I don’t know how to explain it. Like I said, I hardly know if you can hear me rambling now, as it is.”

Another pause, and quieter when they spoke, barely more than a whisper. “I hope you can hear me, as I can hear you...I hope you know I’ve answered. Or at least...I’ve tried to.

“I know that you will come. I’ve known since I realized what it meant, when she put you in that cave. We may have lost before, but there’s no way we can lose now. You won’t allow it. I know you won’t. This is our time. This time...it will work,” they said the last with such confidence it was almost staggering, a boisterous demand that nothing would go wrong this time around.

But they hesitated before continuing, as if sensing something was amiss in his thoughts, in the confusion clouding him. “Oh, Link...You never failed us in the first place...please don’t think that you did. None of this has been your fault. It was us, who failed you...and she failed you...perhaps soon you will recall some of my thoughts on that matter. I don’t want to think on it now. Not when you are so exhausted. You deserve better than my old grudges.

“I miss you terribly. All you’ve done, all you did in the past...you deserve sleep...sleep that isn’t...disturbed by torment. I wish I could give it to you. It seems that this is all I can do, though...for now. Fill the void with chatter. I’ve always been the one to talk, but somehow you say a great deal more.”

They gave another weary sigh, and they suddenly sounded very tired. But they pressed on. “I hope this helps you, in some way. When this is over...when this is over perhaps I can do more.

“You deserve a lot more than you’ve been handed, you know. You deserved better then, and you undoubtedly deserve better now. None of this has ever been quite fair to you, not that you’ve ever complained. It just isn’t in your nature, is it?” they paused, and he could hear the smile, and the sadness in their voice.

“You’re too kind hearted,” they whispered, sounding simultaneously proud, anguished, and annoyed.

“It’s your biggest strength. And the most infuriating of them all. But I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I’m glad you haven’t changed, in that way...I don’t know why I thought you could. You’ve always been too kind for your own good,” they went quiet, voice thick as they spoke again. “This fate is too dark for a person like you. You deserve far better than this...this lost sense that seems to radiate off of you. You deserve better than to live with that fear. It won’t destroy you. You’re too strong. But I can see how it is hurting you...

“Your memories will come back. The good ones too. They far outweigh the bad...at least in my mind. There are so many places...so many memories that go beyond the terrible things you’ve seen so far. I know you won’t give up...but don’t let the worst of your days consume you.”

There was a pause, one laden with sentimentality he couldn’t place. “We had better days than that,” they said firmly. “You only have to find them. They’re out there waiting for you, just where we left them, as well as...” they went quiet, and he had the sense they were holding off on something. Something he needed to find...something important.

“There are plenty of pieces of our past scattered about,” they finished, sounding terribly saddened. “I know you’ll find them. I hope they are as helpful to you now as they were then. And...I hope that they bring you back what you are seeking. At least some of the comfort...some sense of what we had.

“Even if you don’t...even if you can’t bear the thought of remembering it all...I’ll be here,” they whispered, voice almost timid, unsure. “I may be stubborn, and a fool, and many other words I’m sure you’ll call me when we see each other again...but I can’t afford to lose you again. I won’t. I refuse. And unless I am...gravely mistaken, I believe you share the sentiment.”

There came another pause, longer than the rest, and for a moment he thought they were gone. He fumbled out for them desperately, in whatever way he had here in this strange dream world. They couldn’t go yet, he needed them—

And then they were there again, hushing him as if he had been shouting this entire time, and he had the sense he might have been, in their absence. But they were back, and he could hear them again...they were here, it was...it was okay...

“Rest now,” they said quietly, voice close and inexplicably far. “I’m here, even if...even if I can’t do anything but this. I won’t leave you until I have to. I hear you, Link...”

And then very quietly, as he felt himself beginning to wake, he heard them as they disappeared. A whisper in the wind, half covered over and yet blaring, seared into his memory.

“I hope you can hear me...”

He wasn’t sure how long he slept like that, leaned against the tower wall in a slump, but when he managed to pull his eyes open, the sun was rising. It seemed warmer than before, almost like that little snippet of memory he had found when he came here...he smiled a little at that, looking around.

Hyrule looked much better in the morning light than it had the night before. The sky was clear, and he could see much farther than the day before. He could see the ruins just below the plateau, the river snaking its way through forests and around formations of rock, horses snuffling about in the grass. He could even see what looked like other people, walking quickly down the roads to unknown destinations.

Out of instinct, however, he found his eyes drawn to the west again, where the beast continued to circle. It was too far away to see clearly, even in this brighter day, but he could make out the shape of it a little more now. In a sudden burst of inspiration, he hastily pulled out the Sheikah Slate and pulled up its scope. The slate hummed, but complied, and he zoomed in on the beast in the far west.

The wings hung dark and heavy in the sky, glowing faintly pink in strips of light down the sides. He could see the barrier flickering around it, flashing occasionally in the light. The beak was facing his way at this point, so he could not see the face of the beast. Blurry shapes were poking out from the surface, and he had the sense that he knew what they were, but he didn’t give it much thought then.

Had he imagined everything he heard, just then? Had it all been a dream? Another made up version of their voice that he crafted himself, just to keep sane? No, no it couldn’t be that. It had to be real. They...they had to still be out there.

He lowered the Sheikah Slate back into his lap, watching the beast turn, circling closer to the rock with its barrier flashing. It was so far away, as were all his memories he knew were tied to it...they were there, and yet not. They had said he would regain his memories with time, and if he saw the places they had been, the things they had done...he hoped they were right. He wanted to remember them. He wanted everything he had lost to come back to him somehow...

“I can hear you,” he signed, eyes still fixed on the wings of the beast. His hands fell back to his lap. “I’m sorry...”

“The view is quite spectacular, isn’t it?”

Link turned quickly, watching as the old man walked carefully over to him from the hole in the floor that lead up. He turned back to the view, nodding a little, holding tighter to the slate.

The old man stood next to him, leaning on his lantern and staring out at the castle, as he had the day before. They were both quiet for a few seconds as the sun rose, and Hyrule slowly came back to life. Or so it seemed, at least.

“I see you have managed to find all the shrines on the plateau,” the old man said after a moment. “That is fantastic news...I suppose it is time I explain myself to you, and give you what I have withheld.”

Link frowned, glancing up at him again. But the old man had turned away, back toward the plateau. He walked carefully over to the edge, his lantern clanging a little on the stone. Pushing himself slowly to his feet, Link joined him, looking at the Temple of Time just as the sun began to hit the plateau.

“Do you see the tower at the top of the Temple?” the old man asked, pointing to the spire. “There is a small room there, what used to hold a bell, but has long sat empty. It has the perfect view of the Dueling Peaks, and many of the lands to the east of the plateau. Far superior to this, I believe...although I am often wrong about such things.”

“Why are you telling me this?” Link signed, staring quizzically at the old man.

He smirked. “You’ll see soon, young one,” he said, looking again to the Temple. “Do you understand where I have told you? The room at the top of the Temple of Time...There I will be waiting...”

Link stared, confused, but he had no time to ask what he meant before he was stumbling backward, shocked. The old man’s sentence trailed away as he disappeared, his entire form fading out into green flame, illuminating the tower in strange ways for a few seconds before those too were gone. Link was left alone on the tower, hugging the pillar and staring at the spot where the old man had just been, eyes wide.

What had just happened? Where did he go? Was this how he had been sneaking up on him the entire time—how he had so suddenly appeared at the top of the tower when Link had tried to run off it, and just now when he had come silently to talk about the view—what was going on?

His eyes drifted to the Temple, and the room perched on its roof. The windows had been empty before, reflecting some of the sunlight back onto the broken stones of the Temple, but now they are aflame with a light of an altogether different shade. There is a bright green glow leaking from the fractured panes, spilling out the sides where no glass remains. A figure looms in the flames, peering out to the east, at twin summits where the sunrise shines through. It is a familiar silhouette.

The old man.

Frowning, and still very confused, Link turned away, dropping down the hole in the floor onto the platform beneath it. He kept his eyes focused on the platforms that spiraled down the tower, not wanting to lose his footing and fall, but his thoughts were on the old man, and his strangeness.

Two days he had spent on this plateau, being tailed by the strange man with almost no explanation. He had appeared as if from thin air—in the forest when Link was trying to find something to eat, on Mount Hylia when Link was stumbling through the snow to a shrine, at the base of the mountain chopping trees as he wandered past. At the time, he hadn’t thought anything of the encounters, too focused on finding the shrines and getting off the plateau. But now, now he found them very odd.

How had the old man been finding him, whenever he wanted to? How did he always seem to know where Link was? Now that he thought about it, why was he on this plateau in the first place? He had told Link when he came from the cave that the Great Plateau was abandoned after the kingdom fell...but he lived here...and he could travel instantaneously—without the help of the Sheikah Slate, mind you.

He couldn’t sort it out. No matter how he tried to explain it all in his mind as he walked, none of the pieces seemed to fit. He clambered up the hill to where the Temple sat, careful to avoid the decayed corpses of Guardians (he didn’t know if any of them were active, but just the sight of their urn-like bodies was enough to make his heart pound now) as he came closer to it. Up close, he realized that the Temple was in far worse shape than he had initially thought.

The building must have been beautiful once. It was made of a pale gray stone, with high stained glass windows and a cavernous main room, a large statue at its front center. The remains of wooden pews were decaying in clean rows, some of them burned, others crushed under the weight of dead Guardians. Most of the stained glass was shattered, crumbled on the ground in a fine dust with large pieces of it scattered about. Vines grew over the stones of the facade, creeping in through the broken windows and missing walls, and new grass had shot up from the floors. Even the statue at the front was covered in moss, but the peaceful face of the woman didn’t seem to mind it at all.

Link stared calmly at the statue for a few seconds, at the light playing across her round face. She was large enough to cast shadows on the smaller duplicates, and her stone eyes seemed to follow him as he walked closer, steps silent on the overgrown ground. Something about her face seemed...familiar...

—kind faced statue seemed to smile down at him, even as she was near tears in front of it, practically begging at this point—

—“I come seeking help...” she whispered, almost frantic, and he could hear the desperation in her voice—

—he should not be listening, he frowned and looked to the sky, trying to hear nothing but the water, crashing down from above, the wind whistling through the grass—

—wanted to leave, go back home, not be here in the chill, with this girl who despised him—wanted to see—

—“curse you,” she spat, throwing her hands down into the water and turning away from the statue—

—“she doesn’t mean it,” he had signed immediately, looking at the statue again as she mumbled on—

Blinking hard, Link stepped away, frowning at the fragmented memory. The girl...she had been praying to a statue like this. It was foggy, but he knew that was what she had been doing. And whatever she had been asking of it, it did not seem to hear her...

Hero...

He jumped, backing away another step and scrambling for something to—to—

Calm yourself, Hero... the voice said, and he froze, looking up at the statue again. I am not going to hurt you...

He stared at the round face, the stone eyes that still seemed to follow him as he stepped a little closer, hands slowly lowering from where they had begun to reach for his weapons. Sunlight started streaming through the windows, shining on the statue in a way that seemed to give it a strange glow. Somehow it seemed right, for this smiling statue to be surrounded by glowing light, to look down at him with a smile that was somehow alive, even as it was made of stone.

You have done well to find the shrines on this plateau... she went on softly, pausing for a moment as if in thought. Come closer, my Hero...

He frowned, glancing toward the spire, where he knew the old man was waiting. But this...this seemed important. This was different from when the girl spoke to him, or when he heard their voice in his sleep...this voice was different in every sense of the word. Something...there was something warm about it, but heavy too, distant and foreign.

The Shrine of Resurrection may have healed your wounds... she said sadly as he came to stand a few feet from the statue. But it did not return your strength to you. Only great trials can give that back to you, Hero...there are many that await you in Greater Hyrule...seek them out and bring their rewards before any of my statues, and I will grant you the power you require...

The Sheikah Slate hummed at his side, but he only stared at the statue, confused. It seemed to smile a little more at him as the light shifted, but it was a sad smile. Link wasn’t sure at all what to think, let alone to say, and so he was silent, hands loose at his sides, watching the statue in the rising sunlight.

You have visited the four on this plateau...for that, I can aid you in your journey, but only just. Seek out more of the shrines when you descend this plateau, and I shall be of much more help to you...

Link nodded, wondering at how many of these shrines she spoke of there were in the rest of Hyrule. He would find them, if it would help him find them.

Soon, Hero... the woman’s voice said, almost a laugh to it before it fell back to its saddened tone. You will have them back to you soon...but to do so you must regain your strength, and your proper sword...only then can you truly save them. To go any sooner would be to damn them to a terrible fate. You know this to be true...

He didn’t (he did, somehow) but he only nodded again, trusting the darkening of the woman’s tone when she spoke of such things. The light shone a little brighter into the Temple, coming in through the cracked walls and shattered windows with more force as the clouds moved on. The statue seemed to smile once more.

