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Blackbird

Chapter Text

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.”

Chapter Text

It was just a blinking dot on a blank map. Link wasn’t sure how far away Kakariko Village was or how long it would take them to finally get there, but he was pretty sure they were lost. And facing the wrong direction. That’s the way we came from, he signed at Aidan, who was busy creeping up on a Hightail Lizard.

“Yeah, but this guy’s been looking at us funny ever since we started wandering around this place.” For someone trying to look stealthy, Aidan looked anything but inconspicuous. She towered over the lizard, circling the tree trunk it rested on. Link sighed and crossed his arms, deciding to entertain her for at least a few minutes. They’d somehow managed to take down all the moblins in the area, which was pretty amazing given how much harder they hit than bokoblins. Link was pretty sure he saw Aidan take clean right hook from one of them, but there wasn’t a single bruise on her. Maybe he’d just been imagining things…

After five minutes, she was nowhere closer to catching the motionless lizard so Link drew his bow and shot it. Aidan squawked and snatched it up, glaring at Link like he’d swiped a treat right from under her fingers. Do you mind putting that away for me? My hands are full.

“From shooting my lizard,” Aidan griped, looking mournfully at the fallen reptile. She grumbled as she unhooked the Sheikah slate from her belt. “And you wasted an arrow. Now I have to go on collecting duty the next time something tries to shoot at you…”

They’d come to an agreement after leaving the Great Plateau on what each person would be responsible for. Link carried his weapon, bow, shield, and arrows on his person with a few small meals tucked into his side-pouch. Aidan, on the other hand, was in charge of holding onto the Sheikah slate and a few of the edible ingredients they had gathered in case they needed to do some last-minute snacking.

Everything else, amazingly, fit inside the Sheikah slate. (“Ancient magical bullshit,” Aidan had said, watching as things disappeared and reappeared in a flash of blue light. She had said the same thing when Link relocated them to the top of the Great Plateau tower.) It carried the supplies they took from King Rhoam’s cabin (“Oh yeah, because a ghost is going to miss his blankets,” Aidan jeered at the uncertain look on his face), his various changes of clothes, the weapons he took from enemy camps, extra bows, shields, most of their meals, and the bulk of their foraged items and monster parts.

“Alright, we’re headed east,” Aidan said, squinting at the Sheikah slate. She rotated in place before orienting herself in the right direction and marching forward. Link shook his head and matched her pace, scanning their surroundings as they left the forest. They passed by two ruins—the latter being occupied by some screeching bokoblins—before deciding to settle for the night at the top of a hill overlooking a bridge.

Some skall monsters and two keese interrupted their late dinner, but the rest of the night was quiet as they napped by the campfire and took turns keeping watch. Link awoke when the first bit of light began creeping across the sky and looked up just in time to see Aidan kick a skall monster’s skull off the side of the hill. She looked a little disheveled but triumphant, thrusting the bokoblin’s arm in the air and waving it like a trophy. The sound of Link’s chuckle turned her around and she grinned at him, her cheeks dusted red. She nudged her glasses, straightening them, and tossed the arm aside. “What do you want for breakfast?” she asked. “If you want something fresh, you’ll have to settle for something roasted—otherwise, it’s leftovers.”

I think I’ll be happy with a few apples. He reached for the Sheikah slate and three apples materialized onto his lap.

“Suit yourself.” Aidan settled down by the remains of their campfire and unwrapped one of their mushroom skewers. The two ate in relative silence, the crunch of fruit and pleased hmms accompanying the first few chirps of bird song. “If we don’t do as much sightseeing as yesterday, we’ll probably reach Kakariko in less than two days,” Aidan told him as he began packing up the furs he had been lying on. “Then again, that’s if—”

Oh, the end is near!” Both of them froze at the shrill voice, heads snapping towards the direction it came from. Link leapt to his feet as Aidan scrambled to put away the remains of their camp, launching himself down the side of the hill. He skidded to a stop at the foot of a stone bridge, scanning the area for signs of danger. His brow furrowed when he couldn’t see any monsters and he straightened, taking his hand off the hilt of his club. Link heard the crunch of gravel under Aidan’s boots as she finally caught up to him and turned to face her. She looked just as confused as he did.

“Wha—”

Goddess Hylia, save us all!” Link twisted to see a lone figure on the bridge and moved towards it. A young man was clutching at the stone railing, his face dark with worry. “Oh, I know bad omens, I should be used to them now,” he muttered as Link drew closer. “But it seems worse than usual.” He whirled on Link and Link staggered back a step at the ferocity on the man’s face. “The end is nigh!” His brows turned upwards at the sight of Link and he straightened. “Oh dear, don’t panic!” He blinked once and frowned. “I’m sorry, have we met? Who are you?”

I could ask the same of you, Link thought, but the man continued speaking without pause.

“Ah, Brigo—Brigo’s the name.” Brigo nodded furiously. “I was quite tired of speaking to myself, so it’s good you appeared when you did. There have been strange things happening around here as of late—those structures have been popping out of the ground…” Link’s eyes drifted in the direction of Brigo’s outstretched hand, startled to see a shrine nestled at the foot of the hill. He must’ve missed it in his rush to find the owner of the shout, he decided. “Hopefully that thing doesn’t start moving,” Brigo continued, seemingly unaware that Link hadn’t been listening. “It would make traveling across Proxim Bridge quite difficult.”

That thing? Link asked.

“Monstrous things, those are,” Brigo said, shuddering. He pointed towards what looked like a Guardian and Link’s fingers flew upwards, fluttering across the rim of his shield. “I was nearly taken out by one of those Guardians just a while ago, but it was a way’s off from here. That one hasn’t started moving yet, but,” Brigo trailed off, eyeing it suspiciously, “I would not count on it staying as such. I will keep making my rounds and pray that that thing does not move.” He paused and glanced at Link, his expression open and kind. “That, and I do not wish to see others giving up hope in such dire times. You are a traveler, no? Are you headed for the Dueling Peaks? I hear there are quite a few monsters around there, so please be careful if you are headed there alone.”

Link felt his brow wrinkle and looked towards Aidan. She had wandered further down the bridge and had paid them no attention, so maybe Brigo had assumed she was traveling separately. He turned back to Brigo. Which way are the Dueling Peaks? King Rhoam had said something about Kakariko Village and its surrounding landmarks, but Link didn’t quite remember every bit of advice he gave them. There had been quite a lot of information thrown at him at the time—what with being informed that he was the previous Champion of Hyrule and that the person he was responsible for protecting had been locked away in a castle battling Hyrule’s mortal enemy for the past century.

Yep, a lot of information. He wouldn’t blame Aidan if she couldn’t remember it all either.

Brigo looked taken aback by Link’s question. “The Dueling Peaks are straight ahead from here,” he said slowly. He pointed to the two mountainous forms just in the distance. “If you follow the path at the end of this bridge, you will find your way through them.” He eyed Link, his mouth set in a stern line. “You must be new to this area if you are not familiar with the Dueling Peaks. Are you sure you’re okay traveling alone? I would hate it if you were to be ambushed on your travels. However,” Brigo mumbled, raising a hand to his chin, “I don’t know if I ought to travel with you—I do have a duty to patrol this bridge, but it was a self-imposed duty so I suppose it would be forgivable if I leave briefly to see you to your destination, but then again, what if in my absence someone—”

Link cleared his throat and Brigo turned sharply toward him. Thank you for the directions, Link signed. I’m sure I’ll be fine.

Brigo didn’t look entirely convinced, but he relaxed when Link took a step in the opposite direction of the Dueling Peaks. Before long, he was back to muttering under his breath while glaring at the Guardian and letting out loud, woeful cries every few seconds. Link made his way to the shrine at the end of Proxim Bridge and was examining the pedestal when Aidan finally joined him.

“He was a chatty one, wasn’t he?” Aidan handed him the Sheikah slate and glanced back towards Brigo, who was howling about the inevitable doom looming over them all.

I’m sure he means well, Link replied, stepping into the shrine.

¤     ¤     ¤

“It’ll be 20 rupees for a bed and 40 rupees for a soft bed.” The stable owner smiled brightly at Link. His eyes roamed the battered appearances of the two travelers—curtsey of the burning boko spears that had been jabbed at them on the way here. “What will it be?”

Aidan was staring over Link’s shoulder as he counted his handful of change. After trying to (unsuccessfully) drop metal boxes on a few bokoblins, Link had realized that the containers carried rupees along with some cooked goods. Unfortunately, the pickings on the way to the Dueling Peaks stable had been quite slim and the total amount of money they managed to scrounge from monster camps totaled to about 34 rupees.

Looks like bokoblins didn’t really have a need for money—which made sense now that he thought about it. Buying and selling with rupees didn’t seem particularly easy when the sight of a monster would send any traveling vendors screaming in the opposite direction.

Aidan looked at him anxiously. “We roughing it tonight?”

I don’t have enough for two beds, Link signed, ignoring the frown on the stable owner’s face. Sleeping in a bed would be preferable, but there was a shrine close by that they could pass the night in. It wouldn’t be the most preferred accommodation, but at least they wouldn’t have to worry about being ambushed by skall monsters.

“If you aren’t thinking of staying in one of our beds, you can rent a tent from us for 10 rupees,” the stable owner said. “The dogs here are pretty good at scaring off monsters if they get too close, so you’ll be fine if you stay on our premises. All you’d have to pay for is the tent.”

“It might actually be a good investment to buy a tent,” Aidan mused. “I wonder how much they cost.”

Link couldn’t understand why Aidan didn’t just ask the stable owner herself, but he relayed the question over anyway.

“We don’t really sell tents,” the stable owner started, but something about the two ragged travelers must’ve given him a change of heart. “Well…I suppose I could make an exception. I can sell you a tent for 60 rupees. There’s a traveling salesman who comes by often named Beedle—I think I saw him standing out by the troughs earlier. Perhaps you can sell some of your goods to him? From what I remember, he’s quite willing to buy any odd thing people are selling. He has a giant pack in the shape of a beetle, if you need help finding him.”

Link thanked him and left the stable, catching sight of an enormous beige backpack. Beedle had brightened at the sight of a potential customer, quickly pulling out a small stand to begin bartering. After a few minutes, Link had sold most of his monster parts and a few ores. He returned to the stable owner with a significantly heavier side pack and listened carefully as the man explained how to set up a tent.

Thirty minutes later, Link had his tent put up and secured. He found Aidan cooing at the horses and she smiled when he reached her side. “There’s a cooking pot out front,” she said. “Might be nice to have a fresh meal instead of heating up leftovers.”

There were some apples resting on a crate near the fire and one of the stable hands told Link he was free to take them. “The children will go out and find more in the morning,” she assured him. “Please enjoy them.”

Aidan watched the stable hand walk away with strange look on her face. “People here are pretty generous,” she noted as they drew closer to the cooking pot.

Is that strange?

Aidan wrapped an arm around herself. “No, I suppose not.” She looked somewhat wistful. “Sorry, just thinking out loud.” Link frowned, but Aidan was poking at the Sheikah slate and ingredients were being dropped into his arms. With a sigh, he turned towards the pot and began putting meals together.

As the sky grew darker, the man near the stable owner’s station eventually wandered over to Link and Aidan, drawn in by the warmth of the fire and the smell of cooking food. He chatted aimlessly to them both, describing the geography of the land around them and the proper way to sneak up on a horse. “Don’t worry about those Guardians littered around the flood lands,” he said. “I haven’t heard anything about them attacking people and they don’t scare the wild horses, so they should be the least of your concerns. There are quite a few monsters roaming around here, but you should be able to get past them if you have a fast enough horse.”

