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Blackbird

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He could feel the air shifting around his head. His heart stuttered when he drew in breath, his lungs aching from the sudden expansion. Shallow breaths were fine, he thought, grimacing at the sting in his chest. It was as if he hadn’t drawn breath in ages—only taking in whatever air his body needed at rest. Blearily, he stared upwards as his fingers twitched and the voice in his head grew louder. He was lying in something wet, he decided, shivering when whatever he was submerged in receded from his body. When he sat up, the voice had quieted. In the pale darkness, he sat alone, staring at a glowing blue eye.

¤     ¤     ¤

He couldn’t quite tell if this body was his. All his movements felt sure and familiar, but the sensations that accompanied them were alien. He tugged a threadbare shirt over his head, feeling the air caress his legs where his pants weren’t quite long enough. His skin tingled with every move. He drew closer to another blue eye, the voice in his head urging him onwards. There was an unfamiliar weight hanging from his waist. A Sheikah slate, the voice supplied. Place it on the pedestal. He hovered it over the blue eye and light began leaking into the room. Link, the voice said. It had been patient with him thus far, waiting as he stepped away from the pedestal and squinted at the sun, but now he could hear an undercurrent of urgency, of confidence.

As it spoke, he felt a knot twist in his stomach. All he knew were the rough clothes on his body and the weakness of his knees and yet this voice wished great things of him. But it had named him, and he supposed that in that regard, he owed it some trust. So when it told him to go, his feet carried him forward and the world became painted with color and sound.

¤     ¤     ¤

His arms were sore, his feet throbbed, and he felt as if his head were splitting open. If the old man noticed the scrapes on his knees and palms, he said nothing of them, the ghost of a smile tugging on the corners of his lips at the confusion on Link’s face. Mysteries, wisdom, old age—Link grew frustrated with him as he evaded each question and gave musing answers. He almost snarled when the old man hummed and hawed over whether or not to give away his paraglider, temple throbbing from where a bokoblin had managed to glance him with its club. The old man merely gave him a patient smile and pressed a baked apple into the palm of his hand. “It is no good adventuring on an empty stomach,” the old man said, before shooing Link down the Sheikah tower.

Link descended the platforms and landed on two feet. He took out the baked apple and his stomach grumbled. He wondered if it was the same one he had seen resting on the edge of the old man’s fire. He had been too distracted then to ask the old man for the apple, too overwhelmed by the cacophony of birdsong and the rush of wind through his hair. The baked apple smelled sweet in his hands and after a silent moment of thanks, he tucked in.

It was still warm.

¤     ¤     ¤

The old man turned at the sound of Link’s footsteps, the pleasant look on his face shifting to something darker, warier. He looked much older like that, Link thought. The lines of his face deepened as he straightened, rising from where he had been crouched in the tall grass. Link followed the old man’s gaze to the person standing a foot or so behind him. She smiled easily at Link, but her eyes flickered away from his face and expression stiffened. When Link turned back to the old man, the wariness seemed only to linger in his piercing stare. Even the softening of the corners of his eyes couldn’t hide the tension of his body.

“I wasn’t aware that we had company on this plateau,” he said, running a finger down the curve of his bow. “Pray tell me, child, what is your name?”

“Aidan.” Link watched the old man’s brow furrow and he thought to their own exchange. You don’t look like an Aidan. The corners of her eyes crinkled. And you look just like a Link.

But the old man didn’t bite at the first hook and straightened his shoulders, the line of his body regal and poised. “And how did you find yourself up on this plateau? From what I remember the cliffs around us are quite steep.” He paused before adding, “It’s quite dangerous to travel alone.”

Aidan smiled and tucked away a stray lock of hair. Link’s eyes traced the curve of her ear, small and round, as she spoke. “Just thought it would be fun to explore on my own for a bit. My arms are pretty sore from all the climbing, though.”

The old man turned to Link. “When did you make one another’s acquaintance?”

Link felt his fingers twitch under the old man’s stare, but when he lifted his hands to respond, his movements were slow and measured. She was standing by a lake near the shrine that you showed me. She asked me if I could help her get to two chests. After a few haphazard attempts to leap from the top of nearby trees and nearly drown in the brown muck on his part, Aidan led him back in the direction of the shrine he had just left, musing about whether or not he could find something to act as a bridge onto the platform. Link hadn’t thought twice about the shrine’s surroundings until he opened the magnesis rune on his slate and was startled to see that most of the objects in his vicinity could be magnetized. When he retrieved the contents of the two chests, Aidan waved her hand dismissively, insisting that she had merely been interested in knowing how to reach them.