Your strength has been increased, Hero... she said, voice fading off. Go, and bring peace to Hyrule...

Then the light moved on from the statue, and he was alone again in the Temple, staring at cold stone. Her words were still fluttering about in his mind, trying to find some place where they all made sense.

Your proper sword, she had said...that certainly made sense. It would explain the sense of wrongness this current blade gave him. He was becoming used to it, he supposed, but it still felt wrong. And she had said so many other strange things...regaining his strength and facing trials...and she only referred to him as Hero. It didn’t sound...wrong, but...unexpected, perhaps.

“I see you have made use of the goddess’ grace,” a voice called from above.

Link turned quickly, eyes floating up to the spire of the Temple, where the bright green light still shone brightly. The old man stood at the edge of the small room, leaning on his lantern and flickering strangely. Little green flames were ebbing and glowing around him, but he hardly seemed to notice. He only stared down at Link with a strange smirk, with a kind of sadness lurking in his eyes.

“There is a ladder on the farthest wall. Join me,” he called, waving Link up before turning away.

Sense of urgency returning, Link did as he was told, quickly finding the ladder and scrambling his way onto the crumbling roof of the Temple of Time. Large sections of it had collapsed, and most of it was waterlogged, but it held as he balanced across it. He slipped only once, and quickly regained his footing before pulling himself up into the small room where the old man stood, staring out the hole in the wall toward the mountains.

“See?” the old man said as Link came to stand next to him. “Far superior view of these mountains, I think.”

Link didn’t give any reply, only looked up at the old man quizzically. After a few seconds, the old man turned away from the view, meeting his eyes for a moment.

“I have a great deal to tell you in a short amount of time,” he said flatly, sounding displeased. “I’m afraid I’ve been keeping much from you in your time here. I thought it best to see if you could remember any of the details of your life, before trying to explain it all to you. I assumed a temporary form, and tried to aid you as best I could.”

“Temporary form?” Link signed as the old man watched him before walking over to the other window. “What do you mean?”

The old man’s frown deepened. “As much as I would like to tell you this is the only life I’ve led, Link, it is not. One hundred years ago...when Hyrule fell to ruin...I was its King. I have remained here in spirit form since the fall of the castle, where I lost my life...”

Link was frozen, trying to understand the implications of what the man had just said. He had been told the kingdom fell, but he had no idea what that truly meant, and he did not know that the old man was dead.

His stunned silence was hardly noticed, however, as the King continued to stare at the distant castle, brooding.

“The darkness which surrounds Hyrule Castle, that which powers the Divine Beasts, contains our champions, and makes dastardly use of the Guardians...all of that is Calamity Ganon, an entity of evil which has plagued Hyrule since its inception,” he said quickly, hands clenched at his sides. “Its return was foretold over one hundred years ago, as was the return of Hyrule’s greatest heroes. We had known the tales of them in our mythology, but we had not known the extent of their...accuracy, until we discovered several ancient Sheikah texts.

“They foretold of the Calamity’s resurrection, and of the ways to combat it. We learned of the four Divine Beasts, given to each of the great nations of Hyrule. We learned of the Hero, chosen by the sword that seals the darkness...and we also learned of the princess set to inherit a sacred power—the power to seal Ganon away. Four champions were chosen from the nations of Hyrule, each to pilot a Divine Beast destined for them. The Hero emerged from among our own, and the princess was on the cusp of unlocking her power...”

The old man paused, looking weary as he shook his head in dismay. He turned to face Link again, bitterness set deep into the lines of his face, laced into his tone as he continued on quietly. “But it was not to be. Ganon was cunning, and responded with a plan beyond our imagining. He appeared from deep below Hyrule Castle, seized control of the Divine Beasts, and the Guardians as well, and turned them all against us. The Champions were trapped, the Castle destroyed, the remains of the army scattered. Left with no choice, the princess and the Hero fled, hoping to seek shelter in one of the distant villages.

“But without the aid of the Divine Beasts, nor the sealing power of the princess, the Hero was alone to defend his charge as best he could. Gravely wounded, he too fell in defense of the princess, and all seemed lost.”

He paused once more, turning back to the castle as if he couldn’t face Link any longer. “That princess was my daughter, Zelda...and the Hero...was you Link. You fought valiantly, but even the sword that seals the darkness could not defeat the army of Guardians swarming, or the Calamity looming over it all. The sealing power of the Goddess was granted too late, and you were lost to us...or so it seemed.

“But the princess survived. It was she who had you placed in the Shrine of Resurrection, and she who went to face the Calamity, alone. One hundred years have passed in terrible silence.

“Until yesterday,” the King said heavily, meeting Link’s gaze once more. “With your return, the Divine Beasts have awoken, and Zelda calls to you for help. Her strength will soon be depleted, and the champions will surely follow, if they have not already. Ganon will freely regenerate himself and consume this land...”

He paused for a moment, eyes downcast as he frowned. “However, there is still much you can do to prevent this,” he went on. “When I realized the extent of what you had lost in your slumber, I will admit, I thought it was all for nought. To have lost so much, and to be asked to fight for a cause one cannot remember...I put far too much strain on your person in the past, I could not stand to do it once more. I had to know if you were ready for such a burden once again. I hope you will forgive me for withholding information from you.”

Link could only nod, dizzy with all the information, all the terrible half facts swarming around in his mind now. The King gave a small smile which quickly faded as his thoughts returned to the matter at hand.

“Seeing how you conducted yourself on that tower, when the beasts called out,” he said quietly, looking hard at Link. “Well...it changed my mind. It would seem the champions have a chance yet, and you remember more than I first thought...or at least, enough to get you where you must go. There are many not on this plateau who need your help, beyond my daughter...even beyond the champions.

“But I know where your sights are set, and I have no right to tell you anywhere else to start your journey. All I can do is suggest a course of action that could lead to your success,” he turned to look out the window, at the split mountains. “I believe that, even with the added strength given to you by the goddess, to go directly to any of the Divine Beasts at this point would be quite reckless. I suggest...that you make your way east, out to one of the villages in the wilderness.”

He pointed out the shattered window, at the river cutting through the mountain, and the road that ran alongside it. “Follow the road out to Kakariko Village,” he said. “There you will find the elder, Impa. She will be able to tell you far more about the path that lies ahead for you. If you make your way past the twin summits of the Dueling Peaks, then follow the road as it proceeds north, you will find Kakariko at the end of the path.”

Link stared out the window, eyes landing first on the tower nestled just in front of the peaks. He could easily get the piece of the map from there first, and then follow the road. Find Kakariko. Speak to Impa. It was easier to have clear goals, to know exactly where to point his feet when he found his way down there.

Speaking of.

“You said you had something to give me,” Link signed quickly, looking up at the King with confusion. “Something to get off the plateau?”

“Yes,” he replied simply, nodding. “Yes, I do have something for you. It was never mine to begin with, and I have no use for it as I am now. Zelda gave it to those who took you, and they left it here on the plateau, with clear instruction to those who would find it just who it was for. Of course, they could not have known the entrance would collapse, trapping you here. Still, it is a lucky twist of fate that it was left here for you, where I could keep it from potentially prying hands.

“I think it best you seek it out alone. I have pried enough on your personal matters, and this...is of greater import than the others. More like it will come when you reach Greater Hyrule, and the corners of this land you have frequented,” he turned from the Duelling Peaks, nudging Link back toward the roof of the Temple.

“In the forest there, just before the cliffside leading to the shrine, there is a cabin. It has been ownerless for centuries, used by travelers passing through, or those with nowhere else to stay. Since the plateau was abandoned, it has been one of my favorite haunts,” he said with a smirk. “You will find what you seek there. Take it, and find your way to Kakariko.”

Link stared at the little cabin, which he could just make out through the thin trees. He glanced back at the old man, nodding before turning to leave.

“Good luck, young one,” the old man said quietly, watching as Link disappeared over the side of the Temple’s roof. He watched him descend, waited until he was running across the flat ground, headed straight for the cabin, before the green flames burned brighter, and the last King of Hyrule disappeared.

Chapter Text

Will...find you...

Just a little...longer...

Can you hear me?

I wish you could hear me...

Where did you go?

Come back...please...

Link blinked hard, trying to quiet the noise in his mind, for just a moment so he could focus. It seemed to work, at least partially, the phantoms of old thoughts slowly retreating to where they should have been, leaving him alone for a few seconds. Clenching his hands into fists, he walked faster across the field, eyes set on the blurry outline of the cabin in the distance, the warm sun shining down on it from a clear sky.

He was learning quickly to ignore the whispers of his past. They seemed to grow in the stretches of silence—creeping up on him as he remembered bits and pieces of his thoughts, little fragments of opinions and wishes from his sleep. They were never full memories, too short and confused to be so...too muddled by what he had already begun to lose when he thought them in the first place.

But all of them were similar—all of them were these desperate calls for someone, confused and stumbling thoughts that seemed to trip over each other trying to come to some kind of conclusion. Trying to find a way through the darkness, back to the light. Remembering these thoughts only solidified his belief that he had been calling for them, this person waiting for him in the west, searching for them in the confusing sleep he found himself in.

Had they been calling to him as well, as they had when he slept earlier? Had they heard him?

Shaking his head, he forced his attention to the present. The old man was gone—he had seen him disappear into flames as he looked back at the Temple—and Link doubted he would return. It made sense. His job was done—he had told Link all he could, pointed him in the proper direction and told him where to find the final object he needed before moving on to the next step. All there was left for Link to do was get this mysterious item and use it to leave the plateau, as quickly as possible.

He found it strange to be left to his own devices, wandering once more. There were things he had been told to do, of course—unavoidable tasks that loomed, ever present on the horizon of his thoughts, and the inescapable threat of returning memories (or panic)—but there was no one...with him. He felt the empty space more keenly now that the King had disappeared. It seemed he was doomed to travel with the sense that he had never done it alone before, or at least hadn’t done it alone in quite some time. Someone had always been at his side, whether it was the girl—Zelda, her name was Zelda— or them... he liked traveling with them.

He didn’t like being alone. He wanted...he wanted them to be here.

It upset him on some deep level that he still could not remember their name. To be fair, he had not remembered Zelda’s—or his own, now that he thought about it—he had been told the name by the King. It had found its proper place in his mind when he heard it, giving a name to the vague outline of a girl he managed to catch in his fragmented memories. Certainly it suited the voice he had been hearing.

And the identity of the girl was still lost to him, beyond simple facts. She was a princess, one he had to protect in the past, one who was meant to have this holy power to seal away the Calamity, a compliment to his own power in the sword that sealed the darkness. One hundred years ago, she did not unlock her power before the Calamity returned.

He had fallen in protecting her.

His relationship to the girl, however, was an utter mystery with the memories he had. He had a strange mixed sense of how they had acted, a muddy image (and he could not fault his memory on that fact—this was the fault of their actual relationship, he was certain). She spoke kindly to him now, her voice heavy with the sadness of one hundred years time, but still gentle, and close...as if they were friends. But his thoughts from the past made him think they had not always been so...he had no idea what to make of it.

On this front, he had a clearer sense of his relationship to the one trapped in the Divine Beast. Well...he at least had a sense of his own feelings...it was slightly less confusing was the point. The mystery of them came not in his relationship to them (no, he knew quite well where he felt on that, thank you) but in every other sense of their character. Their name, their appearance, their qualities, their—everything, except their voice (and their importance to him on every level), it was all gone. They were his only beacon of hope in all this dark confusion, and the fact that he could find so little of them in his mind hurt, and hurt gravely.

They didn’t seem to hold that against him, from what he had heard in his sleep. And somehow he got the sense they wouldn’t ever hold it against him, even if he never did remember them fully...no, they wouldn’t. He knew they...cared about him, as he did them. He could feel that even amidst all the grief that hid in their tone as they spoke—they didn’t care that he could not remember. They only cared that he was alive.

But Link wanted to remember them. He owed it to them to find a way to remember them. To reassemble the fragments of them his mind could muster, to find those pieces of their shared past he had left behind and bring them back, to save them from that beast...he would do it. They would not slip away from him as they had before. He would not fail again.

He would save them. No matter the cost.

He came upon the cabin right about then, and allowed his thoughts to wander back to safer topics. It was a small little hut, as decrepit and moss covered as the rest of the plateau seemed to be, although it suited this building better than it had the Temple of Time. Even though whole planks of wood had rotted away, the cabin stood strong, leaning slightly to the right but nonetheless standing. There was no doorway, an old unlit torch light by the door, a cooking pot, a bed, a table slumped in the middle of it all.

And a chest, tucked neatly into the far corner of the structure, just visible in the sunlight streaming through the cracked roof as he came upon the cabin.