“What you should be worried about is the blood moon,” a new voice interjected. A bright-eyed man stepped closer to the fire. “Every few days, the full moon is dyed red and the air is thick with malice. I’ve heard screeching in the dead of night when it happens.” He hesitated before adding, “I’ve even heard from some travelers that monsters seem to come back to life during the blood moon. One couple told me of how a recently slain bokoblin came after them when the moon reached its peak.”

Link felt the hair on his neck rise, but the other man seemed bemused. “It’s a little too warm to be telling scary stories, Hino,” he said. “Shouldn’t you wait until there’s a chill in the air before you start scaring off our travelers?”

Hino looked offended as he settled at the stump across from Link. “These are hardly tall tales,” he objected, drawing a small book from his vest. He rifled through the pages, clicking his tongue when he glanced up at the sky. “There doesn’t seem to be a particular pattern to when these blood moons appear,” he told Link. “I’ve spent years tracking the moon’s orbit, so I’ve become a little familiar with the signs that one is coming. However, I haven’t made enough observations to accurately predict them with absolute certainty. The most I can tell you is that there’s a strange feeling in the air when a blood moon is expected to happen.”

“Good heavens,” the other man muttered. “Are you sure you aren’t just scared of the dark? I swear I’ve been hearing you complain about the air being heavy for the past few nights.”

“That’s because it has been!” Hino snapped the book shut and leaned forward. His eyes pinned Link in place. “I have been waiting for a blood moon for the last five days,” he said slowly. “But in spite of my expectations, it has yet to occur. This next blood moon may be very different from those that have come before it. If every night is thick with tension, then I fear the night the blood moon rises will be nearly unbearable.”

Link scanned the faces around him. What happened five days ago?

“To be entirely clear, today is the fifth day that the air has felt strange to me. I suppose the correct question would be to ask what happened four days ago,” Hino said. “As for the answer to that query, I fear I have nothing substantial to offer. Aside from those strange towers erupting from the ground and those ancient shrines turning orange, nothing else has changed.”

Four days ago…Link’s hands fell as he turned to look at Aidan. She had been silent for most of the conversation, but when she raised her eyes to meet his, her expression was haunted.

“Four days ago,” she whispered. “You woke up.”

¤     ¤     ¤

“Just because he said the Guardians weren’t attacking anyone doesn’t mean you should go around poking at them,” Aidan told him. Link withdrew his hands from underneath the metal beast, showing her the spoils of his plundering. Ancient screws and gears were nestled in the palm of his hand and he tossed them in her direction. With a sigh, she squirreled them away into the Sheikah slate as he stood and dusted off his hands. “I don’t like this place,” she said. “There’s something wrong here. Something happened.”

Link checked their surroundings and felt bile rise in his throat. None of the Guardians had stirred while he had been examining and prodding at them, but there was something unnerving about how they were stacked on top of each other. This was the largest cluster of Guardians they had stumbled upon thus far, but Link had a feeling it wasn’t the numbers that worried him. Aidan lifted a hand and pointed to the ring of Guardians around them.

“It looks like they were circling something. Like they were all zoning in on something.” She wrapped an arm around herself. “And we’re standing right in the thick of it.”

Link stared at the Guardian at the top of the heap. There was a band tightening around his chest. The tingling in his fingers reminded him of when they were looking for the old man on the Great Plateau, but this was much, much worse. They hadn’t been accompanied by black spots on the edges of his vision or with a dizzying feeling of lightheadedness. All he could smell was mud and the sharp scent of rain. The sound of his breathing filled his ears, echoing from one corner of his skull to the next. He had to be shaking. Why else would the earth be shifting?

There was a hand on his. Something was warm and pulsating beneath his palm. He heard a voice in his ear, but it was different from the voice in his head—the one that had been quiet ever since he left the Great Plateau. This one was kinder, almost. This one didn’t expect anything of him. This one was here.

“Try to match my breath; that’s it. Breathe in, breathe out.” His hand rose and fell gently, cradled against coarse fabric. He flinched when fingers brushed against his throat, but the tension began fading from his body when a soft palm pressed firmly against the side of his neck. Something soft yet unyielding rested against his forehead. “You’re okay. Everything’s okay. It’s sunny outside. It’s still early in the morning. There’s a soft breeze around us, but it’s not very cold. You can feel my heartbeat, right?” Link nodded, the fog starting to lift in his head. He could feel where the sunlight was warming his back. He could feel the wind dancing around his ankles. “Take slow breaths. I want you to breathe like I am right now.”

He felt his breath stutter as he tried to copy the rise and fall underneath his hand. When the tingling in his fingers faded, the hand around his squeezed softly. “That’s good; you’re doing good. Just a little more now.” Link shivered and leaned into the hand on his neck. The voice rewarded him. “That’s it. You’re safe.”

When Link opened his eyes, the world was hazy around him. Aidan watched him, her thumb stroking the skin under his ear. “Hi,” she breathed.

She was really close, Link thought. Their foreheads were pressed together and he could feel her hair tickling his cheeks. He felt a twinge in his chest and he sighed, closing his eyes again. Her hand left his and his breath caught in his throat when it moved up to cradle his face.

Just a little more, he signed. Please.

“Take as much time as you need.”

¤     ¤     ¤

If she was curious, she didn’t say anything about it. Link glanced at her as Hetsu waddled away, shaking his maracas with the few korok seeds they had. The road to Kakariko had been silent and strangely uneventful. The two of them had walked side by side, shoulders brushing with every few steps, until they came across Hetsu. The tearful korok had been overjoyed when they retrieved his maracas, insisting on upgrading the storage of the already magical Sheikah slate in exchange for korok seeds.

“You okay?” Aidan’s voice brought him back to the present and he realized he had been staring holes into the side of her face.

Don’t you want to know why I did that?

Her brows knitted together for a second before she realized what he was referring to. “Why you had a panic attack? Link, do you even know why you had it?”

Link hesitated and shook his head. It’s the first time that’s ever happened to me, he admitted. Aidan looked oddly relieved.

“That’s good.”

Have you had them before?

“A few.” She paused before adding, “As you know, they’re not exactly all that fun.” She shot him a crooked smile. “I’m just glad we got you out of it. I’ve never really helped anyone through it before, so I didn’t know if I was making things better or worse.”

It felt like you knew what you were doing.

Aidan looked forlorn. “I just did what I thought would’ve helped me,” she said. “People don’t really like to have others around when panic attacks hit, so most of the time, we end up going through those kinds of things alone.”

Link frowned. Even though they might need help?

Her eyes flickered downwards. “Sometimes it hurts more when the people you love can see you suffering. Sometimes it’s easier when they can’t see what’s wrong.”

That doesn’t sound very fair. They passed through a gate with red lanterns woven around its sides and Link could feel someone staring at them.

Aidan studied him; her jaw tight. “Just because you love someone doesn’t mean you understand them.” She didn’t sound particularly upset, rather, she just seemed defeated. “Just because you love them doesn’t mean you know what’s best.”

Link raised his hands to reply, but he was distracted by someone rising from a nearby campfire. An elderly woman approached them, her hands resting behind her back. “Hello, traveler,” she said. “Are you looking for accommodations for the night? We have an inn you may rest at if you so please.” She paused; eyes fixated on his waist. “That…object on your hip. Where did you come across it?”

Link followed her gaze and was startled to find the Sheikah slate clipped onto his belt. When had Aidan…?

But she wasn’t looking at him and the old woman’s brow was furrowing, so Link hastily answered her question. It was half-hearted and rushed, but the elder seemed satisfied and she clasped her hands together. Her eyes glimmered like rubies in the moonlight, bright with hope and life.

“We Sheikah know of legends. We have been waiting patiently for your return,” she said. “But before all else, please meet with Lady Impa. She has been the most faithful of us all. She awaits you in the house before the Lantern Falls.” The elderly woman urged them onwards, her smile content as they descended onto Kakariko Village.

¤     ¤     ¤

“How dare you trespass onto Lady Impa’s abode? Are you of the Yiga?” The Sheikah guards stalked towards Link, their bodies taut with tension. Link’s brow furrowed and he took a small step back. They seemed to take his retreat as a confirmation of their fears and raised their voices even louder. “Only Yiga filth would dare approach Lady Impa in the dead of night! Reveal yourself—your disguise cannot fool us!” Heads were beginning to poke out of nearby buildings, confusion written across each face.

What’s a Yiga? Link signed, eyes flickering back and forth between the two advancing guards. He moved to withdraw another step, but felt a warm hand pressing into the small of his back. He caught a glimpse of Aidan standing beside him, shoulders back and eyes staring unflinchingly forward. The sight steadied him, somehow.

His question made the two guards falter. “W-what is a Yiga?” They shared a look before facing him again, their boldness shaken by their uncertainty. “Do not try to fool us,” the taller of the two shouted. “You know exactly what you are. Follower of Calamity Ganon, eager to plunge Hyrule into complete devastation! We will strike you down where you—”

Everyone flinched at the sound of a door being thrown open and all attention turned towards the house behind the two guards. A young woman stepped out onto the patio, taking in the scene before her. Her eyes widened when she caught sight of Link and she gasped, her hands shooting up to curl up against her chest. “Grandmother,” she stammered, twisting in the doorway. “He’s here! H-he’s here!”

There was a murmuring around him and Link turned to see that a crowd had gathered behind him. Sheikah of all ages were rubbing sleep from their eyes and whispering amongst themselves. When he faced back toward the guards, the young woman had rushed down the stairs and was standing in front of him.

“You-you’re the hero of legend,” she said, staring at the Sheikah slate. “My grandmother has spoken often of you.” She stammered out some strange form of his name and blushed furiously. “I-I have difficulty saying my own name,” she blurted out, hiding her face with her hands. “I’m…I’m…”

“Lady Paya,” the taller guard said. His skittered over Link’s form, the energy around him growing increasingly agitated and nervous. “You say this is the hero of legend? If so, then…” He and his partner paled, darting aside. “Please enter! Lady Impa has been waiting a long time for you!”

Link furrowed his brow at the three Sheikah, but he could feel Aidan’s hands pressing into his shoulder blades. He took a cautious step forward, and when no one rushed to stop him, he strode past the guards. Everyone’s eyes followed him as he climbed the wooden steps and their weight finally disappeared when the doors closed behind him.

His skin was tingling again. There was a figure sitting atop several cushions, the rim of their conical hat hiding their face from him. He felt Aidan’s fingers slip into his when his breath quickened, but the acknowledgement of her company quickly slipped to the back of his mind. Before him, the figure stirred and lifted their head. A soft, wrinkled smile graced her face.

“Hello, hero of Hyrule,” she said. “It has been many years and I am much older now, but…do you still remember me?”

Chapter Text

Lady Impa, despite her frail and petite stature, had a presence that commanded the entire room. The air had grown tense when she registered the blankness of Link’s expression and the way he worried the hem of his worn shirt. Despair, fear, and worry flickered across her face before she reigned them in with a practiced smile. “Fear not, my courageous one,” she murmured. “Perhaps this is merely a blessing in disguise. Let us make the best of the situation at hand.” She shifted on her cushions and straightened her posture. “Please, come closer.”