They’d almost immediately stumbled into an enemy camp after that. Link would’ve taken a club to the back of the head had Aidan not tackled the red bokoblin when she did. After they took out the remaining monsters and were roasting a few apples to celebrate, she asked if she could join him and he agreed. It made sense to have another pair of eyes watching out for danger, or, as Link learned just minutes before reconvening with the old man, for animals to hunt. They’d spent half an hour trailing a bright-eyed boar and now the spoils of their hunt were tucked away in Aidan’s pack. Link’s stomach grumbled at the thought of cooking them.

The old man nodded. “I see. Come rest at the fire with me; the nights are much warmer with company. You may want to try your hand at cooking, if roasted fruits and meats are not to your taste.” With an open hand, he guided them through the woods and to a small cabin. Once settled, Link dug through his foraged goods. The old man and Aidan were more or less silent, only speaking to offer suggestions of ingredients to toss together. Aside from their voices, the crackling firewood offered an alternative to the cricket song around them. By the time his pack was nearly empty, stewed fruits, filling skewers, and dubious chunks of food were wrapped in leaves or cloth, tied together and stowed away for later consumption.

¤     ¤     ¤

Link startled awake to the sound of an axe burying itself into the side of a tree. He was alone, draped by a deer pelt and warmed by the dying remains of their cooking fire. When he rose, Aidan stepped out of the old man’s cabin, arms laden with peppers and stamella shrooms. “I peeked at his journal,” she whispered, glancing it the direction of the woods. She smiled sheepishly when Link narrowed his eyes at her. “He left it open! He should’ve hidden it if he wanted to be secretive about it. And besides, there wasn’t anything too personal in it. Although,” she trailed off, poking at the shriveled pile of ash under the cooking pot, “there was a recipe he wrote about.” Her eyes twinkled when she turned back towards him.

“How do you feel about fishing?”

¤     ¤     ¤

She hesitated when he stepped into his next shrine, but he rolled his eyes at her and pulled her onto the platform with him. He wasn’t going to let her wander haplessly around the ruins, especially now that they knew there were strange metal beasts firing lasers at them. The beeping noise had confused them at first and Link hadn’t noticed the pulsating ring around the Guardian’s eye until it flashed bright white. It was his instincts that saved them both, his arms digging into Aidan’s waist as he threw them behind a pillar at the last second.

See? No problem here. He gestured to the wide room before them as the platform came to a stop. He could hear a disembodied voice projecting through the air, saying something about bombs.

“Well, sue me for being unsure. The old man made me nervous when we left this morning.” Aidan stared at the cracked stone blocks in front of them. “It makes sense that these trials are one-person-only. Why else would they be trials then?” Link shrugged and squinted at the Sheikah slate. Two blue runes glowed back at him. “He made it sound like some god was going to smite me with their holy thunder if I tried going into a shrine with you. Or worse, that elevator thingy would’ve broken and we’d be stuck here for hours.” He heard a scraping noise and looked up to see Aidan kicking at the stone blocks. “I think you can break these,” she said.

Move aside then. A cube-shaped bomb materialized in his hands and he threw it towards the stone blocks. Both of them stared as it skidded to a stop a few feet away, just shy of halfway between him and the crumbling rocks.

Aidan raised her brows at him. “Round two?”

Link nodded, threw the bomb, and when the world faded into white, realized he didn’t judge distance very well. When he came to, he was face-down on the floor and groaning. He rolled over and squinted at Aidan’s hovering figure. There were dark spots floating around her silhouette. How long was I out?

“A minute, maybe?” She knelt beside him and helped him sit up. She pressed a wrapped bundle of food into his hand. “It doesn’t look like there’s a way of tracking time in here.”

Use this, Link signed, passing her his Sheikah slate as he peeled leaves away from a cold mushroom skewer. Aidan tapped the screen and frowned, turning the slate around to show him.

“Nope, nothing but the temperature and wavy lines in here. That’s for sound, right?” She poked the screen again and a round bomb landed in his lap. “Round bombs are probably better for distance and square bombs should be good for precision. Don’t ask me to throw that for you; it’ll land a few inches away,” she told him when he eyed her hopefully over his half-eaten skewer. “I’ll detonate it for you, but that’s about it.”

Link sighed and stuffed the last few mushrooms into his mouth. They had another few near-misses with exploding bombs further along in the shrine but managed to reach the withered sage with just singed hair and clothes that smelled of smoke. Aidan sank onto the ground as Link stumbled up to where the sage waited. After retrieving the spirit orb and watching the mummified figure disintegrate, he turned to nudge Aidan’s shoulder with his foot. She lifted her head to glare at him.