Suddenly nervous, Link slowed in the threshold, eying the chest warily before surveying the rest of the cabin first. It was sparse and drafty, and he could see out into the field through the holes in the walls. But there was very little in the cabin to see, beyond the basic layout—the simple bed, the damp table and rotting stool, the mushrooms growing along one of the walls. It must have been a proper structure at some point, but now it just seemed old, a little sad, as much of the plateau was to him. The only thing that seemed out of place was the chest, gleaming brightly, as if it had been left here only a moment ago, rather than sitting here for one hundred years.

Finding nothing else out of the ordinary (and thus, nothing to distract himself with) Link sighed and shuffled over to the chest. His boots left tracks in the dust and dirt that covered the floorboards, at least where grass had not overtaken the wood entirely. It muffled the sound of his steps, so that the sounds of the field beyond could still be heard—the rustling of wind in the trees, animals running through overgrown grass, the occasional buzz of an insect. Link heard each on some level, but his eyes were stuck on the chest, and his mind fixed on the mystery of what it contained.

If he were honest, he might have admitted that he was terrified of whatever it was that lay waiting in the chest. The King had said it belonged to him, an item of great importance in his past. It was something which would likely trigger a memory, or so he expected. Why else would the King have been so hesitant to tell him what it was? It had to be something terribly important, something that had once...mattered to him, a great deal. Something personal, the King had made it seem. But Link hadn’t the slightest clue what the item could be, let alone the memories it would carry with it—would they be good or bad, and of who, and when?

What if it was something like—like the Guardian, in the ruins? What if it was another memory of that day? He didn’t want to see all of that again, didn’t want to feel all the pain and the anguish, and—no, he couldn’t do this, he couldn’t possibly do this.

He hovered over the chest, trying to still the shaking in his hands as he looked down at it. Quivering at the mere thought of another memory, shaking before he even knew what was in the chest...this was childish. This was—but he couldn’t see another like those, he couldn’t do it. He wouldn’t be able to take it, it was too much...

—“...so many memories that go beyond the terrible things you’ve seen so far...”—

—“...we had better days than that...you just have to find them...”—

Link crouched down, hand trembling as it hovered over the lid of the chest. They were right, of course, when they had whispered to him as he slept. He knew implicitly that his good memories were equally as obscured from him as his bad memories. There was always a chance that the memory awaiting him was a good one...he certainly hoped it was. He didn’t think he could handle another catastrophic bout of panic. Not now, not when he had to focus, get off this plateau as soon as possible.

Either way, he was wasting time he did not have, and wasting it on fear which would solve nothing and aid no one. If he truly wanted to help them (which of course, he did) then he needed to get on with this. Move past the trepidation and continue—get off this plateau and regain his strength, his sword, his memories, his everything. And he could do none of these things without the item waiting for him. The only way to reach them was sitting in this chest, collecting dust as he hesitated out of fear.

Before he could lose his motivation again, he grabbed the lid with both hands and forced it open. Unlike the chest in the cave, this one was well preserved, and opened easily when he pulled on the lid. It swung open, and his hands froze, clutching the sides of the lid tightly as the sunlight hit the object nestled inside the chest.

For several seconds he could do nothing but stare. Slowly, with shaking hands, he reached into the chest and pulled the object out, unfolding the fabric carefully as he sat back on his feet. Wooden beams sprang open under his hands, extending the material across thin supports. He ran his hands across the thick fabric, the smooth wood it was pulled across. A crest shone bright white, in stark contrast to the deeper red of the base fabric, the navy accents around the edges. He stared at the crest, at the shape of the wings, the roundness of the center, and he remembered.

******

Rito Village was more beautiful at night.

The few times he had been here had only strengthened that opinion, and tonight was not breaking the trend. Days were undeniably pleasant, particularly with the help of Tabantha’s ceaseless wind, but even the most beautiful of days came nowhere close to the nights here. At night, all the stars came alive. The noise of the village wound down, the lanterns dimmed, and he could just...be, for a little while.

Tonight seemed more beautiful than he had ever seen it. The skies were clear and there was a light breeze, just enough to keep the air moving. Occasionally it would disturb the chimes hanging from some of the banisters, giving the wind a musical quality. He relished in the peace of the night here. When the noises of the celebration were quiet enough, he could convince himself it was just another night, some other time when he had weaseled his way here on some excuse. He could almost forget why he really came here.

Almost.

He was sitting on the edge of the largest landing in the village, close to the post, looking out toward the mountains. It wasn’t terribly cold, but he could feel the tips of his ears burning, and his hands were beginning to sting. He had been sitting out here, alone, in the dark, for far too long now. He hadn’t been counting the minutes, but the sun had been setting when he first found this landing, after running off. Someone was bound to notice his absence soon (if they had not already), and drag him back to his proper place. He knew this, and yet he could not bring himself to stand from where he sat, leaning on the post and swinging his feet occasionally.

It was more peaceful out here than it was in there, and there was no one to stare at him, backhanded or otherwise. The villagers meant well enough, but he couldn’t stand their eyes anymore. Sure, they could pretend they had not heard, pretend they didn’t know exactly why his face had been in a careful mask for the last two days. But all the pretending in the world couldn’t get the pity out of their eyes. No, they knew him too well, and he knew them too well. There was very little they could hide on either end.

The princess’ remarks at the event were enough to ensure his departure from it as soon as possible. He had done everything he could not to storm out of the village as soon as she turned her back. Not that she would have cared. Hell, she probably would have rejoiced at his absence. He wanted nothing more than to go down to the stable and leave this place, go back home...wherever that was, anymore. He thought he knew, but...

Instead, he found himself on the landing a few floors down from where she, and the rest of the celebration, was. Close enough that, should something happen, he would be there to end it, but far enough away that he could avoid her all the same. Avoid everyone. If anyone were to ask, he could probably make the excuse of watching the perimeter for attackers.

Not that anyone spoke to him anyway. Barely anyone could understand his only way of communicating, and those who could tended to ignore him. The villagers were nice enough to try, but they were all at the celebration. Besides, there were only a handful of people in the village at the moment who could understand him properly, and they were ignoring him just as expected. The sword had done nothing to change that. If anything, it had made it worse.

He was as alone as he ever was. And he hated it as much as he ever had.

“I thought I would find you here.”

Link froze, but didn’t bother turning around. The sword suddenly felt heavier on his back, and he braced himself for another round of berating, trying to ignore the heaviness in his heart at the prospect. He hated this change, he hated that everything had changed...and yet nothing had changed. He was the same, or at least...he hoped he was. But they all looked at him differently, those that looked anyway. He was still just a shadow, a phantom at the back of their minds, only now he had the great burden of all of their lives strapped to his back.

“It seems I’ve found your favorite hiding place. Besides the roof of the inn, maybe...”

He didn’t turn to look, pulling his legs up to his chest and resting his chin on his knees. The sword clinked in its sheath, and he had the sudden desire to take it from its place on his back and—throw it, was the immediate desire. But he didn’t move. He only sat, arms wrapped around his legs for a moment, curled up small on the edge of the landing.

There was a sigh behind him, and he was drawn back to the present, and the person standing a few feet behind him. “I’ve always loved this landing...there’s a good view of Hebra, from this point in the village, especially when the skies are clear...It’s almost suspicious how you keep finding my favorite places, you know. You’ve been to the village, what...twice now? Already you’ve left your mark on several of my hideouts.”

He held back a flinch, clenching his jaw as he turned away even more, looking toward the start of the Hebra trail. A thousand potential replies were bouncing around in his mind, but he didn’t say anything. His hands were balled into tight fists at his sides, arms still wrapped around his legs.

Distantly, he heard the sound of someone coming closer, but still he did not move. Not even when he felt something brush his arm as he was joined at his perch on the edge of the landing. He only continued to stare at the mountain path, the sudden desire to disappear into the mountains almost overwhelming. Invisible all the time, and yet as soon as he was seen, he wanted to evaporate.

“I wanted to...apologize.”

He tensed, but said nothing. There was nothing for him to say, and so he waited, listened.

“My behavior was uncalled for. And incredibly rude. And...well, it’s hardly an excuse, but I didn’t know you were the sword’s chosen one.”

Link turned to look at him then, facade cracking for just a moment as he stared at him in the moonlight. Thankfully (or not), he had taken his turn to look out toward the mountains, expression unreadable, as it always was. Link stared at him for a moment before he followed his gaze, frowning.

“I didn’t want to be,” he signed loosely before grabbing the edge of the landing tightly, trying to sort out his thoughts, and get rid of that terrible notion. It wasn’t the kind of thought he was meant to have, let alone to voice. But now that he had said it, he couldn’t stop himself from continuing. “I didn’t want this...”

“I can hardly blame you for that,” he said with a slight shrug. “It isn’t a fate I would have chosen. Not for myself...and certainly not for you. You...deserve better.”

They were quiet for a few moments, the distance between them just a little smaller. For the first time in over an hour, the sounds of the village weren’t grating on his ears, and he felt like he was breathing normally. The sword didn’t seem as heavy anymore, either. It still hung on his back like the branding that it was, but it hurt a little less.

“How long have you been out here?”

“An hour or two...I don’t know...” Link shook his head before resting it for a moment on his knees. “I wasn’t keeping track of time.”

“You’re cold.”

Link shrugged. “Doesn’t bother me...”

“Link, you’re shivering.”

He only shrugged, hugging his legs to his chest again. He was right, of course, but Link had no plan of moving any time soon. There was only one place he could go, and he had no desire to see the princess again. Not until he was forced to.

“I really am sorry, for...all of it,” he went on after a pause, and Link looked over again. But he was looking down, into the lake far below them. “I don’t...there’s no excuse for what I said. It wasn’t fair to you, or any of the work you’ve done, and will do for Hyrule.”

Link frowned, turning and raising his hands again, but it went unnoticed.

“I said things that were terrible, and you didn’t deserve to hear them. Even if you weren’t you, my behavior would have been unacceptable—and none of what I said is—is what I actually think of you—”

Link shook his head, looking over at him, but he was still staring off at nothing, a frown set deep into his expression. And he wouldn’t stop talking (typical).

“I see how that—that girl treats you, and I just—” he cut off with a grimace. “For me to have added onto that is despicable. You don’t deserve torment from any side, let alone all of them. And...you’re my friend. At least, I hope so. I want—I just—”

“Revali.”

He jumped, cutting off and looking over at Link quickly. They stared at each other in silence for several seconds, eyes wide as if both of them were surprised by the sudden reappearance of Link’s voice. He spoke so infrequently that it was easy to forget he technically could. Now that Link thought about it, he couldn’t have spoken in front of Revali more than once or twice...and never directly to him. But it had just...happened. He never could explain why he could talk sometimes and other times he couldn’t. They had agreed years ago not to talk about it, and Revali had kept his end of the deal spectacularly.

But now, the question was in his eyes again, like it had been when they were younger. And Link didn’t have an answer for him. So they only stared at each other, mutually confused and surprised, the topic of their conversation temporarily forgotten. For anyone else the silence might have seemed tense, but they were so accustomed to silence it hardly mattered. They only stared at each other, lost for a moment in the great deal of things left unsaid.

Link was the first to look away, down at his hands in his lap. “Not your fault,” he signed quickly, his sudden bout of confidence long dissipated under Revali’s intense (and conveniently unreadable) stare. “None of it is your fault. You didn’t mean it. I’m not mad...at you...”

There was a pause, and Revali narrowed his eyes. “And are you mad at someone else?”

Link didn’t answer. He only stared at his hands, stubbornly quiet.

“I suppose that’s answer enough. Or at least as much as you’re allowed to say, I assume,” Revali said lightly. “Look...I may be an ass, but...we’ve always been able to talk somehow. We’re still...friends. That fancy stick on your back doesn’t change anything. Not to me, anyway...”

Link looked up at him, trying to read his expression, and mostly failing. “Thank you,” he signed slowly.

Revali huffed, rolling his eyes. “Don’t mention it.”

They were quiet for a few seconds, sitting together on the edge of the landing and watching the wind blow stray leaves and snowflakes around in the distance. The moonlight gave the world a bluish tint, paling everything it touched to a steely version of itself. But it could do very little to shift the darker tones of the village’s wood, or the dark blue of the lake water. It made the grass look pale, the paths blurring and blending into the wooded areas. Still, it was beautiful, in its own moonlit way.

“How long will you be in the village?” Revali asked quietly after a moment, glancing over at him.

He frowned for a moment, thinking. “I don’t know...as long as she says.”

“You’re completely at her mercy then?”

“I go where she goes,” Link signed with a shrug, but the sourness of his expression was enough to show his true displeasure with the setup. “King’s orders, I don’t have a choice.”

Revali hummed. “Well, you’re here. You might as well enjoy it while you still can. Now! If you’re done moping, there’s something I want to show you.”

Link hesitated, watching as Revali stood, looking down at him expectantly. “I wasn’t moping.”

“Of course you weren’t, now get up.”