Every step he took toward her was heavy. Link’s heart clenched. Had she taken offense to not being recognized? Or was he failing her on some part because he wasn’t who she remembered? Link suddenly felt very small under her scrutiny. Surely, he thought, he was failing them both. The once celebrated hero, returning as a disheveled, empty-headed nobody. He would’ve been disappointed in himself too.

When she spoke again, Link dug his nails into his palms to keep his composure. Impa’s voice was reverential when she recounted Princess Zelda’s decision to face Calamity Ganon alone. A choice that had been made after her protector knight had fallen to buy the Kingdom of Hyrule time until his eventual return. A return, as Impa had bluntly put, that had taken a hundred years to realize. Guilt bubbled in Link’s chest as she continued talking, but just as quickly, the resentment set in.

Where were you? Link wondered as Impa described the efforts of the Sheikah to evacuate the castle. Why did you leave me to wake up alone?

Had they known King Rhoam’s ghost would be there to guide him? Or had they grown tired of waiting for him and just left after the first dozen years? Link felt as if every muscle in his body was clenching at the next thought that came to the forefront of his mind. Had they even bothered to wait at all?

He must’ve been schooling his features very well since Impa continued speaking as if nothing was awry. But a storm was brewing inside of him, gnawing at his insides and tearing at his flesh. He wondered if Aidan could see him shaking.

The room was quiet. Link’s eyes refocused and he realized that Impa was staring at him He felt claws of panic digging into his heart as he tried to come up with an answer for a question he had been too distracted to hear.

But Impa must’ve found something in his expression because she nodded solemnly after a few moments of silence. “Very well then. I see that you are determined to risk your life for the princess much like she has risked hers for yours.” The look in her eyes softened and she looked proud for an odd second. “Even without your memory, you are still the same hero at your core,” she said. “Your loyalty to the princess is commendable, my dear Champion.” Her expression hardened. “One hundred years ago,” Impa said. “The legend became realized. We began preparations for a confrontation with Calamity Ganon. Princess Zelda, carrier of the Goddess’s blood, would face Ganon with the warrior who possessed a hero’s soul at her side. That warrior carried the sword that seals the darkness away. That warrior was none other than you, Link.

 “Hear now the words of Princess Zelda,” she declared. “Champion of Hyrule, you must free the Divine Beasts. Divine Beast Vah Rudania, who echoes the cries of the Goron. Divine Beast Vah Medoh, who soars with the tenacity of the Rito. Divine Beast Vah Ruta, who manifests the resilience of the Zora. And Divine Beast Vah Naboris, who thunders with the strength of the Gerudo.”

The ornaments decorating Impa’s straw hat clinked as she regarded Link. After a few moments, she extended her hand palm-side up. Link stared at her until he realized she was waiting for the Sheikah slate. “Facing Ganon without the aid of these Divine Beasts would prove to be a behemoth undertaking,” she said slowly. “While it would not be impossible to challenge him alone, I am certain Princess Zelda’s final message to you is an effort on her part to improve your chances at success.” She returned the slate to Link. “The Sheikah slate will guide you to the four races who can offer you information on the Divine Beasts. I implore you to take the princess’s words to heart and let them guide your way.”

Link glanced at the Sheikah slate and saw that she had inputted two new objectives. Four pins glowed back at him, each occupying a different corner of his mostly incomplete map. When he lifted his head, Impa said, “It appears to me that your Sheikah slate is still incomplete. My understanding of its functions is quite rudimentary, but I was able to place in the coordinates of a colleague who may be able to advise you on how to use it. You will find her at Hateno Village, which has been mostly untouched by the calamity thus far.” Impa folded her hands together and smiled. “Please know you will always have allies with the Sheikah,” she said. “This time, we will give everything we have to bring an end to this calamity.”

¤     ¤     ¤

“You should see the look on your face!” Link felt his confusion fade into exhaustion as he looked back and forth between an apologetic Symin and a cackling adolescent. She struck a strange pose at him. “Director of Hateno Ancient Tech Lab, Purah! You didn’t think a tiny girl could be the big bad of this tech lab, but you were wrong!”

Link sighed, scratching the back of his neck as he turned back towards Purah. She looked so overwhelmingly proud of herself that he decided not to tell her that Impa had let it slip that her colleague was a “her”.

Aidan hummed at his side, eyes sparkling with amusement. “I like her,” she said. “She’s not stuffy like that Lady Impa.”

I’m pretty sure she can hear you, he signed, his face twisted in exasperation.

“Who now?” Purah crossed her arms. She glanced at Symin, who looked equally puzzled, and pursed her lips. “I was the one who put you to rest in the Shrine of Resurrection, but maybe a hundred years wasn’t enough to fix all the damage on your body. Ganon’s forces must’ve done a number on you if sleeping for a century wasn’t enough,” she muttered, raising a hand to her chin. Her voice was barely loud enough for Link to hear, but before he could ask her to explain what she had just said, she straightened and clapped her hands together.

“As much as I’d love to explore that conundrum, you came here on a mission! I got a letter from my little sister telling me that you’d be coming by and who am I to turn down such a nice request?” She pulled a letter out of the inner pocket of her jacket and cooed at it. Her head whipped around and she gave Link a devious smile. “Little sister, you must be wondering? Why, that would be none other than Impa herself! Betcha didn’t think her older sister would be someone as youthful as me!”

She stared at Link with an expectant look on her face and snapped her fingers when he gave her a slow nod. “Check it! Well, if you must know, I got into a bit of a research disaster a while back,” she said breezily, studying her nailbeds with a casual flourish of her hand. “Thought I was making some kind of scientific discovery and whoosh! Suddenly I was twenty years younger. Through my tinkering, I was able to find a way to reverse time for myself, but well, given that I have yet to find a way to start aging again, I’m not entirely sure it would be ethnical to try experimenting on others to further substantiate my hypotheses.” She looked back at Link and smiled. “But I digress. According to my sister, you’ve lost your memories, haven’t you? Princess Zelda was rather fond of that Sheikah slate on your belt, so it might just hold the key to retrieving some of what you've lost.”

She made grabby hands for the slate and Link handed it over. At some point during Purah’s monologue, Symin had wandered over from his corner of the tech lab and was watching her work with avid interest. Aidan looked similarly attentive, bright eyes glued to every movement Purah made.

After a few long moments, the director looked up with a disgruntled expression on her face. “I know exactly how to help you,” she said, her voice flat. “I have a guidance stone that can probably restore the missing functions on your slate, but it’s not operational right now and it hasn’t been operational for some time because somebody is too lazy to fetch the blue flame we need to power it.” Symin’s polite smile stiffened and he skittered back to his corner when Purah leveled him with her glare.

“But Ms. Director,” he protested, shielding himself with a nearby book. “As your assistant, I rarely can spare time to visit the ancient furnace! There are so many research notes you want me to summarize for you and the pile of work you’ve shuttled into my corner hasn’t decreased over the past three years!” His eyes were wide and innocent as he tried to fight off a smile. “And as someone who deeply admires your research, how could I possibly bear to tear myself away from the task of compiling notes to fetch a flame for a machine that we had no use for?” Symin flushed when Link cast a disbelieving look in his direction. “Sorry, she rubs off on you eventually,” he said, coughing into his fist.

Purah looked satisfied with Symin’s response, but she sighed and turned to Link. “Well, there you have it,” she said. “If you want me to fix your Sheikah slate, I’m going to need you to do me a little favor and help us get our furnace up and running again. I haven’t really been able to step out of this place because of my ‘de-aging accident’ and I don’t really want gossip to start up in the village just because someone catches sight of me.” She smiled and crossed her arms. “And if you’re really wondering, yes, they are that sharp. Almost everyone in Hateno has grown up here, so they’re pretty good at telling if someone’s new in town or not. We already get a bad rep for being the weird techy building on a hill and it’s just going to make matters worse if they find out the director of the Hateno Tech lab managed to turn herself into a little kid.

“So go and fetch that blue flame for me, pretty please?” She batted her eyelashes at him. “It’s all to help you in the end, so really you’re doing yourself a favor.”

Link didn’t feel entirely convinced by the excuses Purah and Symin were offering him, but Aidan just smiled and squeezed his arm placatingly. “What’s the worse that can happen?” she offered him as they stepped out of the tech lab.

A lot, actually. It took ten minutes to get anything out of the Hateno villagers, who, despite being very friendly once they realized Link was Hylian, were strangely unhelpful when it came to giving directions to the ancient furnace. Then he got pulled aside by a kid named Nebb who really, really wanted to see a bunch of weapons that his late grandfather had told him about. He hadn’t been able to resist Nebb’s puppy eyes and Aidan didn’t seem interested in discouraging him, so eventually they ended up with a request to go find a traveler’s sword.

They were just about to head in the direction of the ancient furnace before another kid ran up to them and insisted that he had something important to show them. He led them to a strange horned statue that drained Link the moment he tried speaking to it. Aidan looked uncomfortable with the entire situation, but Link was determined to get back whatever the stone figure took from him. So then they spent the next fifteen minutes arguing with the statue and eventually forking over twenty rupees for it to reverse whatever the hell it did to Link. With significantly lighter pockets, they managed to find the ancient furnace and light a nearby torch with its blue flame.

And then it started raining.

“Yeah, this isn’t going to let up for the next few hours,” Aidan said, settling under what little cover the ancient furnace offered them. She showed him the screen of the Sheikah slate and all the weather forecasts predicted rainfall. “We have two choices: either we wait it out or we try to find cover in a shop. We can pretend to examine every inch of everything they’re selling if their shopkeepers start wondering why we aren’t buying anything.”

Link wasn’t exactly excited about walking around a supplies shop with its owner breathing down his neck, but then again, sitting for hours on the cold ground wasn’t that attractive of an idea either. I’m fine with either.

“Great. We’re not moving then. I don’t like how the rain makes my clothes feel like they’re sticking to me.” Aidan scowled at the water that dripped from the awning and scooched closer to him. He didn’t protest as her side pressed up against him and tried not to think of how his shoulder was getting soaked from runoff on the roof. After all, Aidan’s opposite shoulder looked just as drenched.

After a few moments of silence, he glanced over at her and caught her eyes. She looked thoughtful. “Do you like the rain?”

The rain makes it hard to climb, he signed. But it makes the air nice and crisp afterwards. When she raised an eyebrow at him, he shrugged. I’m pretty indifferent about it, I guess.

Aidan’s jaw twitched. “I don’t like the rain.” She tucked her knees to her chest and wrapped her arms around them. They listened to the rainfall and watched villagers rush into nearby buildings to escape the bad weather. A few minutes passed before she spoke again. “Some of the people I know really like the rain. They say it makes them feel better.”

Link stared at her fingers. And how does it make you feel?

“Cold, really.” She wasn’t looking at him. “I have this weird way of thinking; a lot of people say that the rain washes away impurities and it makes the world clean again. Which, I suppose, is nice objectively, but…” She flicked a blade of grass and fell quiet for a moment. “I don’t really like the idea of being cleansed of imperfections. I mean, they’re what make us unique, right? They make us strive to be perfect and the struggles that we go through to achieve that perfection are beautiful to me.”

Do you want to be perfect?

“I’d be lying if I said no. But it’s not a healthy thing to want. The more perfect I try to be the more imperfect I realize I am. Then I start realizing that I actually might like the parts of me that are imperfect and then I feel guilty because I’m not supposed to. So when people say that they like how the rain washes away imperfections, I wonder if they just want someone as imperfect as me to wash away too.” She turned and smiled at him, but her eyes were dull.

What makes someone perfect? He had an inkling of what she was talking about, but he wasn’t entirely sure.