Time to go. Link felt a smile twitch at his lips when she groaned and scrubbed a hand down his face as the fatigue settled in. They weren’t far from the old man’s cabin, Link mused, glancing in the direction of the shrine’s entrance. Hopefully he’d take pity on these two burnt travelers and give up his bed for the night. Link’s gaze swam and he tried to stifle a yawn. Or, at the very least, the old man could give them something soft to cushion a night on the ground. His back was still stiff from sleeping against that log.

“Right, right, rest is for the weak,” Aidan grumbled, propping herself up. She rose as if with great effort, shoulders hunched and hands resting on her knees. She squinted at him with a shit-eating grin her face. She seemed unreasonably pleased with herself. “And I am very, very weak.”

Link snorted as the two of them stumbled away from the sage’s platform. Very unreasonably pleased indeed. By the time they exited the shrine, Link’s eyesight swam. His knees were weak, his hands were shaking…

“Mom’s spaghetti,” Aidan blurted out. Link’s brows knitted in confusion, but before he could respond, an arrow ricocheted off the side of the shrine and rolled into the grass. Both of them turned to see two Skall bokoblins advancing towards them, a third notching its bow just feet behind. Link drew his sword and stepped towards Aidan, throwing out an arm to keep her back. She let out a nervous giggle and grabbed his sleeve. “Yeah, okay, no. Back into the shrine.” She yanked Link back with more strength than he thought she had and snatched the Sheikah slate from his waist.

With a jolt, the platform began descending and Link watched as the bokoblins’ glowing eyes disappeared from view. Aidan led him to a corner of the shrine and began rifling through her packs. He stared at the orange lines on the walls and stared as she started laying out wrapped bundles of food. We’re back in the shrine, he signed at her.

Aidan’s hands paused and she frowned at him. “Yes, we are,” she said. Each word rolled off of her tongue, measured and slow. It sounded like she was speaking to a cornered and wounded animal. Anger sparked through his veins, lightning-bright and blinding.

Why did you do that? I could’ve fought them off. His movements were jerky and agitated, resentment bubbling in his throat. He could’ve been sleeping in a warm bed. He could’ve been wrapped up in furs with a full stomach and a soft pillow under his head. He could’ve toweled off and tended to the scrapes and burns he got during the trial. His temples throbbed. His hair was burnt. Why did you drag us back into this place? Frustration flashed across Aidan’s face and she took a sharp step towards him. Just as quickly though, her shoulders slumped and she looked as tired as he felt.

“I’m sorry; I was being selfish.” Link froze when Aidan gently took his hand and pried the sword out of it. He hadn’t realized he was still holding it. He hadn’t realized he was shaking. “I know you could’ve taken them on, but I didn’t know if I would’ve been in the way or not.” She placed the sword on the ground and curled her fingers around his freed ones.

She was warm, Link thought, staring at her hands. When he raised his head to meet her eyes, she offered him a sheepish smile.

“Besides, I wanted to test something out. If we’re—if you’re being chased by monsters or if you’re ambushed right outside of a shrine, I wanted to know if you had an escape route. You know, just in case you weren’t feeling well, or if you’re being overwhelmed.” She squeezed his hand and drew away from him. “I’m sorry; I know you’re tired. You were probably hoping to sleep somewhere nice and warm tonight but I’m too much of a coward to go outside with those monsters lurking around.” When she turned back to him, she was pressing a warm doublet into his slack hands. “This will keep you warm, at the very least. You can use your shirt as a pillow so you don’t wake up with a stiff neck tomorrow.” She paused for a second and wrinkled her nose. “Well, a less-stiff neck compared to sleeping with your head on the ground.”

Dazed, he changed into the warm doublet and watched as Aidan began unwrapping one of the meals. She was staring at his clothes with a frown. “You know, for a hand-me-down, that fits you pretty well,” she said, passing him some simmered fruit. “Part of me wonders if he meant for one of us to go snooping and read his diary. He’s been a pretty good actor so far.”

He has? Link took a bite of his meal and pondered her words. The old man did seem surprisingly wary of Aidan, but Link didn’t think it was unwarranted. If anything, Link was curious as to why the old man hadn’t been suspicious of him too.

Aidan furrowed her eyebrows but shook her head. “Just thinking out loud,” she said, picking at her sleeve cuffs.

Link stopped mid-chew and snapped to get her attention. Aren’t you going to eat?

“Nah, I’m pretty full. I’ve been snacking on apples while you were running away from bombs.” Her pack still looked pretty full from where he was sitting, but her smile didn’t falter when he drew a discerning gaze over her.

It takes an actor to recognize an actor, he decided. He would’ve stared at her for longer, but he was exhausted and before he knew it, his eyelids were drooping. Warm hands pulled the remains of his meal away from his limp grasp and guided him onto his side. He felt her fingers run through his hair before sleep quietly pulled him into its embrace.