Frowning, Link did as he was told, pushing himself to his feet and facing him. He realized Revali was a few inches taller than he was, now...it had been too long since they last saw each other. Months and months of nonsense had been keeping him in Central Hyrule, rather than home or...second home. Getting the sword had saddled him with an unexpected amount of responsibility at the castle...particularly when the King decided he should be the one to protect Zelda. And so he had found himself not only at the mercy of a girl who despised him (with the lovely burden of the sword always on his back) but in a place he didn’t know, with a swarm of people who couldn’t understand him.

It was why he had jumped on the opportunity to come to Rito Village. He missed his...friend. Oh to hell with it, he missed Revali, whatever he was to him, friend (more than friend). He censored everything else, there was no sense in censoring his own thoughts.

“Stop gawking,” Revali taunted before turning around, waving for Link to follow after him (and completely missing how red Link’s face became—and it wasn’t the cold that was to blame). “Since you’re wingless, we have to walk, and it’s quite a distance this way.”

Link caught up to him quickly as they started down another level of the village. The sounds of the celebration grew even fainter as they descended, which Link was thankful for. He poked Revali roughly in the arm, smirking a little as Revali turned toward him again.

“What is it?”

“Could have flown us down.”

“True,” Revali allowed, slowing his pace to match Link’s as they came to the bridge out of the village. “But I can hardly speak to you when you’re clinging to my back. And I do enjoy your company, you know...despite my remarks earlier.”

“I like flying with you.”

Revali froze for a step, staring at Link’s hands as if they would repeat what he had said. It was just a moment, but Link knew him too well not to notice the shift in his demeanor. He cleared his throat after a second, looking away, hiding the smile creeping into his eyes.

“Yes, well...” he trailed off, voice strained. He cleared his throat again. “Perhaps we could fly back, then, after...”

Link smirked, watching him for a moment before nudging him, getting his attention. “After what?”

“No,” Revali said, regaining his composure with a shake of the head and a cross of his arms. “Not a chance. You’re not going to weasel it out of me, I won’t allow it.”

“Not even if I say please?”

“Don’t start with me.”

Link grinned. “Where are we going?”

“We’ll get there soon enough, can’t you wait?”

“Revali.”

“Link.”

He raised his hands again to continue, but whatever he had meant to say was soon forgotten.

A guard nodded to them as they came to the end of the bridge, eyes catching temporarily on the sword. They stared, for just a moment too long, long enough for whatever neutrality Link had regained to dissipate with the next gust of wind. He felt that all too familiar numbness creep over him, the smile slip from his face. He hardly noticed when Revali glared rather obviously at the guard, throwing an arm around Link and picking up their pace.

“Alright, you’ve seen your fill,” he said sharply, and the guard balked, turning away quickly, but Revali wasn’t done yet. “You’re meant to guard the entrance to the village, not terrorize its guests.”

The guard sputtered something or other, but they were already several feet away, and Revali showed no signs of slowing down. It was only when they had crossed the last of the Rito bridges, when the path opened up before them that he dropped his arm from Link’s shoulder.

“Idiots,” he muttered darkly, arms crossed as he shook his head angrily. “Complete idiots. They’re almost as bad as your foul mouthed princess, staring like that.”

“Just...keep walking,” Link signed, hands a little jittery as he tried to shake off the heaviness in his chest.

“I’m sorry.”

“Still not your fault.”

“Yes, well...unlike others, I believe you are worthy of an apology,” he said forcefully, meeting Link’s gaze with the same intensity he had before. “Especially from those who should know when to give them...or should know when to keep their mouth shut, at least.”

All Link could do was stare back at him for several seconds, frankly a little stunned. Revali had always spoken his mind, but...this was a surprise.

“You don’t like her,” Link signed after a moment, gestures careful.

Revali laughed, shaking his head a little as they took the turn of the path, leading toward Hebra and away from the stable. “What tipped you off, Hero?”

Link didn’t reply. He only watched Revali, waiting for him to explain.

“You’re right of course. I’m none too keen on your little princess,” he said flatly, arms crossed. “Particularly after seeing the way she treats you. I won’t claim to know everything about the particulars of Hylian etiquette, but I am relatively certain it isn’t polite to treat one’s only source of protection as a doormat.”

Link stared. “She—” he stalled, completely unsure how to continue. “People can hear you, you know.”

He scoffed. “Let them hear me, then. I don’t care. I have no shame.”

“Revali—”

“She may be failing in her duties, but that does not mean she has to torment you for succeeding in your own. You receive enough barbarity from the rest of those around you,” he went on, fixing Link with a hard stare. “Bossing you around, and completely ignoring you when she isn’t—it’s petty nonsense, Link, and you know it. You don’t deserve that, just because some sword chose you.”

Link snorted. “Some sword...it’s more than some sword...”

Revali waved him off. “Either way, her behavior in general is hardly tolerable, even by Hylian standards,” he grumbled, sounding deadly serious. “Hardly a word to the elder before she was running about, trying to get her grubby little hands on Medoh...and shouting at you every opportunity, don’t think I missed that when you were ignoring me. She may technically hold sway over me, but I have no qualms about giving her what-for in your honor.”

“No,” Link signed quickly, shaking his head at the idea of Revali shouting at the princess (although...it would be a sight to see). “Thank you, but no.”

Revali smirked. “Well, let me know. I’m always willing to give a good talking to, particularly to those who deserve it.”

“She isn’t worth the risk,” Link signed, gestures almost blunt, expression undoubtedly sour. “Probably ignore you anyway.”

“Well!” Revali said with a bit of a laugh, watching him. “You do have an opinion on her then. Good to know...don’t worry, I won’t have myself thrown out of this whole thing for shouting at a child. Oh, now that I think about it...I could always refuse her offer of the Divine Beast.”

Link cocked an eyebrow, giving him a dubious look.

“I forget you know me too well,” he said flatly. “Fine, I’ll accept. But I can at least string her along for a while, let her think I’m going to refuse.”

Link nodded, smiling a little. “I’ll have to stay in the village longer.”

Revali smiled back. “Good plan.”

They went quiet then, content to enjoy the scenery for a few moments. It was slowly getting colder as they got closer to the mountains, but the night was clear, and the wind wasn’t too terrible. Snow drifted down lightly from the peaks, dusting the path an intermittent white, making it seem brighter than it was in Tabantha.

Link had always liked it here. He didn’t get to come as often as he would like, but the feeling of ease that crept up on him during his time near Rito Village was always a welcome relief from the rest of Hyrule. This place had an aura of serenity to it, and it had always been a place of calm to him. Only one place came even close, and it had been soiled for him in the last year. Since he had come back with this terrible sword, everything had been soiled by the burden thrust on him out of nowhere. Nothing had been the same.

Except Rito Village, that is.

For a moment, it seemed this place too would be ruined for him. Tailing the princess here had been a welcome reprieve from all his strange isolation at the castle. He knew the princess did not like him—that much was painfully clear, even after only a few months of being near her. Traveling with her was never easy, nor was it enjoyable. But he had thought that by traveling to Rito Village, a place he knew well (and seeing perhaps the one person he could call a friend) things might return to some kind of normalcy. He could be where eyes weren’t constantly on him, watching and judging and coming back disappointed.

But then he had to overhear Zelda talking to a certain Rito, asking him to take on the “distinct honor” of piloting a Divine Beast. And he had recognized the voice to reply, and for a moment, he had been happy. Revali had replied with enthusiasm first, sounding enthused by the idea of piloting Medoh. But then disdain had crept into his tone at discovering the role of the Divine Beasts—as defense for the one who wielded that horrible sword strapped to his back. Both Zelda and Revali had made it clear their opinions on the matter, and their apparent distaste for the wielder of the sword.

And both had frozen when they noticed Link in the doorway, listening to them, expression carefully controlled (but he couldn’t hide the hurt from his eyes).

Zelda hardly cared (clearly), but she had the decency to stop speaking. Revali cared, but Link had walked away before he had the chance to say a word. He’d called after him, but Link had dove over the side of the railing, climbing barehanded down the side of the village’s pillar and dropping onto the roof of the inn. If Revali saw him, he did nothing to stop him. He sat there for a while, and was “asleep” by the time Zelda returned to the inn for the day. Revali didn’t make an appearance.

That was two days ago, and he hadn’t spoken to either of them much since...not that Zelda made any effort to listen to him, regardless of his intentions. It had been a silent two days, spent wandering from hiding place to hiding place, keeping one eye on Zelda as he was forced to, but with his thoughts on entirely different things. Revali’s words haunted him, but he couldn’t bring himself to find him. It hurt too much. And so he had spent the two days preceding the celebration lurking in the shadows of Rito Village, eating, sleeping, and spending all of his time alone.

It was almost exactly like his life at the castle, those two days.

It didn’t matter now. Link knew Revali hadn’t meant what he said. All of his comments stemmed from the same part of him that demanded he work himself to near death constantly. He had to be the best at everything, and had worked hard to get himself to where he was. It was understandable for him to be...displeased at the idea of being relegated to the role of support. Besides, he had made it clear he would be willing to help. He’d always been willing to help Link.

The path split off, one half leading to the climbing path, and the little cabin nestled next to the mountain. The other branched back toward Tabantha, wrapping around Lake Totori and skirting through the trees. Link craned to look toward the cabin at the base of the mountain path, confusion clear in his eyes as they continued down the path away from it. After a few seconds he nudged Revali.

“What?”

“Where are we going?”

Revali smirked. “So impatient.”

Link nudged him again, looking expectant. Revali only shook his head, waving him forward.

“We’re almost there, it’s just around the corner,” he said, pointing to the curve of the path. “Trust me, it’s very worth the walk.”

Link frowned, but said nothing else, resigned to trusting his judgement on the matter rather than trying to get a straight answer out of him. Revali may have been the one to talk the most, but if he didn’t want to explain something, there was very little Link could do to convince him otherwise. So he followed along after him, rounding the path and starting up a small hill.

It was colder here than it was in the village, right on the edge of Tabantha and Hebra’s blurry border. There were strong winds coming from somewhere, but Link couldn’t tell where—nothing strange was blowing on the path, but the sound of roaring wind was undeniable. A shrine sat dark and gloomy just a little further down the path, but they ignored it, opting to head straight, where the path was the clearest. It almost looked new, this section of snow-dusted road—clear and not worn down by endless parades of people and horses and carts. Revali didn’t seem to notice, gaze fixed on something just over the hill as he waved Link forward impatiently.

“Right through here,” he said, ushering him on. Link picked up his pace, but soon came to a halt at the sight before him.

The path opened up, and they suddenly came upon the source of the loud winds. There was a seemingly bottomless pit directly in front of them, high cliff walls surrounding it, and a protrusion of rock in its center. Massive updrafts soared up from deep below the ground, creating an alcove of surprisingly warm, violent air. Targets had been set up all along the cliff walls, glowing softly in the dim light. There was a small hut tucked against the back cliff, with a fire, and a landing hanging right over the edge of the updrafts.

Link had come to a stop in the entryway, and Revali stopped with him. They stood at the entrance for several seconds as Link looked around, and Revali watched him, looking oddly nervous. The longer they stood there, the more pronounced the expression became, until he appeared quite concerned, following closely as Link wandered over to the edge of the path. He looked down the cliff edge to the water below, the harsh updrafts blowing his hair back. Revali watched from a few feet away.

“Well?” he said after a moment, eyes flitting around the place before settling on Link again. “What do you think?”

“This is...amazing,” Link signed, shaking his head and looking over at him, smiling big. “You did this?”

“With some help, yes. I asked the elder for a place to train in aerial combat, and he accepted,” Revali said with a shrug. “Welcome to the Flight Range.”

Link smiled again, looking around at the splendor of it all. Dozens of questions came to mind, but he didn’t bother with any of them, happy to just take it in for a moment while he could. Questions could come later, particularly if they really were staying in the village longer than planned.

“Alright, that’s enough,” Revali said after another minute or so, sounding somewhere between harried and grudgingly proud. “Come on, this is only part one.”

“Part one?” Link signed confusedly, but Revali only grabbed him by the arm, tugging him over to the ladder leading up to the hut.

“Yes, part one,” Revali said, pointing for him to go up the ladder. He took off as Link started, landing above him in the hut with practiced ease. “You think I dragged you out here just to see the Flight Range? My pride may be extensive, but it isn’t that big. No, I brought you here for something else, now come along.”

Link chose to say nothing in reply to that, pulling himself up and into the hut and looking around. Despite its size it looked quite cozy, with a cooking pot and a few shelves, stocked with arrows and spare bows. Revali’s best was strapped to his back as it always was, but there were almost a dozen more scattered about in various states of modification.

“Alright weapon master, get over here,” Revali said impatiently, arms crossed. “There will be time for admiring my craftsmanship later. We’re here for a reason, remember?”

“What are you trying to do with these?”

“Link.”

“Will these shoot multiple arrows?”

“Link.”

He held up his hands in surrender and came over where Revali stood, half a smile still lurking in his expression. There was a little dresser of sorts against the farthest wall, which Revali stood in front of, blocking it from view. He waved Link over, impatience masking what seemed like genuine concern somewhere in his eyes.