“Ah, perfect is a relative thing,” Aidan laughed drily. “Sometimes perfect means the best or the purest form of something. Other times, I think being imperfect means I’m not meeting the expectations of the people around me.” She gazed at him, her expression strangely vulnerable. “You know?”

Link swallowed and linked his pinkie through hers. Aidan’s eyes widened. He felt warmth building in his chest as he stared at her. He wondered if he would ever be able to express his answer properly, but he didn’t know if signing would convey the weight of what he had to say. Words would probably fall flat too, even if he could speak. So he pressed his temple against hers and felt the warmth inside him spread when Aidan’s gaze steadied and she squeezed his pinkie back.

¤     ¤     ¤

Aidan’s shirt was sticking to her, Link realized, but for some reason, she wasn’t complaining. Rain was starting to fall in sheets around them, but he supposed he was too drenched to feel the droplets on his skin. Link drew in a deep breath and Aidan’s hand ran over the back of his head, the weight of it soothing. His face was buried in the crook of her neck, pressed up against the steady rhythm of her heartbeat. She smelled faintly of the baked apples that they had shared earlier that morning, but there was an underlying musk that was comforting in its own right. Her scent cemented her presence in Link’s mind and he felt dizzy with the relief that flooded through him at the thought.

Unlike the five figures seared into his memory, she was here. Link burrowed deeper, his arms tightening around her waist. He had never thought the scent of skin could be so reassuring.

Aidan’s hand ran through his hair again, the weight of her jaw a steady constant against his head. With each thud of her heart another name came, unbidden, to the front of his mind. Urbosa. Daruk. Mipha. Revali. Zelda. He drew another shaky breath and closed his eyes. Aidan’s heart kept beating. The names kept coming. Urbosa. Daruk. Mipha. Revali. Zelda.

So that’s what they looked like, he thought. He had a face for each of the names echoing through his head, but that didn’t tell him who they were to him. They were champions—he gleaned as much from the sky-blue fabric that had swaddled them all—with the exception of the blonde Hylian who had stood at his side. She must’ve been Princess Zelda, adorned in the simplest attire of them all. The rest of them had been suited up for war.

She had been heartbroken, Link mused. Devastated. She was failing someone just like he was failing her. The other champions were similarly distraught, but they had been holding it in, for her sake. Daruk and Revali must not have been very close to Princess Zelda, Link thought. Or maybe they just weren’t the best with words. They hadn’t tried to offer condolences like Urbosa or advice like Mipha. Maybe they had their own misgivings they were working through, and seeing Zelda in her frustration may have reminded them of theirs.

He didn’t understand himself. Why did he just stand there with that solemn look on his face? Hadn’t he been the princess’s knight? Wasn’t he her confidant, like Impa had implied? Why hadn’t he thought to comfort her then, with a hand on her shoulder? Did he think it would’ve made matters worse, like his concern would have been seen as condescending?

The way Impa had spoken made it seem like he would recover himself if he visited the places recorded in the Sheikah slate. Perhaps, naively, he had believed the same. Why else had he sprinted off in the direction Pikango pointed them in? Ever since he had awoken in the Great Plateau with Zelda’s voice in his head, he had felt something was wrong with him. Normal people could have bouts of forgetfulness and move past them, but he doubted anyone could wake up with absolutely nothing in their memories and still feel fine.

But when that flashback hit, he realized he was no closer to being the man he used to be. It was his memory—that fact could hardly be challenged—but that wasn’t him. The Link he saw standing beside Zelda was Champion Link, representative of the Kingdom of Hyrule. But wasn’t Link now. And that realization stung.

Aidan was humming now, Link thought. He ignored the protests of his body as he drew back from her warmth and faced her. At some point, the rain must’ve stopped, but she made no move to take off her glasses and dry them. She was waiting for him to speak.

I saw a memory, he told her. Aidan’s eyes never left his face as he gestured, but he found it strangely grounding rather than odd. I saw the other champions. I saw Princess Zelda. Link didn’t know how to describe them to her. Could she picture Urbosa even if he described the exact shade of her hair or the regal slope of her back? Could she see Revali and Mipha as clearly as he could if he told her every feature of them? Could she understand the breadth of Daruk’s shoulders or the way Zelda had clenched her fists in anger?

“I see. Do you miss them?”

Ah, that would explain the aching in his chest. I don’t remember them. What did Daruk look like when he was in the midst of battle? Did Revali’s expression soften when he was adrift in the skies? What did Urbosa’s laugh sound like? Did Mipha ever smile in a way that wasn’t painfully bittersweet? He wondered what Zelda would have looked like if she were confident, if she wasn’t being crushed under all the expectations he didn’t understand. Link raised his eyes to meet Aidan’s and vehemently prayed she could understand the flurry of emotions rampaging through him. The hatred he felt toward himself. I couldn’t recognize myself. His arms were flailing and he wasn’t sure she could read him. But he kept going. I don’t know who I am.

“Yes, you do,” Aidan said.

I don’t! Link’s hands flew upward. I was there—I was right there! But when I looked at him, I didn’t see me. He was shaking, he was sure of it. That wasn’t me. Why wasn’t it me?

Aidan’s lips were pursed as she took in the sight of him. A bubble of anxiety and fear rose in Link’s chest as he imagined her echoing the words that Impa had said to him after they returned from Hateno. “Perhaps something horrible had happened. Something so egregious your mind had no choice but to force you to forget.”

But she didn’t say those words. “Just because you don’t remember doesn’t mean you aren’t still you.” The fire in her eyes pinned him in place. “The you right now is just as much a part of you as the you you can’t remember.”

You can’t know that.

“I do.”

Link drew back from her. You can’t possibly know.

Her hand shot out and he felt the heat of it burn him where it closed around his wrist. “Don’t tell me what I do or don’t know. Not about this.” Her grasp on him tightened. “Nothing about what I’ve seen of you this past week has been fake,” she growled. “Your smiles, your laughter, your fears, your courage—I’ve had a front row seat to them all. I know the way your hands shake when you think about all the people you think you’re failing. I know the way your face goes blank when you talk to someone who insists they knew you. I know you.

“Don’t tell me this isn’t real,” she grit out. “Just because you’re not the person you remember doesn’t mean you aren’t who you need to be.” The determination in her eyes was almost dizzying, Link thought. But the tightness of her grip and the desperation in her voice made him wonder if she was still talking about him. It sounded like she was trying to convince them both, but he didn’t know what she was fighting to believe.

She was accepting everything that Impa couldn’t recognize in him. Everything he didn’t find in himself. And for now, that was enough. She would carry his burden until he believed.

He felt the bitter grip of resentment slacken around his throat. Okay, he signed breathlessly. Aidan’s hand loosened its hold on his wrist in shock. He met her gaze, a new resolve growing deep inside of his chest. It was the fragile beginnings of a fire, he thought. Just sparks smoking on kindling, but you just need a start to keep it alive. Then you remember that too.

¤     ¤     ¤

“I didn’t think Hylians were all that faithful anymore.” A voice interrupted Link’s thoughts and he turned away from the Hylia statue, his hands dropping from a prayer position. One of the guards that had been standing vigilant by Impa’s house—Dorian, Link thought—looked at him appraisingly. “But then again, you are the Hero of Legend,” he murmured, stroking his chin. “Perhaps the Hylians were much more religious one hundred years ago.” He stepped closer and cocked his head to the side. “Do you pray to her often?”

Sometimes, Link signed. She blesses me after every few shrines. She’d offered him more health this time, which he supposed meant that he could take a few more blows from enemies before going down. Given the fact that there were a lot of monsters stronger than a blue bokoblin, he reckoned he would need it.

Dorian’s brow furrowed and the energy around him became nervous. “You…speak with her? And she responds?”

Link stared blankly at him. Is that strange?

“Forgive me; I just hadn’t heard of the Goddess Hylia speaking to her followers unless they were of Lady Impa’s ilk.” The puzzled expression on his face gave way to understanding and he ducked his head. Dorian shifted on his feet and squinted at the ground. “Well, I suppose that would explain why you can hear her too; you are the Hero of Legend, after all.” He smiled tightly at Link when he lifted his gaze. “Well, I shall not stand in the way of your time with her,” he said. “Have a good night, Champion.”

Link vaguely registered the Sheikah man’s words as he left. His mind was racing a mile a minute as he stepped away from the goddess statue and headed toward the fire where Aidan was waiting. She was trying to take a picture of the cucco, he realized as he drew closer. The bird kept twisting its head back and forth, refusing to stand still despite Aidan’s cooing. She straightened when she caught sight of him, the smile on her face slipping when she took in his expression. “Link?”

He knew there was something off about her. The fact that she knew Hylia had spoken to him in the Temple of Time. The way she could travel effortlessly from place to place like King Rhoam had, appearing unaffected by steep climbs or cold weather. But she couldn’t have been a ghost like the late king of Hyrule, not when she was solid and real under his fingers. It didn’t explain why she could use his Sheikah slate and why monsters and animals seemed to notice her. But out of all the people they had come across, Hetsu had been the only one to acknowledge her presence, and he had been a korok.

That would explain all the times that people had looked at him funny when he signed to her or when they had thought he was traveling alone. They probably thought he was talking to himself like a madman, communicating with no one in particular.

He could see Aidan’s boots from the corner of his eye as she stepped closer. “Link?”

When he jumped from the Great Plateau and opened his paraglider, she had miraculously appeared on top of it, hooting with delight as they sailed away from the steep cliff faces. She had peeked at him from over the sail of the paraglider, grin upside-down and blinding. That should’ve been his next hint that something was strange, Link realized. Her weight should have dipped the sailcloth and sent them both crashing toward the earth. But the sail had been unaffected, billowed by the wind as they glided downwards. When he landed, he hadn’t thought to watch her descent. Had she slipped off just before he closed the paraglider?

No, she’d just appeared next to him, he thought. He had been too distracted by the novelty of flying to give the situation a second thought.

That went for all the times he thought she had been attacked by monsters and had no wounds to show for it. Now that he was scrounging his memory, he was absolutely sure that that moblin had managed to land a hit on her in the Forest of Time. And the time the bokoblins camping between the Dueling Peaks threw a barrel at her. And that other time when those lizalfos managed to glance her with their water attacks back at the Lanayru Bluff.

What about when she’d followed him into her first shrine? She insisted she had eaten, but her pack didn’t look any different from when they had started the bomb trial. Aidan always seemed to insist she was full whenever their supplies were running low. He had originally thought she snacked while he wasn’t looking, but it seemed more apparent to him that maybe she didn’t need to eat.

He should’ve known something was strange about her—her rounded ears told him as much. They were much smaller than everyone else’s, curved and smooth where they should have been pointed. She also hadn’t been carrying much for someone who was exploring the Great Plateau, just a few apples and a small knife.

Link’s mind raced as he pieced together other odd things he remembered from the week they spent together. Aidan didn’t complain of a sore back or neck from sleeping on the ground, but openly blubbered when she stubbed her toe on a rock or scratched herself on a thorn. She didn’t look cold even when the temperature dipped below chilly, but still got drenched whenever it was raining or when they had to swim.

Or, had she really been swimming with him? He hadn’t thought to watch her all the times that he had to scale steep cliffs and buildings or dive into the water because he had been too preoccupied with keeping himself upright or afloat. And yet he remembered her voice in his ear, telling him what direction to swim or how close he was to a perch where he could catch his breath.