¤     ¤     ¤

Link winced as the cold air stung his lungs and throat, his chest heaving with exertion. Meanwhile, Aidan craned her neck, rising to her tippy-toes to scan their surroundings. She smiled when she turned back to him. “You okay there, buddy? I wasn’t sure you were going to make it up here before your arms gave out.”

I’m fine. There was something fishy about Aidan and the old man. His eyes raked over her, taking in the redness on her cheeks and the rosy tip of her nose. She wasn’t breathing very hard for someone who supposedly scaled the side of a steep cliff while chatting the entire time. He thought back to when the old man had suddenly appeared next to him on the Great Plateau tower and scowled.

Aidan looked at him and her expression became bemused. “You’re not fooling anyone with that look on your face.”

Aren’t you cold? The old man only had one doublet—something he was keen to inform them of when they gave him the recipe he wrote about in his diary. Aidan was dressed in a thin shirt, much like the one he found in the Shrine of Resurrection, but she didn’t seem bothered by the chilling winds blowing over them both.

“See, where you have muscles, I have this wonderful thing called blubber.” She patted her waist with a playful curve to her smile. “Insulation is a great thing, even if it’s not what people consider pretty.” She turned back to the snowy expanse before them, her hands on her hips. “Anyway, where are we headed?”

I have some shrines marked, Link signed, pushing his Sheikah slate into her hands. She stared at him, wide-eyed, until he continued. We’re going to move slower in the snow and there’s bound to be enemies up here. I know you can use that, so it’d be great if you could give directions while I keep an eye out.

“Well aren’t you a master tactician.” Aidan ignored his huff and stared at the slate. “How do you know I won’t just lead you around and try to get us lost?”

We’ll get there eventually then. He waved a hand at her. Lead on.

“Aye aye, Captain.”

¤     ¤     ¤

Link’s skin was crawling. It felt like something was trying to burst out of him, but his legs felt like they were frozen. He stared at the faded smile gracing the statue’s face and wondered why his heart was racing. The spirit orbs were being drawn out of him and he felt his chest ache as they left. Then Aidan’s words broke the silence and a rush of air flooded his lungs. “So this is the goddess Hylia. Maybe you should pray to her?” Her eyes scanned over his face and her brow furrowed with concern. “Or have you already? What did she say to you?”

She took the orbs. Link pressed a hand to his chest, frowning. He felt a little more energized than before, but maybe that was because the spirit orbs were gone?

“You okay?”

I think so.

“Okay.” Aidan said slowly. She glanced around the dilapidated temple again. “It doesn’t look like the old man is in here. Maybe we’re in the wrong place?”

No, he’s here. They were exactly where he had told them to be. Besides, Link’s skin was still tingling. It had to mean something. He’s somewhere. Let’s keep looking.

Somewhere ended up being on the roof, but Link wasn’t wheezing and Aidan looked as unaffected as usual, so he supposed it could’ve been worse. But then the old man started speaking of legends and of prophecy and suddenly he had a name to put to the voice in his head. The cloak covering the old man vanished under a curtain of blue flame and something twisted in Link’s chest as he met King Rhoam’s eyes.

Something was happening to him. He felt his mouth open, lips mouthing at words he didn’t know, fingers straining towards something he couldn’t reach. Yet he was completely bereft of answers, frozen under the regal gaze upon him. He knew this man—or did he? There was something so familiar yet so alien about him. Link saw his own reflection in Rhoam’s gaze and shivered. One of him was true and the other was the lie, but neither one was certain.

“I have a question, child.” King Rhoam’s eyes changed their course. “In truth I have many, but I fear I may only have enough strength to spare you one. Are you or are you not in allegiance with Calamity Ganon?”

“It’s dangerous to go alone.” Something flickered across Aidan’s face, but it was gone before Link could recognize what it was. Her words seemed to satisfy King Rhoam, however, and he turned back towards Link.

“Very well. I urge you to head east, to Kakariko Village. Follow the winding path and find the people nestled in the valleys of the mountains. There will you find guidance and allies.” Link followed King Rhoam’s gaze towards two jagged peaks. “Champion of Hyrule,” King Rhoam murmured, “it is your duty to save us all.”

It was strange, Link thought, watching as teal-blue flames engulfed the figure of the late king. Under any other circumstances, and even within the context of their previous relations to one another, those words would have been a command, followed and executed without hesitation. Yet King Rhoam’s words were nothing short of a plea, an enervated voice asking for grace. After all, there was little he could do aside from hope for Calamity Ganon to disappear from all existence.

“So.” Link started at the sound of Aidan’s voice and turned to look at her. Her expression was guarded, but her tone was light. “Is this goodbye, or…?”

His hands were moving faster than his thoughts, he realized. You said it yourself. It’s dangerous to go alone.

“Then lead on, Champion.”