“Are you alright?” Link signed, eyes narrowed as he looked up at him.

“Hush,” Revali said bluntly, grabbing Link by the shoulder and pushing him in front of him, hands still resting on his shoulders as they stood in front of the dresser together now. There was a box resting on top, tied tightly with string. “I was going to wait until your birthday, but then again, I’m impatient, and you’ve had a bad day, no thanks to me.”

Link squirmed, looking back at him awkwardly (Revali refused to loosen his grip on his shoulders). “You got me something?”

“Well, had something made might be the more apt phrase,” Revali said thoughtfully. “This isn’t the sort of thing you can just buy...but, it hardly matters. So! Consider this your birthday gift...although...I’ll likely still have to get you something for the actual day...”

“You didn’t have to get me anything.”

“Link, so help me—”

“Revali.”

“We’re here already, aren’t we? You can shout at me later all you want about not getting you things,” he said, some of the concern coming back into his expression. “I... wanted to get you something. Now please— open it before I start molting from all this suspense.”

Link snorted. “You don’t even molt.”

“Not the point, Link,” Revali sighed, tightening his grip on Link’s shoulders and forcing him to turn around again. “Just open it.”

He squirmed again in a vain effort to escape Revali’s grip, sighing when he failed spectacularly. His eyes landed on the box, string holding it shut in a clean knot. There would be no avoiding this. Besides, whatever it was, it had Revali all worked up over whether or not he would like it. And as much as Link enjoyed pushing his buttons, it seemed genuine this time. He didn’t want to torture him...at least not any longer.

Without further delay, he pulled the string off the box, lifting the lid quickly.

The first thing he saw was the symbol of the Rito in bright white across the surface, vivid against the darker red of the rest of the fabric. It was a symbol he knew well, from the landing in the village to the shields the Rito warriors carried, the crest was everywhere in Tabantha. Setting the lid down, he reached into the box, carefully pulling the object out.

As he did, the object unfolded in his hands, wooden beams opening up easily and pulling the fabric apart. The wood was smooth and dark, and incredibly sturdy for how thin the beams were. The entire thing couldn’t have weighed more than a few pounds, even with the thick fabric and wood framing. For a few seconds, all he could bring himself to do was stare at the strange contraption, turning it in his hands and looking at all of the pieces. It could fold quite small, as it had been in the box, but when opened fully it was about his shoulder width across, cut in a curving triangle. The fabric was slightly loose across the frame, and it caught the wind even in the secluded hut, flapping in the breeze.

“It’s a paraglider,” Revali said, watching Link collapse and reopen the contraption several times. “The village used to make a great deal of them when Hylians lived in Hebra, so they could use the updrafts like the Rito. Now they’re practically nonexistent...I had to have this one made—”

Link spun around quickly, still holding the paraglider (closed, thankfully) in one hand as he signed frantically with the other. “Use the updrafts?”

Revali stared at him, watching him practically bounce with excitement. “Yes,” he said carefully, almost wary. “You hold it above you, and the fabric will catch the wind, and keep you afloat.”

Link stared, a full smile lighting up his face. “Fly with you?”

“Well, it’s hardly flying, but—”

He cut off rather abruptly as Link practically launched at him, still holding the paraglider in one hand, even as he gave a crushing hug. Revali went completely still, seemingly stunned into silence for a few seconds, standing ramrod straight and utterly frozen. Then, after what seemed in the moment like an eternity later (but was really only a few seconds) he seemed to understand. Slowly, like he thought Link would run from him at any moment (which he certainly would not) he put his arms around him too, pulling him just a touch closer.

“You’re welcome,” Revali half whispered, a genuine smile creeping into his eyes.

******

Link came back to reality gasping, still staring at the crest sewn across the thick fabric of the paraglider. He looked around the cabin, half expecting it to have morphed into the Flight Range, the sound of roaring winds to overwhelm his ears. He felt out of place, out of time maybe, as if the memory hadn’t really ended, it was meant to continue now. But no such things occurred. The cabin remained its dilapidated self, and the gentle sounds of the Great Plateau were all to meet his ears. There was a different sword on his back, and a shield and strange bow, clothes that weren’t his own (and no one beside him). He was still stuck, confused and short on memories, one hundred years after that memory had happened.

He was still alone.

The paraglider sat limp in his hands, as beautiful as it had been when he first opened that box. His hands were shaking where they clung to it, and he felt drained, like he had run across the entirety of Hyrule in one day without stop. He couldn’t seem to muster a coherent thought, beyond shock, and repeating of the memory over and over. Trying to permanently fix it in his mind, remember all the details and never forget them again (not ever, he promised, he promised). If this was the way getting all of his memories back would be...he shook his head at himself. It was worth it. A thousand times if he had to, it was worth it.

It was worth it, so worth it to see Revali, to remember anything with him would have been more than he could ask for. To remember him, to remember just a few moments, it was terrifying and fantastic and painful and a swarm of other feelings he didn’t bother trying to name. Because he remembered Revali.

He remembered Revali, and that was all that mattered.

Or at least...he remembered parts of him. But he couldn’t bring himself to care that so much was still missing, couldn’t let the reality drag him down just yet. He was too...relieved, too relieved to have remembered him in any capacity beyond his voice. He remembered him— his name, and his face, and his (horribly unreadable and stupidly beautiful) eyes, and—and—he could almost cry, if he weren’t so exhausted by the thought of it. If he wasn’t already, he couldn’t tell, and he didn’t care either way.

Little details kept slotting into place, and he could hardly believe how he had forgotten any of them. Rito Village, with it’s secluded view of the mountains and pleasant breeze, air always moving and changing and shifting. The paraglider, and how he could tell as he opened and closed it, just as he had in the memory, that he remembered perfectly well how to use it. Then of course, there was Revali, and all the details of him Link could grab from the memory. Vague senses of memories drifting further back in time, and forward as well...it seemed he had stumbled upon a midpoint somehow. But still, he had found Revali somehow...he had remembered him, at least a little, and that was better than nothing...

It was dizzying, this sudden remembrance, more than the other memories. The Guardian had triggered panic, and fear, and a slew of other debilitating emotions which still brewed somewhere in the back of his thoughts. But this memory, this little piece of an encounter with Revali...it made his mind run wild for completely different reasons. Some of it was this floaty, giddy feeling from finding him, from remembering something beyond the tormenting images of—he wasn’t going to think about that.

The point was, there was a brighter tint to this memory than the last, even as he knew on some level that he had already at that point been steeped in a destiny he didn’t want. He’d been in a thick gloom at the start of that memory, the fuzzy line where it began. Revali had dragged him out of that slump (as he got the sense he did often) and the memory really had been a good one. He couldn’t stop the relieved smile from spreading across his face, couldn’t stop staring at the paraglider, disbelieving and stunned.

He ran his hands over the fabric, the thin wooden beams holding it open. The dye was still bright, the supports well maintained—he had cared for this gift, very dearly even as he used it every opportunity he could. He knew he had cherished it, as he did everything he got from Revali (though he couldn’t recall...where he got the sense from) and he was...unexplainably glad to have the paraglider back in his possession. It was the only thing he had at the moment that felt right— this sword was wrong, this shield was wrong, the bow, even his clothes, it was all just wrong. But the paraglider was his, and his alone, and it was in its proper place now.

With him.

All the same, the empty spaces between memories seemed louder now, as his thoughts recentered. Like fading panic, his thoughts slowly sank back to the present moment, and the gaps in his memory were quick to pronounce themselves once again. All the things he was still missing, the memories and the facts of his past telling him to find more, to get it all back before it was too late. He needed to remember all of his past, not just these little pieces.

He needed to remember all of Revali. All of...their relationship. He wanted to remember it all. And then...then he wanted it to stop being only in his memory. He wanted things to go back to what they were meant to be...he wanted this to be over, just like he felt in the memory. Remembering Revali (even in this smallest instance) had left him with so much happiness, but it was too fleeting, too short before reality closed back in, and he realized he was alone, with nothing but his foggy past. And Revali was alone, trapped inside that Divine Beast, waiting for him.

He had to get off this plateau. Now.

Determination took the place of the shakiness the memory left him with, the same part of him that had forced him from his panic in the cave now taking full charge. There was no sense in kneeling on this dirty floor, clinging to a piece of his past and trying to grasp it all from just one memory. More would come (and he might even know where to look). For now, he had a job to do, a set of tasks which needed to be done as soon as possible. There would be no point in regaining his memories if he could not complete the tasks before him.

Folding the paraglider back into its closed position, Link stood, brushing off his pants and turning quickly from the chest. The sunlight felt warm on his skin as he came out of the cabin, rounding the side and looking into the distance, at the Duelling Peaks looming in the east. The words of the King echoed in his mind, eyes fixing first on the road trailing next to the rivers, and the Tower tucked into the side of the mountain, and what was beyond those summits.

Walking quickly across the field, he came to the edge of the plateau, what was once a great stone wall now crumbling to the ground far below. He looked down for only a moment, at the well worn path waiting for him, the ruins spreading out along the road to the east.

The paraglider snapped open in his hands, catching the breeze easily. For a moment he hesitated, going through the tasks laid out before him. Find Kakariko Village, and Impa, as the King has told him. Conquer the shrines across Hyrule and regain his strength, and his sword. Find his memories where they waited for him, remember everything he had forgotten, reclaim the pieces of himself he had left behind.

Go to Rito Village, and get Revali back.

Grabbing the paraglider by the handles, Link fixed his eyes on the Duelling Peaks in the distance, feeling the wind on his face. For just a second, he paused, closing his eyes and letting himself be content with the feeling of rightness this gave him. If he focused hard enough, he could almost hear him, could almost feel his presence somewhere close by, watching him, waiting for him. If he tried, he could almost feel his arms again, like in the memory, holding him just a little closer than he had dared to try. For a moment, this was all he thought of, allowing himself the moment of comfort, of calm before the continuation of the storm.

Then he took a deep breath, and held the paraglider high. He looked up at the crest of the Rito emblazoned on the fabric over his head, felt the wind blow harder through his hair. Feeling just the slightest ghost of a smile cross his face, he tightened his grip on the paraglider, and jumped.

Chapter Text

Have to...get out...

What happened?

Can’t...remember...

Where are you?

Come back...

Please...

Link jolted back to reality, shaking his head at himself for dozing off. His eyes had somehow drifted westward once more, to the blurry outline of Vah Medoh, which still circled in the distance, dark and gloomy on the horizon. He shook his head again, pressing his hands to his eyes and trying to quiet the thoughts constantly distracting him whenever he let his guard down. Shivering slightly at the harsh wind he only just realized was blowing, he turned away from the view, back toward the east, where Kakariko waited.

He was standing on the summit of the southern half of the Duelling Peaks, having just completed the final of the two shrines hidden there. With the one below him and the one he had found before crossing the river, he had found four since leaving the Great Plateau. His original reason for lingering on the Peaks’ summit was to see if he could mark more shrines with the slate. He managed to find a handful that were close by before he caught sight of the Divine Beast, and his thoughts were drawn to the blurry past.

The wind blew harder, and he was once again brought back to the numerous tasks at hand. Wrapping his arms around himself and trying to keep somewhat warm, Link looked around the summit, trying to find the best way down. He had climbed most of the way here, after jumping from the last shrine to the next cliff. But climbing all the way down, even via the more sloping side of the mountain, would be a long and arduous process.

No, he didn’t have the time for such things. The sun was already beginning to set. He needed to reach Kakariko by nightfall, hopefully speak to Impa as soon as possible. Besides, he could feel the exhaustion creeping up on him, the fatigue from scaling the mountain coupled with the puzzles of the shrines and all that had happened on the plateau before he even came here. He needed to reach Kakariko as soon as he could—he did not want to be forced to stop before then. He wanted to be done with this, this...arbitrary set of tasks he had to complete just to be strong enough to end this.

He wanted Revali back.

The Sheikah Slate hummed at his side as he walked closer to the edge of the summit, alerting him to a shrine nearby. Frowning, he pulled it out, looking closely at the broken map and trying to determine what direction it wanted him to follow. After some trial and error, he managed to sort out that the slate wanted him to go northeast, blinking insistently at him about it too.

Glancing into the distance, he saw the strange rock formations of what he assumed was Kakariko Village. A few of the tallest structures were poking out above the intermittent peaks, dark wood sharply contrasted to the pale tan rocks surrounding them. There must have been a shrine near Kakariko, or at least along the way.

Sighing, Link put the slate back on his belt and unhooked the paraglider. Another trial to face, another spirit orb to collect, another notch off the list of seemingly endless obstacles. But a step forward was a step forward, he supposed. He couldn’t afford to miss any of these things—he couldn’t risk the safety of the great deal of people relying on him on his own exhaustion at the thought of all that lay ahead. All he could do was continue.

At least he could fly down to the shrine...