Most alarmingly of all, how did she understand him all those times when she wasn’t watching his hands? Aidan didn’t stare at his hands like others did when he signed, and there were instances where she responded to his questions even when she wasn’t facing his direction. Sometimes he would have a trailing thought, or an unvoiced concern, and she would be there to finish it or comfort him.

All this time, he had thought she was just really attentive. But now as he stared at her, he was certain something else was afoot.

Aidan’s expression darkened when she seemed to understand that he had come to some kind of conclusion, but her tone was lighthearted when she spoke. “Something wrong?”

I don’t think so, Link signed. He glanced around them; it was getting pretty late and most of the Sheikah were headed to home for the night, but he didn’t want to confront her in the middle of the village. I want to go check out the Great Fairy Fountain again, he told her. He didn’t have any armor he could upgrade, and he knew she was aware of that, but she didn’t object to being led away.

When they were alone on the ridge above Kakariko, she looked at him expectantly. Link bit his lip and worried the hem of his shirt. Despite coming to the realization that there was a lot he didn’t understand about her, he wasn’t exactly sure how to voice his epiphany. Or what would happen to their relationship moving forward, given that she might want to part ways with him now that he knew something was off.

But Link was sure there was trust in their relationship. He remembered how lonely Aidan had looked under the awning of the ancient furnace and how quietly she had told him of her thoughts. The weight of her hand when she stroked his hair had been comforting and gentle by the gate of the Lanayru Bluff and he still recalled how safe he had felt when she drew him out of his panic attack. There were her words too, uttered in the silence left by the fading rain the day he found his first memory. “Nothing about what I’ve seen of you this past week has been fake.”

Link steeled himself and turned to face Aidan. Her gaze was as steady as the day he had met her. Who are you?

Aidan winced. “Way to cut to the chase,” she said, lips pulling up in a grimace. She rubbed the back of her neck and straightened up. “I’m sure you’ve already run through all the weird things I’ve done since we met, but in case you haven’t noticed, I’m not like you.” Her dark eyes flickered away from him. “I’m not a ghost. I’m sure you’ve gleaned that much from all the times that I’ve been able to touch you or hold things, but that doesn’t mean I can’t make myself incorporeal sometimes. Well, parts of me, anyway. So far, you’re the only thing beside monsters, korok spirits, and other ghosts that can see me. And touch me, for that matter.” Aidan flexed her fingers and turned back towards him.

“I just kind of float whenever you do anything strenuous like climb or swim. I’m not entirely sure why, but I’m not going to look that gift horse in the mouth. I’m not exactly an athletic person, so it’s really been a blessing in disguise.” She frowned. “I don’t know why I can go into shrines with you or use your Sheikah slate. Maybe I’m just a strange occurrence that the people who made those things didn’t think of when they were busy inventing trials and tools for the unlucky fool taking on Ganon.” She cocked an eyebrow at him. “Any other things I can enlighten you on?”

How can you understand me if you don’t see me signing?

Aidan’s eyes flickered down to his hands and she chuckled when they didn’t move. “I can’t read your mind, if that’s what you’re wondering,” she told him. “It’s more like I can hear you if you’re projecting your thoughts at me, or you’re too tired to keep them private. You know, like when you’re exhausted and you just want to complain about it to everyone, but you’re kind of a special case, so a lot of that stuff just ends up being broadcasted by your mind instead. And before you ask, you’re the only one I can hear like that. Trust me, I tried to eavesdrop on the old man back on the plateau and his mind was locked up like a national treasure vault.”

If you’re selectively incorporeal, Link started, can you go through walls?

Aidan seemed both startled and amused by his question. “I’m not that kind of incorporeal,” she laughed. “From what I’ve experimented with, it’s really only my weight that I can mess around with. That’s how we managed to get off the Great Plateau with me crouched on top of your paraglider. Also, if you’re climbing, I can’t really leave your side, so I can’t tell you what’s up on the top of a cliff. Same with swimming, but I can do a 360 scan and see everything around you.”

Can you ride on a horse with me?

She raised an eyebrow. “Can you catch a horse for us to ride on?”

Touché. Link smiled as she bubbled up in laughter. When she quieted, her expression was shyer, nervous almost.

“So, I take it that you wouldn’t mind if I stuck around for a little longer?” she asked.

I wouldn’t.

“You’re sure? What if I’m secretly aligned with Ganon or something?”

You aren’t.

“You don’t know that for sure.”

Link rolled his eyes and grabbed her hands. I want you to stay with me, he thought firmly, praying to Hylia that he was projecting his resolve alongside his words.

Aidan stared at him, starry-eyed. “Jesus, sweep me off of my feet with that, why don’t you,” she breathed. A rueful smile tugged at her lips and she sighed dramatically. Her eyes, Link was relieved to see, glowed with warmth and fondness. “Alright, golden boy,” she murmured. “I’ll stay.”

Chapter Text

A part of Link was still frustrated that Aidan refused to hand him the Sheikah slate earlier, but he supposed she did him a favor. The crimson Zora before him was magnificent, broad-shouldered and regal. If Link had marveled at the Zora’s somersaults, he was certainly stupefied by the figure headed toward him now.

“Told you he was pretty,” Aidan snickered, startling Link out of his trance. He shot a quick glare in her direction, his cheeks flushing with heat.

You just told me to get down here as quickly as I could.

“Yeah. Because he’s that pretty.”

Link’s eyes flickered back to the Zora. Pretty wasn’t quite the word for it, but then again, he wasn’t sure what was. The Zora carried the same majestic air as Princess Zelda and King Rhoam, but there was a friendliness to him that felt bitingly unfamiliar to Link. Most of the people he’d interacted with thus far had only been friendly if he had rupees to spend. As for the others, they dropped the act as soon as they realized he didn’t remember them. But there was something different about this Zora, Link decided.

Just being in his presence was making Link’s mind go fuzzy.

“Pardon the entrance,” the person in question said. “But you are a Hylian, aren’t you?”

And his voice could turn Link’s brain to mush. Good to know.

Aidan jabbed an elbow into Link’s side and he jolted out of his stupor. The Zora’s face split into a wide grin when Link nodded, and this time, Aidan seemed equally bewitched.

“Fantastic! Utterly fantastic. I must apologize about my fellow Zora; I’m sure they were rather eager to direct you to me. I have been looking for a Hylian, you see, and…” he trailed off, eyes widening in surprise. “Where are my manners! I wholly forgot to introduce myself. I am Prince Sidon, of the Zora,” he said. “I am pleased to make your acquaintance…?”

Link.

“Link! What a delightful name; quite strong indeed. I almost feel as if I have heard of it before.” Sidon looked thoughtful for a quick second, but his grin quickly returned, brilliant and knee-buckling. “Regardless, I am impressed with you! I have been watching the way you work; the way you carry yourself. I can tell that you are quite an extraordinary person. You must be considered very strong among the Hylians.”

Given that most of the Hylians Link and Aidan had come across weren’t able to fight off a red bokoblin, Sidon was probably right. But there was something about the Zora’s enthusiasm that made Link feel shy, like he was being praised for merely existing. Not particularly, Link signed.

Sidon’s brow furrowed for a second, but it disappeared in an instant. “Nonsense! I commend you for being humble, but I insist you do not speak too lowly of yourself. As a Zora Prince, I pride myself with having an eye for talent and you look very promising indeed.” He leaned closer and Link felt as if a bunch of fairies were fluttering around in his chest. “I have been looking for someone like you for a long time,” Sidon continued, seemingly oblivious to Link’s red face. “Someone who carries himself with confidence and mastery. Someone who travels with courage and will.

“Currently, the Zora domain is on the verge of being flooded by the Divine Beast Vah Ruta’s rain,” he said. “We Zora are not able to resolve this problem on our own and we are greatly in need of your aid. Please, won’t you consider coming to help us? I am certain you are the one we have been searching for.”

The Zora had inched closer with each word he spoke until he was merely inches from Link’s face. He clasped Link’s hands in his, engulfing them completely. The sincerity in his eyes was dizzying, Link thought, his head swimming from the closeness. He supposed this feeling was what Aidan was referring to when she had accused him of sweeping her off her feet.

Sidon was still waiting for his answer when Link finally steadied himself. Link gave him a firm nod, trying his best not to shiver when the Zora’s face split into another radiant smile. “Marvelous! You are exactly the man I thought you were!” He released Link’s hands and stepped back, the air around him crackling with excitement. “With this, the Zora domain will surely be saved. There’s no time to waste!” He paused for a second and looked over Link, as if taking him in for the first time. “Given the oppressive rain,” Sidon said, “the cliffs are quite slick and are thus very difficult to climb. As Hylians are not strong swimmers like the Zora, your only way of reaching the domain would be by land.

“The path to the Zora domain will be arduous,” he warned. “There are many foes ahead that use electricity to fight. Thus, to aid you on your journey, please make use of this potion. It should give you some resistance to electricity.” He handed Link a bottle of thick, viscous liquid. It didn’t look pleasant to drink.

Sidon must’ve read the expression on Link’s face as one of unease, because his face lit up with another bright smile. “Don’t give up! I believe in you!”

Link’s heart pounded. He stared as Sidon continued, “I will go on ahead to make sure you do not face anything strange on your path to the Zora domain. I’m counting on you!” With a graceful flip and twist in the air, the Zora launched himself off the bridge and into the water. In a matter of seconds, Link saw a crimson head bob up a side of a waterfall and disappear from sight.

He dragged his eyes back to the yellow potion in his hand. It was a strange thing, to be believed in, Link thought as he closed his fingers around the bottle. At this point he was only used to people expecting things of him—save Princess Zelda, free the Divine Beasts, bring peace back to Hyrule. Aidan was the closest thing he had to a fighter in his corner, but she didn’t have the same stakes as the other inhabitants of this world. While her confidence in him was much appreciated, it just wasn’t enough to fully sooth the anxiety in his heart.

But here was someone from this world who believed in him. Here was someone who would be directly impacted by his actions and fully trusted him to do them well. The relief that washed over him was hard to explain, but when he turned to Aidan and saw the calm look on her face, he realized he didn’t have to. She understood, and that was enough.

Her hand fell onto his when he moved to uncap the bottle. “I don’t know if that’ll last you the entire way,” she said. “Something tells me that the closer we get to the domain, the more we’ll be depending on that potion. I’ll keep an eye out for electricity-bearing monsters, so save that for when we meet someone who’d send us six feet under without it.”

¤     ¤     ¤

By the time they had reached the Zora’s domain, Link’s fingers were numb. He could barely close a hand around the hilt of his sword and he shocked Aidan each time he brushed up against her. If he was a little less staticky, he probably would’ve found her squeaks amusing, but right now he just wanted to crash headfirst into a bed.

Now that he knew most people couldn’t see Aidan, he didn’t have to worry about getting two beds. They usually huddled together at night—sleeping in the shrines was a chilly affair and the tent they bought was a bit small for two people. For tonight, Link just figured she’d curl up around him if she got tired or sneak a nap on an unoccupied mattress.

As they began crossing the bridge to the Zora’s domain, Aidan started tucking away his weapons. Sidon’s potion had warded off most of the electricity from the gauntlet of lizalfo archers but had worn off by the time they reached the wizrobe. The last leg of their journey had Aidan playing defense while he tried to dart around their enemies. She must’ve done some serious damage to the last monster, Link thought as she squirreled away a still-pulsating handful of moblin guts.