He felt...inexplicably better, having the paraglider in his possession again. True, he hadn’t known to miss it just twelve hours ago, but having it back was still an improvement. He felt more...present, more himself. Perhaps it was the memory that had come with it, or the swarm of half founded feelings that surged up when he had jumped off the plateau. Either way, he felt better. More whole. It was almost the same feeling as when he had taken the bokoblin’s sword, on the plateau. A feeling of...rightness, of ease in his own self, or confidence in the course of his direction. Only this time, it was stronger, because there was no improper paraglider (like there was an improper sword)—this was his, and only his, as it had been in the past.

He tried to focus on that feeling of ease as he floated down from the peak, following the hum of the Sheikah Slate until he caught sight of the dark stone shrine, far below him and surrounded by water. It came up to the very edge of the platform, it seemed, and a nearby waterfall doused the rest of the shrine in cold water. Link wondered for a moment why a shrine had been built in the middle of a small lake, but disregarded the thought quickly as he landed on the platform, pulling the Sheikah Slate from his belt with his free hand.

“Hey—what are you doing?”

Link froze, slate hovering a few inches above the terminal before he pulled it away, quickly snapping it back onto his belt. He turned quickly to face the new voice, instinctively reaching for the sword still strapped to his back, in case—

But it was just a woman, looking curiously at him as his hand hesitated in reaching for his weapon. She was dressed simply, warm clothes that looked worn from time spent traveling. Her hair was short and dark, and her eyes were big, and very tired looking. She had a small lantern at her side, already lit despite the remaining daylight, and she stared at Link like he was very much out of place.

To be fair, he supposed he did look strange. He was just some scruffy looking kid who floated down from the nearby mountain, dressed in rags, with stolen equipment strapped to his back. Not to mention the Sheikah Slate (and the paraglider), which she glanced once at before fixing her curious gaze again on Link.

“I’ve been watching this shrine for a day or so now, since it started glowing,” she said, her voice high and sharp as she spoke. “Never seen anybody but you even get close to it. All those spikes, and the water...sort of turned people off to it, you know? Then you come flying down from the Peaks on some sheet and just land right on it? And mess with it? It’s a little suspicious, don’t you think?”

Link stared at her. She frowned at his silence, arms crossing as she squinted suspiciously at him.

“I’ve never seen you before,” she said flatly. “Where’d you come from?”

He blinked at her, confused. Why would she need to know where he had come from? Hell, he didn’t even really know...well, realistically he did know, but as for his place of origin, his home...he didn’t have a clue. He had no idea how to answer that question...

Closing the paraglider, he pointed with his free hand to the summit of the mountain. She followed his eyes before snorting, turning her attention back to him as he put the paraglider away, dusting the fabric off carefully.

“Yeah, I know you came from the mountain, that’s not what I meant. I mean where are you from?”

Link frowned, although he had of course known what she really meant. Unfortunately, she didn’t seem keen to drop the subject, fixing her tired gaze on him with stubborn determination.

He shrugged.

Shaking her head with a sigh, she moved on. “You got a name?” she asked bluntly.

He nodded without thought.

She waited a few seconds before sighing again and looking upward, clearly frustrated with him. “Well? Spit it out, what is it?”

“Link,” he signed carefully, spelling it out, even as he knew she likely wouldn’t understand him.

She stared at his hands for a moment, surprise clear in her eyes. Then the expression shifted, and she looked up at Link again, eyes dark with something that was almost...remorseful.

“You—” she cut off, shaking her head at herself. “You don’t—”

He shook his head. She had the decency to look absolutely mortified.

“Oh...I’m sorry. I’ve been terribly rude,” she said quietly, sounding completely genuine. “I’ve...I’ve been watching the shrine since it started glowing, thinking something might happen, and—well, I’m pretty tired. And I get...stupid when I’m tired. Um—I’m Sagessa. You said your name was Link, right?”

A little surprised, he nodded.

“What are you doing to the shrine?”

He frowned, fiddling with the Sheikah Slate on his belt. After a moment he settled on a shrug, watching her carefully. Thankfully, she didn’t seem too committed to the question, still avoiding his eyes with red cheeks.

“Well, um...” she looked back toward the oddly shaped building a hundred or so feet away. “I’m going back to the stable, I’m sorry I...interrupted whatever it is you’re doing. But uh...if you need a rest, or a cooking pot, the stable’s got everything you need. My family runs it...”

He watched her warily for a few seconds before glancing at the building she had pointed out. Only then did he notice it’s strange structure. The top was shaped like the head of a horse, with a round base and a tented roof. There was a fenced enclosure surrounding it, with saddled horses grazing, as well as cuckoos, goats, and a few sheep. A few other people were milling about, huddled by the cooking fire or wandering into the tent, where he could just see a few beds sprawled around.

It looked like a nice enough place, he supposed...but he had no plans of staying. He was only here for the shrine. She didn’t need to know that, though. He didn’t want to be rude to this girl, even if she had been suspicious of him before. Better suspicious than—

“Thank you,” he signed, looking at her.

“Y-Yeah...” she replied shakily, her face still red from embarrassment. “Um...don’t mention it.”

With that, she turned quickly, sprinting back toward the stable with reckless abandon. Link watched her run until she reached the counter, talking animatedly with the person behind it. Their eyes flashed over to the shrine, but it was too far to determine their expression. Still, they stared for several seconds before the girl said something, and they turned their attention back to her. Another man from inside the tent came around the counter, leaning on it and listening attentively to whatever it was the girl was saying. Then he too turned, peering over at Link curiously.

Before he could feel the additional set of eyes on him, Link turned back toward the pedestal, averting his eyes and holding the slate to its surface. It flashed bright blue and he winced, pulling the slate away and putting it back on his belt. As the door to the shrine pulled open, he hurried inside, glad once again for the retreat into darkness that the shrine’s puzzle would bring.

He didn’t like being stared at.

Unfortunately, the shrine was simple, and took him less than fifteen minutes to complete. Just a straightforward puzzle with waterfalls. The cryonis rune made the whole thing child’s play. Even as he took his time, carefully picking over every area of the shrine he could access, Link knew he was flying through this puzzle. The sun had barely moved at all when the platform brought him back to the entrance to the shrine. Another spirit orb, a better weapon, and one puzzle later, he was back exactly where he had been, with this strange girl staring at him from the water’s edge.

“You—you went inside?” she sputtered as he walked out, peering behind him toward the platform before looking at the shrine’s surface. “I saw the lights turn blue—you—how did you do that?”

Link only shrugged, wanting to end the encounter as quickly as possible. He put the slate back on his belt and started trudging through the shallow water, eyes set on the path that lead into the mountains. Kakariko lay somewhere down that path, and with it everything he still had to accomplish. He had to keep moving.

“That’s amazing!” she said, awe clear in her voice. “You—you really are—”

He froze, staring at her with a strange mix of unanchored emotions swirling around in his eyes. Part of it was confusion, part fear, but a large portion of it was dread, the same dread he remembered feeling when the guard outside Rito Village had stared in the memory. He got the urge to retreat back into the shrine, away from this girl’s wide eyed stare, from the eyes everywhere. Throw the sword over the edge of the landing, watch it fall to the water below. No, he didn’t even have the sword, and he wasn’t in Rito...

Suddenly the world felt entirely too small, and he wanted nothing more than to run—well...he didn’t know where, but he knew to who, and it wasn’t possible...a fragment of a memory tugged at his mind, but it slipped from his grasp too fast. He frowned, trying to stem the numbness that followed.

“I’m sorry,” Sagessa said with a smile that was too bright, shaking her head a little. “I’m—getting ahead of myself. Just—come to the stable, please? There’s—my uncle asked to speak to you.”

Link looked up at her from where his eyes had found the ground, feeling very distant from himself, but he nodded all the same. She smiled again and turned, waving for him to follow, and so he did, even though he felt like his thoughts were drifiting off from him, disappearing with the wind. He felt like he was walking to his execution.

Calm down, he needed to calm down. This girl wasn’t—she didn’t mean anything by it, by staring and making strange comments. Hell, that guard in Rito hadn’t meant anything, but—

“So you’re Link, then?”

Link looked up, bringing his thoughts back to the current moment. An older man, the one behind the stable counter, was watching him strangely, half skeptical and half...awed. Link tried not to be upset by the second.

“I’m Tasseren,” the man said, voice gruff. “I run the stable, with my family of course. Been running this place for over a century, since the kingdom was real small. Only time we weren’t running this place was when the kingdom fell, and we had to retreat to Fort Hateno.”

The man looked him up and down before coming out from behind the counter. “The land behind the stable is where the last battle took place,” he said, pointing to the rolling field that sprawled out into the distance. “No one knows what happened, but legend says that the princess and the Hero met their fate in that field. Some say the Hero fell somewhere near here...That place is a grave for thousands of Hylian soldiers, and all those Guardians still laying around...”

Link winced, hiding the crack in his facade by fiddling with the Sheikah Slate at his belt. Tasseren watched him quietly for a moment, but went on as Link caught him staring, clearing his throat and looking toward the field again. He made a good show of pretending not to notice anything.

“When the dust had settled, my grandfather came back to the stable, to try to put things back together,” he said, looking around the stable as if he were seeing it now in flames. “Took him a few years, but he managed to get it back up and running. The other stables around Hyrule did the same, and the system is almost back like it used to be, now.

“That’s not my point, though,” he said, looking at Link again. “This stable has been in my family for generations. My grandfather passed it to my father, and he passed it to me and my brother. We basically grew up here, had done work around this place in practically everything. My brother learned the area, and I learned the management side of things. When the time came, we thought we knew everything about this place...and we very nearly did.”

He stepped out of the stable’s shade, waving for Link to follow him. Reluctantly, he did, eyes briefly looking the other way, where Kakariko still waited. Tasseren walked quickly around the side of the stable, to where they kept the horses tied, and Link hurried to follow him.

“My father kept one thing from us, when we were kids,” he said as they walked, looking back at Link. “She’d been here our whole lives and we never thought about it. Not until he told us the whole story, when he gave us the stable. ‘Keep her safe,’ he said, ‘She’s waiting for him, and we gotta keep her safe.’ I thought he had finally lost it, in his age...but my brother and I agreed, to humor him. We never expected anyone to actually show up, though...”

He stopped suddenly, holding up a hand for Link to wait as he went further around the side of the building. Link stopped, a strange feeling in his chest as he looked around, kicking at the grass at his feet. He didn’t know what to think of the stable owner’s words, and he couldn’t get his mind off of the rolling field now in view.

He didn’t remember this place. Not fully, anyway. There were flashes, as there were everywhere, and on some level he could connect the broken images of that terrible day to this field, but he refused to at the moment. He couldn’t afford to confront his past—not this piece of it, anyway—right now. He had to focus, keep his attention centered on what had to be done by sundown today—get to Kakariko, speak to Impa, formulate some kind of plan. Then he could rest, then he could try to sort out his foggy thoughts.

There were children staring at him. He tried to ignore them, leaning on the back of the stable wall and kicking at a pebble. They were whispering by the horses’ stall, voices low but nonetheless present. He turned to look at them and they ran, stumbling over each other as they went around to the front of the building, giggling the whole way.

Link shook his head, trying to disregard them as he had the others (he hadn’t, but it was worth a shot), turning his eyes back to the field. A few seconds later, Tasseren reappeared, peering around the side of the stable with a harried expression.

“Alright, come on then,” he said, waving Link forward.

He followed after him, eyes on his feet and strange feeling still heavy in his chest. Try as he might to shirk the old familiar feeling of numbness, he couldn’t. Over a full century after the burden was thrown at him, and still he struggled to deal with the weight of it all. It wasn’t that he blamed these people...although it was stranger now, to have eyes on him with expectations he couldn’t fully recall. Some Hero he was, running around with nothing but found weapons and stolen time. He failed them, and still they looked at him like—

“Here, kid.”

He looked up quickly, trying once again to get his mind back to the current moment. Tasseren, who still looked as gruff and disinterested as he had when he first saw Link, was frowning at him as he lead a horse out from around the other side of the stable.

Link stared for several seconds. It felt like he was in free fall—like the ground had fallen out from underneath him somehow, and the only thing he could grab onto was this auburn horse—pulling away from Tasseren and nuzzling up to him excitedly. His hands found the reins what felt like of their own accord, and all he really could bring himself to do was hold her steady, and just...stare.

Then a memory hit.

******

He hit the ground hard, rolling quickly to the side to avoid the hooves very much content to trample him to death. Thankfully, the horse seemed much happier to simply run off after kicking him, hopping the short fence of the ranch. The last thing anyone saw of the horse was its dark tail, whipping as it disappeared into the tree line. Vaguely, he heard the shout of the ranch owner, and heard him fumbling with the gate before running after the horse.

Head pounding, ribs no doubt bruised, Link laid very still on the ground for a few seconds, staring up at the sky as he tried to catch his breath. Blinking away the daze, he rolled over and  pushed himself to his feet with shaking hands. With effort he managed to stumble his way out of the enclosure and to one of the little buildings near the front of the ranch. It was shadier there, and...well, he was less likely to get caught if he could manage to limp his way out of the open ranch enclosure.

One hand on his side, the other on the wood of the ranch’s storage building (trying to keep himself on his feet), he slowly made his way out of the sunlight and into the shade. It was tough work, but he managed somehow, as he always did. By the time the ranch owner had returned, skittish horse in hand as he shouted Link’s name, he had crammed himself into the small space between the storage room and the main barn. It was a few feet across and stretched back far enough that he could crawl in and be out of reach. It was also covered over by the roofs of the two buildings—completely inaccessible to anyone bigger than he was.

Considering Link was quite small for his age, the portly ranch owner had no chance of reaching him here, even if he did sort out exactly where he had run off to. And he had never found this hiding place.

“Link!” the owner called again, voice rough and angry. “Always running off...Link! That’s the third time this week!”

He ignored the voice, trying to get air into his tired lungs, hands shaking where they rested awkwardly on his legs. There was dirt all over him, everything hurt, and he could feel a cut bleeding from where his head had hit the ground. His ears were ringing, and he was certain now that his ribs were bruised—at least. He had no plan of coming out of his hiding place, not until dark, no matter what the ranch owner said, or how long it took for him to give up.

Enough, he decided, was enough.

How long had he been here? Well, today, he had been here since the sun rose. In general, he had been stuck at this ranch for almost a year now, doing whatever the ranch owner wanted him to. Stupid things—cleaning, and feeding the horses, and making sure the monsters kept away from the fence around the perimeter. Even fighting the monsters was stupid, because he wasn’t allowed to have a real weapon. All he had was a pitchfork to wave at them. He couldn’t do anything but shoo them away until they inevitably returned, eying the horses and the apple trees with greedy snorts.

But of all the foolish things he had to do, wrangling the horses was his least favorite.

He couldn’t understand it. Most animals he could get along with just fine, but these horses seemed set to kill him. Only the wild horses—the ones lurking around the edge of the ranch, the ones he snuck apples to when the ranch owner wasn’t paying attention—only they really liked him. These pomp and proper royal horses...they didn’t trust him in the slightest. And they showed it often, to his great displeasure. He had been thrown off more times than he could count, and that finicky jumper that had just hopped the fence wasn’t the first of the many royal horses to flee the ranch rather than let Link anywhere near it. One had run all the way back to Castle Town’s stables after throwing him off.

There was a heavy sound coming closer, almost like—footsteps approaching his hiding place. Link covered his mouth, trying to be as quiet as he could despite how labored his breathing was. A few seconds passed, and the footsteps slowed to a stop, very close to where he was. There was a moment of absolute silence.

And then the auburn nose of a horse appeared in the space between the buildings, sniffing in his general direction.

Link sighed in relief, dropping his hand from his mouth and scooting painfully closer to the end of the space, wincing at the soreness settling into his muscles. When he reached the edge of the barn’s side, he pulled himself to his feet, holding a hand out for her to smell as he leaned on the wall. Realizing she had found him, she gave a quiet sort of whinny and tried her very hardest to reach him fully.

Shaking his head at the silly horse, Link wormed his way out from between the buildings and came to stand in front of her. She nuzzled up to him immediately, though she stood much taller than he did, being full grown. He could hardly reach the top of her back, unless he was standing on tiptoe. But she had apparently become so accustomed to his company that she knew quite well where he was, and had never even come close to stepping on him (the same could not be said for the other horses).

She was by far the strangest horse Link had ever taken care of. The ranch did not care for her, but she didn’t seem entirely wild either, didn’t run with the rest of the groups roaming Hyrule Field. She had no owner, as far as he could tell, but she was saddled and bridled like those who did, though he had never seen anything like her outfitting on any of the other horses. But the oddest thing of all...was that she only ever seemed to come to Link. She never appeared when the ranch owner was around, never tried to find him—just Link. No, she came and went as she pleased, picking his pockets for food and poking her nose in his business when he least expected her.

And finding him when he ran off. That was her specialty.

Hopeful for a treat for her find, she sniffed around his pockets, huffing in his face when she found nothing.

“Sorry,” he signed loosely, without much thought. “I owe you one.”

She nickered in what seemed like a response, but she didn’t leave, apparently content to let him pick the dead grass from her mane for a few minutes. The ranch had gone quiet again, and Link wondered if the owner had gone to search for him in Mabe Village. It wouldn’t be the first time it had happened. He’d come back hours from now, all in a fuss, and by that time, Link would have fed the horses, swept up, and wandered off for the night. They would see each other again in the morning, and he would shout at Link for a few minutes before sighing and telling him to get to work.

Another letter would be sent to his father.

“He’s going to be angry, this time,” Link signed to the horse, even though he knew such things were useless. “Like he is every time...”

Signing to a horse was no good use of his time, but he had no one else to talk to anyway. The ranch owner was the only other Hylian around, and he couldn’t understand more than a few of the gestures Link used. Mabe Village was no better, except the one woman who had moved from Hateno. She was nice...and she was the only one for miles who could read what Link was saying. She was also the only one who tried...

Shaking his head, Link peered around the corner of the barn, trying to see if the ranch owner was truly gone. Satisfied at the deep seated silence that had fallen over the ranch, Link emerged slowly from his hiding place, with the horse following after him, hovering a few feet back. Normally he would shoo her away by now, but...well, he didn’t mind the company. Besides, any horse that wouldn’t kick him in the chest the moment he got too close...that was about the closest thing to a friend he had, here...He had a friend. Somewhere. Just not here.

Hylians didn’t like him very much, he had found. They all just stared, stared at this silent, scrawny boy wandering around the ranch trying to wrangle horses. They stared on the rare occasion his father showed up, royal guard outfit too gleaming compared to the dirty mess that was his son. Stared and stared, and never said a word. Not to him, anyway.

At least this strange horse enjoyed his company.

She followed behind him as he crossed the ranch, surprisingly quiet for a full grown horse. It almost seemed she knew they were sneaking around for a reason. The ranch wasn’t too large, and their destination was just around the corner, growing in between a section of fence and the ranch owner’s cabin. There were several apple trees around the ranch, but this one was closest, and the most hidden. As long as the owner wasn’t near his cabin, they could get in and out without a problem.

Link held up a hand, and she stopped right away, watching him as he crept under the cabin windows toward the tree. Wincing at the ache in his ribs, he paused halfway to the tree, leaning against the wall and glancing back. She had inched a few feet closer, sniffing at the grass and watching him. He smirked and kept going. Reaching the tree, he pulled a few apples from the branches he could reach and ran back.

The strange horse seemed far happier with her reward in sight, nickering and shifting around excitedly. Link laughed, giving her an apple quickly and smoothing her mane where he could reach it. The other apples were soon gone as well, but she lingered, hovering around Link as he wandered back toward his hiding place.

Then in the distance, he heard the sound of approaching hooves—fast. Link froze, turning quickly toward the road out of the ranch, smile slipping from his face. It was too loud to have been only one visitor—this was several people on horseback, coming from the north as far as he could tell. There was only one type of visitor that came from the north.

Link turned quickly, grabbing the reins of the horse’s bridle and pulling her along behind him. She followed at a slow trot, surprisingly willing to have a nervous child drag her along as he practically ran to the other side of the ranch. They reached the back side of the barn just as the first pair of horses came to the entrance of the ranch, pulling to a sudden stop as their riders dismounted. Link pulled the horse further behind the barn, holding the reins and hiding a bit behind her leg as footsteps came closer.

“This place seems deserted,” a voice said, one Link did not recognize. “I don’t see anyone nearby.”

“Check the enclosure,” another ordered—one that Link did recognize. “The owner should be around somewhere...”

A single set of footsteps came closer, and Link backed away as silently as he could, nudging the horse to do the same. She followed, and Link wondered once again why she listened to him so easily. But his thoughts were cut short.

“Link?” the same voice called, and Link confirmed without a doubt that it was his father calling for him.

He backed further away from the main road through the ranch, pushing himself flush against the horse. She lowered her head, sniffing at him curiously, but he didn’t move. His father called for him again, but he stayed where he was, holding tighter to the horse and trying to be silent.

The footsteps returned. “There’s no one in the enclosure, but the owner’s coming back from Mabe now.”

“Where is he, then?”

“Right here, Captain,” the owner called, panting slightly as he must have come up to them in a hurry. “I’m sorry for not being here when you arrived—”

“Where is Link?”

“Well, that’s the problem—”

“He’s run off again,” his father said flatly, sighing. “What happened?”

“To tell you the truth, I don’t know. He was bringing one of the horses back to the barn, I was with another, and I heard a sound and suddenly the horse was off and running! By the time I found the horse and brought it back, he had disappeared.”

“He wouldn’t run off for nothing. Something must have gone wrong,” his father said quietly, and Link could almost picture the frown set deep into his eyes. “Did you search the ranch?”

“Of course, but it’s been some time, he could have gone anywhere.”

“He wouldn’t go far...” he trailed off, and Link could hear him coming closer. His hands tightened around the reins. “Link! You can come out—you’re not in trouble...”

He didn’t move. The horse sniffed at him again, and he put a hand to her leg, backing her up another step. She did as he directed, shaking her head and nudging at his shoulder. It was pointless to hide now, he knew they would find him, but—

“Something must have happened, he wouldn’t just flee,” his father mused. “Link! He’s likely hiding from us...”

“I’ll check the other side of the ranch,” the other guard said.

A few seconds passed in relative silence, footsteps slowly drawing nearer to him. Link huddled closer to the horse, unsure why he was even hiding now...but he didn’t want to go out there. He knew that without doubt.

“Really now,” the owner grumbled after a pause. “I checked everywhere, if he were here, I would have found him.”

Link heard his father sigh heavily. He could imagine him shaking his head at the old ranch owner, but didn’t get the chance to before a figure appeared at the end of the space, hidden almost entirely in shadow, pausing to stare at him. Even in the strangeness of the light, he could tell it was his father—the shape of the royal guard cap, the sword strapped to his side, the way he stood, tall and proud (and intimidating). Link didn’t move; he was caught.

“You can’t have looked that hard,” his father said, glancing back toward the ranch, where the owner no doubt still waited. “He’s right here.”

“What?” the owner sputtered, appearing a second later behind him. “And he’s got a—Link, what on earth are you doing?”

He didn’t move, only held tighter to her reins and stared at them, stuck. The owner shook his head, brushing past his father and coming into the thin little alley between buildings.

“Come on, put her back where you found her now,” he said, waving for Link to let go of the reins.

But Link sprang back into action and hook his head, backing away from the man. The horse followed.

“No, come along,” he sighed. “You can’t just take them out whenever you please.”

“I didn’t take her out,” Link signed quickly, shaking his head and backing away another step.

“He says he didn’t take her out,” his father said, sounding almost amused by the idea.

“Didn’t—then where did you get her?” the owner asked incredulously.

“Are you saddling wild horses now, son?” his father pitched in, chuckling.

The owner, however, was not at all amused. He crossed his arms and barked, “Or are you just letting my horses escape constantly now?”

Link shook his head at them both, hands moving fast. “She found me, she isn’t wild, and she isn’t yours.”

Silence reigned, and they stared at each other, ranch owner angry, and Link simply afraid. The owner waited a few seconds before turning to his father, arms crossed.

“Well?” he said, anger still present in his voice. “What did he say?”

Link’s father hardly seemed to hear him. He stood frozen at the end of the building, expression inscrutable as he remained in shadow. After a pause he stepped closer, and Link could see a strange mix of emotions in his bright eyes, the most recognizable of which was something close to anger.

“What do you mean she found you?” he asked, voice low.

Link stared at him, lost for a moment, and it felt like the world had somehow stopped its spinning, came screeching to a halt as tension rose. His mouth hung open, but his hands were as stalled as his thoughts. What had he done? He didn’t do anything—

“Link,” his father said, insistent, snapping his attention back to him. “What do you mean she found you? Whose horse is this?”

The owner came a step closer and Link unfroze, holding tighter to the reins. He shook his head, backing away again. But no words came to mind.

“Did you steal this horse?” the owner asked, squinting at her gear with suspicion. “I’ve never seen this horse before, Captain...”

“Where could he have gotten her from, then? Certainly not the village if you were just there—”

“I didn’t steal her!” Link signed frantically, shaking his head adamantly. “I didn’t—”

“Then where did she come from?” his father questioned, coming closer again, shaking his head.

“I don’t know, she just shows up—”

“Shows up?” his father was exasperated, he could tell. “Link, don’t lie. Where did you get this horse?”

“I didn’t get her, she just finds me—”

“And where did she find you, then? She likely ran from someone, they could be looking for her as we speak.”