Link!” He lifted his head to see Sidon sprinting towards him. His heart fluttered in his chest as the Zora’s face lit up with a dazzling grin. “I’ve been waiting for you! Welcome to the pride of my people: the Zora’s domain!” He spread his arms, gesturing to the glowing structures around him.

Link managed to tear his eyes away from the prince at Aidan’s breathless, “Wow.”

Wow indeed. There was something magical about the pillars that flanked them, casting a pale light on everyone. Link felt strangely comforted by the ethereal glow. It’s beautiful here, Link told Sidon. He was sure the prince knew—he lived here, after all—but Sidon looked pleased by Link’s praise nonetheless.

“Your words are too kind, my friend. Now, given the urgency of the situation at hand, I would lead you to the king, but…” he trailed off, his eyes softening with sympathy. “As I was patrolling the waters on the way here, I noticed that the monsters were acting more ferociously than before.” Sidon cocked his head to the side, looking thoughtful. “We may be in store for a blood moon soon,” he mused. “But that aside, I would like to offer you a bed to sleep in for the night.”

No, it’s fine, Link signed. Sleep can wait.

Sidon looked unconvinced and Link wasn’t exactly helping his case by swaying on his feet. He felt Aidan steady him with a hand on his elbow. “I admire your drive,” Sidon said gently, “but I must insist. It is late in the night and I fear the job we wish to entrust you with is best completed in the day. Please, take my offer and rest.”

Link glanced at Aidan. She looked exhausted, but her eyes were bright with concern. “He has a point,” she whispered. “I don’t think it’s really polite for us to meet the king as we are right now.” She gestured to them both, mud-splattered and ragged. Half of Aidan’s hair was plastered to her face and the other half hung limply around her shoulders. Link was suddenly hit with the inexplicable urge to swaddle her in blankets. “Let’s just make sure to look our best tomorrow, okay?”

He didn’t quite understand what she meant; nothing that they owned seemed fancy enough to wear in front of royalty. Even his brand-new stealth armor looked plain next to the silver accessories that decorated the Zora before them. His champion’s tunic might work, but it had been a hundred years since anyone had seen him wear it. He wasn’t sure if people would still recognize the sky-blue fabric or the white patterns printed onto it.

In other words, his wardrobe was poorly equipped to meet someone as revered as a king.

But looking at the expressions on Sidon’s and Aidan’s faces, he supposed seeing the king tomorrow wouldn’t make too much of a difference. That, and he was pretty sure that his knees were going to give out from under him within the next few minutes.

Link turned to Sidon, who was waiting for his answer patiently. Okay, I’ll take you up on your offer then, he said. The relief on the prince’s face made Link’s cheeks flush red; maybe he really did look as pitiful as Aidan was suggesting.

“Excellent. Now, if you could just follow me…” Sidon guided them past two Zora guards and onto a large plaza that made up the first floor of the domain. Link saw a glowing statue from the corner of his eye and felt his feet stutter to a stop. Aidan bumped into him and let out a small grumble before she turned to follow his gaze. Link stared at the sculpture, his eyes roaming over the gentle expression on its face and its luminescence in the night.

He wasn’t sure how long they were standing there for, but the sound of Sidon’s voice brought him back to his senses. The Zora prince stood at his side, his words gentle and soothing. “Are you alright? Do you need my assistance to reach the inn?”

Link gazed up at Sidon. The was a subtle sadness in the curve of his eyes, but Sidon merely smiled at him. “Come, my friend,” he said, resting a hand on Link’s back. “Let us see you to bed.”

They were steered into a small alcove and the pouch of rupees in Link’s grasp was gently pushed aside by much larger, steadier hands. He heard hushed whispers and felt Aidan’s grip tighten on his elbow, but he couldn’t muster the energy to take in his surroundings. Sidon led Link forward, his words lost on unhearing ears.

Link nodded—he wasn’t entirely sure why—but after a few seconds, he heard a small click and realized he and Aidan were alone. He felt her hand close around his as she pulled him forward a few steps and he felt her tug on his shirt. Her warmth retreated from him as he started to strip, leaving his muddied clothes in a small heap on the floor.

He flinched when a cool, damp cloth dragged across his cheek, but relaxed when he realized Aidan was cleaning the grime from his face. He dozed as she wiped down his arms and legs, lifting each appendage obediently when she tapped on them. Eventually, she took his hand again and led him to what felt like the softest bed he had ever touched. With a groan, he slipped under the covers and buried his face into a pillow. In the next moment, he was out cold, drifting along the waves of sleep.

¤     ¤     ¤

There was someone smiling at him, Link thought. Warm amber eyes regarded him with fondness and he strained to hear the words that were being spoken to him. But the sound of rushing water drowned out that person’s voice, flooding Link’s eardrums as the world around him faded away.

When Link woke up, he could feel Aidan’s breath ghosting over his skin. She was sleeping on his outstretched arm, her hands tucked under her chin. Bits and pieces of last night slowly came back to him as he shook off sleep’s embrace. He’d left his clothes in a small pile somewhere, he thought as his body started waking up. He’d have to do laundry before the mud fully dried. Or was he supposed to wash them after it did?

Aidan stirred and yawned. He lay still as she squinted at him with hazy eyes. “Morning,” she croaked.

Morning. He didn’t know what time it was, but the room was still dark, so he supposed it wasn’t too late in the day. We have something important to do today, don’t we, he asked, already dreading the answer to his rhetorical question.

“Oh, nothing too big. Just have an audience with the king of the Zora and save his people from unrelenting rainfall. And we have to take Vah Ruta back from Ganon, but that’s all child’s play.” Aidan burrowed her nose into the crook of his elbow. He felt her smile against his skin when he groaned. “That Prince Sidon’s such a gentleman,” she said, lifting her head. “He led you around like you were his partner in a dance. He didn’t even let you pay for using one of the expensive beds.”

Link felt his cheeks flush—from shame or general embarrassment, he wasn’t sure. What should I do? he asked.

“Just do an extra-good job of solving the problem at hand,” she said flippantly, as if quelling a Divine Beast was on the same level as putting one foot in front of the other. “You can have a round two of charming him with your overall heroism, especially since you played the exhausted damsel last night.”

He hid his face in his hands, his movements an almost exact replication of Paya’s. Stop reminding me, he groaned. Aidan snickered and he felt the corner of his lips pull up at the sound. Well, no time like the present, he sighed, sitting up.

“There you go,” Aidan said. “Great attitudes get you…somewhere, I guess.” She laughed when Link threw her a withering look, the acidity of his expression sweetened by the smile he was fighting.

In a few minutes, he was dressed in his champion’s tunic and a pair of pants he was certain he’d only worn twice since the last time he washed it. Aidan fiddled with his Sheikah slate as he wrapped patterned bandages down his forearms, storing away his muddy clothes and retrieving some skewers for breakfast. Link pulled a face—he still wasn’t entirely sure how the slate’s storage system worked, but he hoped that his dirty laundry wouldn’t end up making contact with the rest of his mostly-clean clothes.

Aidan wrinkled her nose sympathetically at him and she handed him a fish skewer. “I’ll help you scrub them later,” she told him. “We’ll want to stop by a general store to see if we can pick up some more soap; the nugget we got from that random traveler is almost gone.”

Link nodded, taking a bite of his cold fish. They’d saved a young Hylian from a bokoblin on their way to Hateno and the only thing he could spare was a small bar of soap. Most of his belongings had already been robbed by someone he called a Yiga. Link and Aidan had both felt bad for him, so they ended up escorting the young traveler to a nearby stable before continuing on their journey.

Aidan ducked into their small bathroom and Link took the opportunity to think about the dream he had. He couldn’t remember much, just amber eyes and a silver spear, but something about that person had comforted him. The air around them had been as gentle as their gaze. Link closed his eyes, trying hard to focus on the few details that lingered in his head. He knew them, he was sure. Could it have been…?

“Ready to go?” Link’s head shot up at the sound of Aidan’s voice. He hadn’t heard her come back from the bathroom. She was staring at where his fingers were buried in the hem of his shirt and he dropped the fabric quickly.

Yep. Aidan smiled and made a grand gesture toward the door.

“After you,” she cooed. She dissolved into giggles when Link made a face at her. “No, seriously, I think the innkeeper would be freaked out if the door opened and no one stepped out. I don’t think we made the best impression being dragged in last night, so you might want to go outside and fix things.”

Link opened the door and poked his head out. The beds in the common area were empty and he inched his way out of his private room. In the space beyond the common area, a blue Zora waved at him. “Hello there, traveler! Did you enjoy your night on our blissful water bed? I was thinking it was about time to wake you.” He smiled brightly as Link and Aidan approached. “Prince Sidon is waiting for you in the throne room. You can find it on the upper floors of the domain.”

Thank you, Link signed, reaching for his pouch of rupees. It was uncomfortably light, but hopefully he had enough to pay for the bed. If not, there were a couple of monster parts he could sell to make up the difference. The bed was amazing; I’ve never slept so well in my life. How much do I owe you?

The innkeeper looked confused for a few seconds before his eyes widened with understanding. “No, no, please don’t worry about it,” he said, waving his hands. “You stayed with us as a guest of Prince Sidon’s. You owe us nothing.”

Link’s fingers faltered and he stared at the blue Zora. This was humiliating, he thought, feeling heat rush to his cheeks. Not only had he been unfit to meet with the king last night, but he’d also slept in a bed he didn’t pay for. If Sidon had offered the free accommodations to him after he helped them with Vah Ruta, he probably wouldn’t feel as bad. But unfortunately, as he had yet to do anything for the Zora, this felt like something he didn’t deserve.

The innkeeper looked as uncomfortable as Link felt and fidgeted with his silver belt. “Well, perhaps you can stay at our inn the next time you are in the Zora domain,” he suggested. “Not many travelers have been coming by as of late, and we would greatly appreciate your patronage.”

Link didn’t feel particularly swayed by the blue Zora’s suggestion, but he also had a feeling that this was an argument he wasn’t going to win. He was tempted to just throw rupees at the innkeeper and run away, but since he still had business in the domain, that plan would probably backfire. Maybe he could get away with leaving some rupees on the front desk if the innkeeper wasn’t paying attention…

Aidan jabbed him in the side and he flinched. “Stop plotting,” she hissed, “If it makes you feel better, I’ll slip him a couple rupees later; we have more important business to do.” She crossed her arms and gave him a stern look. “You wouldn’t want to keep the prince waiting, especially after all those favors he’s done for you.”

She was right, Link thought, stepping out of the inn with a regretful glance at the innkeeper. He bid them goodbye with a bright smile, oblivious to their schemes.

Link was about to head up the nearest staircase before Aidan held him in place by his shirt. She pointed to the space behind the Zora statue and Link’s eyes widened when he saw a familiar orange glow. “That’s a shrine, isn’t it?” Without waiting for his response, Aidan headed over to it, bright-eyed and curious.

I thought we were in a hurry, Link protested weakly as he caught up to her.

“But there’s a shrine,” Aidan shot back at him. “They won’t miss us for another twenty minutes—and besides, this’ll make traveling to the domain a lot easier.”

Link frowned but activated the shrine anyway. You’re in charge of making up the excuse for why we’re late, he told her.

“That’s fine. I’ll just tell them we were distracted by how pretty the Zora domain was.” Aidan’s brow furrowed when the shrine opened and they stepped onto its platform. “Actually, no, that makes it sound like we can’t focus. And if we say that we just woke up late, the innkeeper can testify against us and then we’d look like liars…” Her voice petered out into a low grumble and Link gave her an encouraging pat on the back as they began Ne’ez Yohma’s trial.