He only shook his head. He couldn’t seem to feel his legs anymore; all he could do was stare up at his father and shake his head. What did he do? He didn’t steal her, he was telling the truth. He tried to shoo her away but she never left, she just stayed. And he knew she didn’t belong to any of the villagers, because their horses all wore the same stable-made saddles and bridles. This horse did not. She didn’t belong to the royal family for the same reason—she did not wear the royal gear. But his father was staring down at him as if he really had crept into someone else’s stable and stolen away with this horse, like he had done something terrible.

Why did he always look at him like that?

“Let go of that horse,” he ordered.

Link shook his head, holding tighter to the reins and moving closer to her. She moved up a step, snuffling at his shirt and shifting her weight. Tension brewed thickly in the air as they stared at each other, but neither Link nor his father moved for several seconds.

“Link, I said let her go, now,” his father said, no longer willing to bargain, it seemed. “She isn’t yours, she must belong to someone, look at her gear.”

He didn’t, he couldn’t—he could only stare at his father, very near tears because he didn’t understand what he had done wrong. He knew he wasn’t supposed to run, and he wasn’t supposed to hide from the ranch owner, but—but he didn’t steal this horse. She found him— he was always mad for something, always something he did wrong—

His father sighed and came up to them, shaking his head as he reached over and started to pull Link away, trying to get him to let go of the reins. But Link wouldn’t let go. He pulled back, refusing to release his hold on the horse, who didn’t seem to mind his tight grip in the slightest (though she seemed to be growing more agitated by the second, shifting her weight and watching the encounter).

“Let go, Link,” his father said, eyes lit up with anger for certain now as he fought to pull the reins from Link’s hands. “This is foolish behavior.”

Finally, he wrenched the reins away from him, but kept his hold on Link’s arm, looking furious as he pulled him away. Link tried to squirm out of his grip to no avail, crying now as he struggled to get away, get—well, get back to the horse, though he didn’t know why. He hardly noticed the pain from his fall anymore, he only cared about getting out of this trap he’d found himself in, but he couldn’t get away. His father sighed, and began to say something—

He cut off before getting even a word out, as the horse suddenly squealed very loudly, bucking up onto her back legs and kicking in the air, slamming her hooves back down with force. The ranch owner stumbled backward, and Link’s father dropped his arm in surprise, falling back a step as well without thought. Link lost his footing at the sudden drop, hitting the ground and fully expecting to be trampled by the spooked horse.

But she only huffed, seemingly satisfied at their retreat as she settled almost immediately, sauntering carefully over to Link and blocking him from their access. She sniffed at his head for a moment, and finding him apparently fine, fixed half her gaze on the two men now standing at the end of the alley, as if daring them to come closer.

They didn’t.

Link sniffled, rubbing at his eyes before getting shakily back to his feet. He grabbed her reins again and straightened out the saddle where it had been jostled by her apparent defense of him.

“Sorry,” he signed, still holding the reins in his other hand even as he repeated it over and over (though he didn’t know who exactly he was apologizing to). “I’m sorry, I’m sorry...”

“Look at the symbol...” the owner’s tone had largely shifted, and he trailed off strangely. “She’s...”

Link tuned them out, hiding his face in her leg and holding tightly to the reins. She shuffled closer to him, sniffing at his head again like she expected some kind of injury. Once more finding nothing, she nickered and turned her attention back to the two men.

“He said she found him...” the owner went on quietly, staring wide eyed. “If he’s telling the truth, then—”

“Don’t,” Link’s father cut him off roughly. “Don’t you dare.”

“But if—”

“I know what it means!” he shouted suddenly.

Link flinched, whimpering a little. The horse shuffled her feet again, making a low noise in her throat and shifting her weight as she backed Link away from the two at the end of the alley. He let her for a few steps before he realized what she was doing, and he stopped her, but he didn’t come out from where she had hidden him from view. He didn’t have the energy to wonder at her strange behavior anymore. He just accepted it.

His only defender was a strange horse that followed him around. It wasn’t exactly the most normal situation, but he didn’t care. At least he had someone on his side...

“Link, come out from there,” his father said, voice much lower than before.

He was trying to make up for shouting, Link could tell. But he had said before he wasn’t in trouble, and then he had been, for...some reason. Link shook his head, even though he knew they couldn’t see him do it. Not with this horse blocking him completely from their view, staring them down. He didn’t want to come out from behind her strange little barrier of protection.

“It’s okay,” his father went on, pausing with a heaviness to his voice. Link could hear him step closer. “No one’s going to take her from you...she’s...yours.”

She huffed at that, like she was satisfied, but she continued to eye his father warily. Link peered out from behind her leg, tear streaks carving paths down his dirty face. The pain from being kicked before was slowly creeping up on him again as he tried to control his jagged breathing. He still had a hand tangled up in the reins, but it was loose, confusion clear in his eyes as he stared up at his father.

“Come along,” he said quietly, waving for him to come out. “We’re going home, come on.”

Link stared at him, mouth hanging open, but the owner of the ranch beat him to questioning it.

“You’re—” the owner fumbled. “But you—he’s just—”

“I said,” his father cut him off, turning briefly to look at him. “We are going home. He is my son, and it is his fate. Not yours.”

“Sir, we...” the other royal guard had appeared a ways back, fiddling with the sword at his side with a nervous sort of expression, even as his eyes were caught on the insignia of the horse’s saddle. “We’ll have to report to the King that—”

“He’s not even ten,” his father said abruptly, and his voice seemed to fracture somewhere. “Do what you must, but I’m taking him home. There will—there will be a time, but that time is not now...”

Link sniffled, still clinging to the horse’s leg nervously as they spoke, unsure what they were saying, or why they all looked at him so strangely now. He didn’t understand the...awe of the ranch owner and the other guard, or the sadness in his father’s eyes. What did they have to tell the King? Talking about symbols on her saddle...it was all so confusing. They continued to look oddly at him for a few seconds, as if deciding what to do.

“I’ll...head back to Castle Town,” the other guard said, retreating quickly from the alley. “I’ll speak to the King, Captain.”

The ranch owner still stared at the horse, but the guard’s comment seemed to jog him, and he jumped slightly. Looking almost ashamed, he turned away as well, heading for the cabin at the opposite side of the road. He glanced back once, at the flash of the insignia on the saddle, a strange look in his eyes. With a shake of his head, he disappeared into his home, and hooves kicked up in the distance as the guard left in a hurry. It was only Link, his father, and the horse in the alley, now, watching each other quietly.

“Come out from behind there,” his father said again, waving him forward.

Link hesitated, eying his father carefully before slowly releasing the horse’s reins and coming around. His hands shook as he pulled at his shirt, wiped at his eyes and came to stand in front of his father. He tried to calm down, but his ribs were still throbbing from being kicked earlier, and he couldn’t seem to stop crying.

“I’m not angry with you,” his father said, kneeling down so their eyes were level. “I want you to understand that, alright?”

Link nodded, not meeting his eyes. He pulled at his shirt again, kicking at a pebble on the ground.

“Link.”

He looked up for a moment before looking at the ground again. His father sighed.

“When your mother named you, I hoped she was wrong,” he said quietly. “I begged her to choose another name, but she insisted. She knew. I don’t know how, but she knew.”

Link looked up at him, without a clue what he was talking about. They never talked about his mother. It was an unspoken rule. But here was his father, breaking that rule to tell him a very confusing story.

“All these prophecies and...” he trailed off, shaking his head. “I didn’t want it to be true, but...there’s nothing any of us can do about it...”

“What are you talking about?” Link signed slowly, dread creeping up on him from his father’s strange words.

His father stared at his hands for a moment before meeting his eyes. He looked very sad suddenly. “You’ll see soon enough.”

Pushing himself back to his feet, he turned to look toward the ranch. Link watched him, his words still turning over in his mind, but none of it made sense. The entire day was a whirlwind of confusing encounters and nervousness, and he didn’t know why his father’s mood had turned so quickly. Talking about his mother, and his name...all because this strange horse had found Link? He was very confused...

“It is a conversation for another time,” his father said, no longer meeting his eyes. “When you are older, it will...it will make sense. For now, just...just know you haven’t done anything wrong, and I’m not angry with you. It was just a misunderstanding, earlier. She really is yours, no one else’s. She wouldn’t have found you if she weren’t meant for you.”

“She’s...mine?”

His father nodded. “She’s a good, strong horse Link. It’s your responsibility to take care of her, and she’ll take care of you...a good horse needs a good place to stay,” he went on, glancing at the horse again and perhaps trying to change the subject. “Why don’t we get her back to Hateno for a little while? Away from the ranch and all this nonsense...”

Link stayed where he was, staring up at him with a flutter of something like hope in his chest. “Home?” he mumbled quietly, voice hoarse from disuse and his crying.

His father hesitated, watching him for a few seconds and looking sad again. But after a pause, he nodded. “Yes, we’re going home.”

******

“Hey, kid.”

Link jolted, locking eyes with Tasseren and jumping as reality fell back into place. The wind blew colder as the sun sank behind the mountains. There was the sound of the other animals grazing nearby, the children running around at the front of the stable, the churning of the passing river water. His hands were still tight on the reins, not enough to lead her anywhere, but enough to hold her in place. She was apparently too excited by his presence to care, shifting her weight and sniffing at him, nickering happily and nuzzling up to him.

“You alright?” Tasseren asked, watching him with well-meaning concern.

Link had no idea how to reply, looking away and pulling the horse closer to him. He still hadn’t found ground yet, still felt like he was floating somewhere between the memory and reality, and he could feel the exhaustion setting in. It was stronger than before, stronger than the first memory and compounding with all the other things he had done (and needed to do, those always weighed heavily). He would need to...go soon.

“Her name is Epona,” Tasseren said, still a carefulness to his tone. “According to legend, anyway...my grandfather found her wandering the field after the battle, looking for...well, looking for you. He brought her back here thinking that everything was over, and so she had no one to take care of her...without a Hero to guide, she was just...waiting. So the stable took her in.

“People came looking for her once in a while, wondering what happened, wanting to buy and sell her off. After a while of that nonsense, my grandfather kept her hidden, and people forgot he had her. It was safer that way. When he gave the stable to my father, he told him to keep her safe, and when my father gave us the stable, he passed the message along.

“Like I said, we didn’t expect anyone to show up,” he said sharply, and Link met his gaze again. But he didn’t look angry, only intrigued. “My grandfather told the story of the last battle, and the fall of the Hero so many times...well, we thought you were gone...”

He trailed off in a way that Link knew meant he wanted some kind of explanation, some story of events. But Link didn’t have that story...he had been awake less than three days, had only just remembered this horse (and his father) and Revali beforehand. He had that—that nightmare of a memory of the day he had...no, he didn’t want to think about that right now. He couldn’t think about that right now.

Tasseren must have recognized this on some level, as he nodded a little to himself. “Well, she’s fed and kept the same as she has been for as long as I can remember,” he said, almost proud. “Normally we’d charge a fee for keeping a horse that long, but...I’m not going to do that. The other stables will charge you for boarding her, but she’s been here my whole life, and never hurt a fly. I can’t charge you on good conscience.”

“Thank you,” he signed quickly, snapping back to the conversation, and the strange relief in his chest at regaining another fraction of his past. “For everything, thank you...”

Tasseren stared for a moment, expression guarded. “Don’t mention it,” he finally grumbled, looking around. “You ever need a place to stay, find a stable. They see you with her, and they won’t turn you away.”

Link nodded, trying to ground himself again with the information, remember why he was here and where he still needed to go. The sensation of floating was still too powerful, but it got a little better with instruction, with a nudge in the proper direction of his task.

He caught sight of the tan rocks of Kakariko and his thoughts reorganized a touch. The sun was setting, but not yet gone. If he hurried, he might make it in time before the day ended, at least to find a place to stay for the night.

“I have to...” he hesitated, trying to think of how to say all that he had to do.

Tasseren waited a moment before shaking his head, almost smirking. “Just go, kid.”

“Thank you.”

He only nodded, watching quietly as Link mounted and hurried Epona away. Holding tightly to the reins, with the same feeling of rightness from before quickly waning under the force of an exhaustion too strong for him to combat for long, Link urged Epona into a gallop. Sights set, slate humming at his side, and dust kicking up behind him, he tried to keep a level head as he took the turn of the path toward Kakariko.

Everyone at the stable paused as the pair sped past, staring at the flash of the insignia on her saddle, and the slate on his belt, connecting long dormant thoughts to myths and old stories. Whispers kicked up, questions and wonder and retelling of stories. The stable came abuzz with life, and the effect spread fast.

Listening ears were everywhere, some running off right away to tell relatives—grandparents tucked away in cottages still repeating the same stories, would be soldiers patrolling the monster-plagued roads, merchants selling wares, children running through fields, and wolves in sheep’s clothing—they all heard the news, looking to the distance with bated breath.

Hyrule had its Hero back. A boy long thought dead sprung back into the world out of nowhere, raising towers and turning shrines in his wake.

Old demons rose to meet him. And rose with earnest.