It was fortunate that Sidon greeted them with a smile and no questions about their whereabouts because Aidan hadn’t been able to think of a single reasonable excuse during the hour they’d spent splashing around the shrine. Twenty minutes, huh? Link mused, keeping his expression straight as he followed Sidon.

“Shut up,” Aidan snapped. “I’m not the one who kept getting run over by boulders.”

¤     ¤     ¤

That went well, Link grumbled as he and Aidan left the throne room.

“Yeah, who knew that Zora were so long-lived? Prince Sidon didn’t peg me as someone over a hundred, but, well, neither did you.” Aidan’s smile faltered when Link twisted the hem of his shirt. “Look, as much as it sucks that half of the Zora population hates you for something you don’t even remember, at least their king and prince aren’t interested in burning you at the stake. Whatever happened back there,” she gestured in the general direction of the throne room, “was much better than what happened in Kakariko.”

I guess. King Dorephan had seemed more heartbroken at the news of Link’s lost memories than disappointed. Impa’s reaction had been substantially colder. Maybe Zora are just more optimistic than the Sheikah.

“That’s nicer than how I would have put it,” Aidan snorted. “I’d say King Dorephan and Prince Sidon are more forgiving than anyone else who’s remembered you so far. Which, really, is the polite thing to do. It’s unfair to expect someone to immediately go and save the world after they’ve been in a coma for a century.”

Link nodded, but he didn’t feel like he fully agreed with Aidan’s sentiment. As kind as King Dorephan and Sidon were, the fact remained that he barely remembered anything about Mipha. He knew she was a fellow champion, but he couldn’t recall what he had meant to her. What she had meant to him. Link almost wished they hated him like Muzu did, just so that he wouldn’t have to feel guilty over their kindness.

A shriek of pain startled him out of his thoughts. When he lifted his head, he saw an elderly Zora glaring at a shock arrow. Stupefied, he stared as the Zora reached out to touch the arrow, screeching when it unsurprisingly shocked him.

Aidan burst into laughter next to him and he turned his incredulous stare onto her. “I’m so sorry,” she wheezed, “I just, it’s so ridiculous, I…” She broke off into another fit of giggles when the Zora shocked himself again. “I know this looks horrible, but…” she trailed off, a sheepish grin rippling across her face at the next shriek. “I have no excuse.”

“Lady Mipha, watch as I, Seggin, strike down Divine Beast Vah Ruta in your name!” the elderly Zora shrilled. He slowly outstretched a clawed hand, a hardened look of determination on his face.

I can’t keep watching this, Link groaned, stepping forward. He snatched the shock arrow out from under Seggin, closing his fingers around it tightly when the Zora rounded on him in outrage.

“You! You’re Link!” His eyes narrowed and he hissed, “Now I can finally avenge Lady Mipha. I have waited a hundred years, but I, the Demon Sergeant Seggin, will finally cut you down!”

Link’s brow furrowed. Avenge?

Somehow, his question seemed to set Seggin off even more. “You cannot fool me!” the elder screeched. “You failed to protect Lady Mipha from Calamity Ganon! It has been one hundred years since we have lost her.” Seggin’s voice dropped and he looked withered, wrought with grief. “Poor Lady Mipha…”

Link didn’t know what to say. I can calm Vah Ruta, he tried.

Seggin let out a howl of outrage. “We will not ask for your help, Hylian,” he snarled. “Not when you have already failed us. Not when we lost Lady Mipha at your hands.” He jerked up his chin defiantly, but his eyes were steady with determination. “Even if my body is destroyed, I will drown Ruta in shock arrows.” His expression darkened with anguish. “Maybe then will Lady Mipha’s soul be at ease.”

He turned on his heel and stalked off. Link watched as the Zora disappeared from sight, his fingers loosening around the stolen shock arrow. Aidan, who had been silent during their exchange, opened her mouth to speak.

“His name is Seggin, right? According to Prince Sidon, he’s the one who shot Vah Ruta with a shock arrow. If he’s the most shock-resistant of the Zora, then these guys are really in trouble.” Her dark gaze met his. “If the only Zora who’s managed to land a hit on Vah Ruta is someone who screams every time he touches a shock arrow, then the situation’s more dire than I thought.”

Link stared at the arrow in his hand. Do you feel bad for laughing at him then?

“Yeah, but how am I supposed to go apologizing for it? I can’t talk to the guy, so you’d have to apologize in my stead. How would that work? ‘Sorry, my invisible friend feels bad that she laughed at you when you kept shocking yourself on that arrow.’” She scowled at him before her expression shifted into one of resolve. “The least we can do is solve their Vah Ruta problem as fast as we can.” She nodded towards the stairs leading down to the first floor of the domain. “Let’s go see if Prince Sidon’s had any luck in convincing Muzu,” she said softly.

Link nodded and followed her down the stairs. They found the two Zora arguing in front of Mipha’s statue while everyone else in the vicinity kept their eyes averted. Muzu glared at Link as he drew closer.

“You have come here in vain,” he seethed. “I have no interest in speaking with you. Leave this domain at once.”

“Muzu, there is something that you must know,” Sidon pleaded. “There were many things that Mipha chose to keep from us. I, having been a child at the time, had not understood the nature of her feelings toward Link. In your case, I believe my sister chose not to share them with you because of your prejudice against Hylians.” Sidon glanced at Link as he continued, “But in my father’s stories, it was apparent that Mipha harbored a deep love for the Hylian Champion. The very champion,” he murmured, “who stands before us now.”

Link’s heart thudded at Sidon’s words. Muzu, who seemed equally shocked, recoiled at the news. “That’s inconceivable,” he stammered. “Lady Mipha would not—not with this ruffian—” he broke off, scrambling for words. “I refuse to believe that! Not when he doesn’t remember Lady Mipha himself!”

Sidon turned to Link, his expression firm but gentle. “Link,” he murmured. “Do you truly not remember my sister? The way she spoke to you? The way she cared for you?” His eyes softened. “Can you not find her memory in your heart?”

Link’s eyes flickered over to the statue before them. He followed the details carved into the dips and grooves of the luminous stone. It looked identical to the Mipha who had appeared in the one memory he had. He squinted at the statue’s face and felt his breath catch when color began to bleed into the stone. Crimson red, powder white and warm amber brought her form to life, and as Sidon and Muzu’s faces began to fade into the background, Link found her sitting beside him, a gentle glow emitting from her hands.

Chapter Text

Link.” His eyes flew open and he found himself caught in Aidan’s gaze. Her eyebrows furrowed and he could feel the heat of her hands from where they cupped his face. The sound of his breathing and heartbeat were abrasive to his ears. “I think you just had another flashback,” she told him. “We’re in the Zora domain. It’s eleven in the morning. It’s still raining.”

From the corner of his eye, Link saw another figure shift into view. Sidon peered at him worriedly, his mouth pressed in a thin line. “Link, are you unwell?” the prince asked him. “You’re quivering like a hatchling.”

Link tore his eyes away from Sidon and looked at Aidan. Her expression was still blank, but he could sense the concern radiating off of her. I saw her, Link signed, hands moving in a flurry. She healed me.

Aidan’s eyes widened. “Mipha?” she whispered.

I remember her, Link said. We were on Vah Ruta. She, his fingers faltered. She wanted us to spend some time together.

He heard someone spluttering to his left and he turned to see Muzu with a flabbergasted expression on his face. “That’s absurd!” the Zora said. “Only claiming to remember her when it is most convenient. You should be ashamed of yourself, Hylian!”

“Muzu,” Sidon warned, “Link is a guest of the King. You must watch your tongue.”

Link turned his attention to Sidon, his mind racing. You look like her, he signed. You’re the same color of crimson. Her eyes were more orange than yours, he thought as Sidon’s eyes widened. Her fins faded in the same blue-yellow gradient. Her ornaments sounded like windchimes.

“Stop this farce immediately,” Muzu snarled, snapping Link out of his daze. “I refuse to acknowledge this. If you want to prove to me that Lady Mipha truly had feelings for you—if you want me to believe this nonsense, then I need solid proof!”

Sidon’s expression hardened. “Do I have your word that you will help Link if he is able to provide you with such proof?” he asked.

“I will tell you how to get those shock arrows,” Muzu said, “and anything else you wish to know, but only if you show me proof.”

“Very well.” Sidon turned to Link. “Do you remember the Zora armor my father gifted you? I want you to wear it in front of him.”

Link took the armor out of the Sheikah slate and cocked his head when Sidon looked at him expectantly. He glanced at Aidan, wide-eyed. Her expression mirrored his. Am I supposed to change into this right now? He asked her.

“I guess,” she told him. “Put it on.”

Link ripped off his fingerless gloves and tugged off the champion’s tunic. He quickly unwound the bandage wraps from his forearms and stripped off the white long-sleeved shirt underneath. He pulled the Zora armor over his head while Aidan transferred his shed clothes into the Sheikah slate.

Sidon gave Link a once-over when he finished adjusting the garment and seemed satisfied with what he saw. Muzu, who had watched Link change with distaste, paled when Link turned to him. “Impossible,” he stammered. “Lady Mipha made that armor by hand…yet it fits you perfectly?”

“Even if you do not believe my words or the stories of my father, I trust that you can see the nature of my sister’s feelings in the weave of that armor,” Sidon told Muzu. The elderly Zora shook his head, his entire frame shaking. The prince gazed at Mipha’s statue with somber eyes. “Perhaps she meant to give that to you after the fall of Calamity Ganon,” he whispered, casting his gaze toward Link. “Perhaps she meant to tell you of her love once all of Hyrule was safe.”

Link stared down at his gloved hands. This was the depth of her love for him, he realized. The armor fit him like a second skin, supple and smooth. From the scaly mesh that protected his shoulders and back to the bright silver plates, Link could sense the time and care that went into the garment. She had made this to protect him. Just like she had promised. Just like he remembered.

He took a deep breath and looked at Muzu. The elderly Zora looked resigned, his shoulders sagging from the weight of Mipha’s feelings. “Very well,” he said. “I will keep my word to you.” He lifted his hand and pointed to the top of a jagged peak to the east. “There is a terrible beast that makes its home on the top of Shatterback Point. It possesses a large quantity of shock arrows. I predict you will need about twenty of them to face Vah Ruta.”

“You must mean the lynel!” Sidon’s eyes widened in understanding and he turned to Link to explain. “A lynel is a vicious foe, capable of taking down many seasoned warriors,” he said. “I suppose challenging it would be the quickest way to acquire the shock arrows we need against the Divine Beast. While confronting the lynel would be a dangerous endeavor, I am sure that you will be able to rise to the occasion.”

Seasoned warrior? Link was able to take down a small group of bokoblins with no trouble, but he didn’t think it elevated him to seasoned warrior status. He could barely hold off three lizalfos at the same time. Link glanced quickly at Aidan, whose ashen face did little to boost his confidence. If anything, it made the task at hand seem that much more daunting.

Link flinched when two large hands landed on his shoulders, Sidon’s citrine eyes boring into his. “I will be waiting for you by the East Reservoir Lake, where the Divine Beast rests,” he said. “Gather at least twenty arrows and then come join me.” He flashed Link a bright smile. “Worry not, my friend. I have complete confidence that you will be able to obtain the arrows.

I believe in you.”

¤     ¤     ¤

When he felt a low growl vibrate through his bones, he knew he had been caught. He yanked the shock arrow out of the pine tree and whirled to see the lynel unsheathing its sword. He could feel the fairies fluttering in his side pouch, undoubtingly shaken by the tension that filled the air.

Hide, he told Aidan. His hand was shaking as he reached for his own sword, but when he closed his fingers around the hilt, he was relieved to find that his grip was steady. Deep breaths, he thought, taking his shield off his back. Pay attention to your surroundings. Don’t let it corner you.

The lynel charged forward and Link’s lungs froze. His feet felt like they were planted into the earth. The monster thundered closer, each impact of its hooves shaking the ground. He couldn’t move. He couldn’t jump out of the way.

Link raised his shield just as the lynel swung its sword down. The shield splintered in his hands and he buckled under the force of the monster’s blow. Get up, he told himself. His boots were slipping on the grass. Get up.

The lynel swiped at him again and Link managed to leap out of the way. He bolted for the nearest boulder he could see—anything to put some distance between himself and the beast. Just as he managed to get a few feet away, Link heard the crackling of a shock arrow zipping toward him.

He threw himself to the ground and rolled to the side. The arrow shattered as it hit the earth, casting a large electrical field around itself. He hadn’t been quick enough to completely avoid getting shocked by it and Link bit the inside of his cheek to ignore the pain shooting up his right leg. By the time he was back on his feet, the lynel was already notching the next arrow.

It wasn’t much of an opening, but it was something. Link sprinted forward, twisting his shoulders back to add momentum to the swing of his sword. The lynel loosed the arrow and Link screamed as electricity raced up his spine. But his hand was steady and his sword cut cleanly across the monster’s flank. Link felt the corners of his mouth pull up triumphantly at the lynel’s cry even as his vision wavered.

The beast snarled and slotted its bow onto its back. Link drew back from the lynel as it reached for its sword, hoping to make use of his charging attack again. The lynel’s nostrils flared as Link increased the distance between them and quickly re-equipped its bow.

Link’s blood ran cold. He wasn’t sure if he could still hold onto his sword if he got hit with another one of those shock arrows. He threw himself forward, cursing himself vehemently as the lynel drew back its bowstring.

But the arrow didn’t come. Link’s jaw dropped as an explosion knocked the lynel off balance, its blue light brilliant in the rain. He whipped his head around to see Aidan standing at the top of a nearby boulder, a shield gripped in her hands. “You idiot!” she hissed. “It’ll shoot you if you’re too far away!” Her dark eyes burned into him. “You have to dodge its attacks!”

She flung a shield at him and he jumped to close his fingers around its rim. He wrapped his hand around its center grip as the lynel steadied itself from the blast. It whirled around, eyes flashing as it caught sight of Aidan. Link’s heart pounded as she glared down at the lynel and leapt off her perch.

The lynel took a step toward her and Link drove his sword into its upper foreleg. The monster howled and reared up on its hind legs as it refocused its attention on him. Link saw the cold steel of its blade glint as the lynel swung at him and he felt his muscles freeze as the sword came closer.

It was going to cut him in half.

Just as suddenly, he felt as if someone was standing behind him. There was a hoarse voice in his ear and the image of a withered priest came to the forefront of Link’s mind. The lynel in front of him transformed into a guardian scout, the bright blue of its ancient axe swinging around to hit him. He was back in the shrines, practicing the timing of his movements.

Jump out of the way of an attack at the last moment to execute a perfect dodge,” Ta’Loh Neg rasped.

Link felt as if time was slowing. His back arched as he flipped over the axe, hearing the whistle of its blade as it went past, just an inch away from cutting into his body. He felt his feet land on the ground before he launched himself forward, his sword swinging up in the first of a flurry of attacks. The guardian scout clanked when he struck it with his first blow, but it sounded more bestial when he swung a second time.

The guardian began to fade away by the fifth swipe and Link stared as a lynel took the scout’s place. Deep cuts were scored into its chest and waist, dark blood dripping from the open wounds. The beast snarled at him and drew away, its hooves digging into the grass. It turned sharply, charging towards him with deadly intent.

He wasn’t going to be quick enough to dodge it this time. The lynel’s sword glanced off his shield and miraculously didn’t shatter it, but Link didn’t have time to feel relieved. He braced himself as the lynel tucked its weapon away and thundered forward, all six limbs pounding against the ground.

Now.” Link leapt to the right and raised his sword as everything began to slow. He could see the sweat droplets forming on the lynel’s hide, the dirt under its claws, and each strand of its mane. His sword sliced cleanly through flesh as he brought it down and Link had barely landed when he cut into the lynel again.

His weapon creaked ominously in his hand on the fourth slash and Link felt time catch up to him when it shattered on the fifth swing. He stared up at the lynel, right hand grasping uselessly at the empty air before he hid behind his shield.

The lynel snarled and swiped at him. Link ducked and leapt back as the monster kept advancing with each swing of its sword. His heartbeat and the rushing sound of his blood flooded his ears as he circled the beast.

Logic dictated that he should feel afraid. He was facing a wounded, bloodthirsty monster with nothing but a badly damaged shield. His bow and quiver were heavy on his back, but there wasn’t enough time or space for him to draw an arrow and shoot it. The lynel’s sword whistled only centimeters away from his neck, it’s bright white edge promising to slice him into ribbons.

Yet Link felt steadier now than any time he had before. Gone was the confusion and loss of self he felt as he woke up alone in the Shrine of Resurrection as was the guilt and resentment that plagued him when he stood before Impa. His lungs were aching and his throat was burning, but each breath that he drew felt crisp and energizing. His body moved smoothly with him, twisting effortlessly as he danced away the lynel’s sword.

Link!” A spear glanced the monster’s flank and buried itself in the ground next to him. The lynel reared up with a bloodcurdling scream and drew back, undoubtedly determined to charge at Link again. Link looked up to see Aidan staring at him, her chest heaving from exertion and her eyes bright and alert. He felt the corners of his mouth quirking up in a grin.

You’re a better shot than you thought, he told her as he ripped the spear from grass.

“Keep your eyes in front of you,” she quipped, ducking out of view.

Link leapt away from the blitzing lynel’s sword. He unleashed a flurry of jabs the next time he dodged the monster’s lunge and managed to roll away with nothing more than a few scratches.

The lynel was getting desperate. With a bellow, it swung its sword at Link, the blade singing as it cut through the air. Link leapt to the right and twisted his body, readying his spear for another attack.

Unfortunately, he hadn’t been watching the lynel’s movements close enough. Its shield slammed into him from the right, knocking the air out of his lungs and sending him tumbling through the grass. Link’s eyesight swam as he scrambled onto his hands and knees. His fingers closed around his spear and he turned to face his attacker, but the lynel was already upon him.

He didn’t feel the pain until the sword had already cut through his body. Link screamed, the sound filling the clearing and bouncing off the trees. His hands flew to his side as he fell, something warm and sticky lapping at his fingers when he found where the lynel’s sword had passed through him.

That should have been his end. The lynel towered over him, its warm breath misting over his face as it stared at him. But then the monster stepped away, the sound of its hooves fading as it increased the distance between them. It was going to charge at him again, Link realized blearily. It didn’t want to kill him just yet. Not when it could still play.

There was a strange tinkling noise in his ear and Link felt his breath stutter as his wounds began to close under his fingers. A fairy flew in dizzying circles around him and he shivered when he felt its magic stitch him back together. In the distance, he heard a faint explosion and another enraged snarl. The fairy completed another loop around him and disappeared in a bright flash of light.

Shaking, Link rose to his feet, his chest heaving as his hands retrieved his spear from where it had fallen. When his eyes caught sight of the lynel, his blood ran cold.

Aidan stood before the monster, her arms wrapped protectively around the Sheikah slate. Her dark eyes blazed with defiance and stubbornness, but Link could read her fear in the rapid rise-and-fall of her chest.

There was something in her hand, he realized. He started running toward her even as his legs felt like gelatin and his feet were slipping against the muddy earth. Everything in front of him was playing out in slow motion. The lynel swiped at Aidan and she ducked, the edge of the monster’s sword missing her by just centimeters. Link saw the shock arrow in her hand before she buried it into the lynel’s chest. She rolled away when the lynel howled and tried to get back on her feet.

In three broad steps, Link reached her. He grabbed her by the arm and thrust her behind him. The lynel whirled around with a snarl, its mane flaring around its head. The beast leaned back, preparing to lunge toward them and crush them between its sword and shield.

Link took advantage of the brief opening and thrust his spear forward. He felt the head of his weapon sink deep into the lynel’s chest, but his hands were too weak to hold onto the spear as the monster recoiled. Link ripped his shield off his back, retreating a step in anticipation for any form of retaliation.

But it never came.

The lynel staggered, hands closing around the spear lodged in its chest. Link stared as the monster tore the weapon out with a pained cry, blood pouring from the open wound. The lynel swayed for a few seconds before it collapsed, the earth shaking underneath its weight. After one last shudder, it lay still.

Link felt his shoulders drop, his shield falling to the ground beside him. A warm hand closed around his and he turned his head to meet Aidan’s eyes.

“Is it dead? Did we win?” Her gaze flickered to the fallen lynel. It didn’t stir.

The adrenaline buzzing through Link’s veins suddenly disappeared. With a groan, he leaned onto Aidan, his knees buckling underneath him. Her hands came up and pressed against his back. “That’s it, I got you,” she told him. “You did it.”

He let out a breathless chuckle and nuzzled into her shoulder. His limbs felt gelatinous, and he sagged against her for a few seconds before he peeled himself away. After all, there were still arrows to collect and monster parts to harvest.

How many shock arrows do we have right now?

“Well, we had eight when the lynel saw you,” she said. “I don’t know if you saw, but I stabbed him with one, so right now we only have seven.”

Look at you, he teased. Wasting all my arrows.

She wrinkled her nose at him, her eyes glittering playfully. “Yeah, yeah, I’ll go on arrow duty and fetch you all the arrows lying around here. Speaking of which,” she trailed off, scanning their surroundings. “Either that lynel is trigger-happy or it just really, really hates trees. I think I see three arrows in that one.” She pointed to a large pine tree just a few feet away. Several bright-yellow arrows stuck out of it.

Link took a step toward the lynel and wobbled. Aidan’s arms flew up to steady him again and she frowned. “Maybe you should rest for a little bit,” she told him. “It’s only eight PM.”

I should harvest some monster parts as soon as I can, Link said. I don’t want to wait too long and have it all deteriorate.

“Okay, then. Just let me know if you need my help.” Aidan handed him the Sheikah slate and headed for the nearest arrow-riddled tree. Link pointed the slate at the lynel corpse and its screen lit up, informing him that horns and hooves could be harvested from the beast. He rifled through his remaining weapons until he found something that could work as a cleaver and started hacking away at the monster’s body.

By the time Aidan returned, Link was sitting on the ground and cleaning off the lynel’s weapons. She made an impressed noise when he wiped down its sword. “Aside from the fact that that sword almost killed both of us,” she said, dropping the spoils of her foraging, “it’s got a really nice blade.”

The lynel’s bow is amazing, Link told her, nodding over to the weapon. It can shoot three arrows at once.

Aidan’s eyes widened. “Seriously? That’s so cool! But I wonder if that means that you’ll have to use three arrows when you shoot it.”

That’s the weird thing, Link sighed, passing her the Sheikah slate so she could see its analysis of the lynel’s weapons. Apparently, it uses one arrow and spits out three.

“That sounds like—”

Ancient magical bullshit?

Aidan snickered. “Now you’re getting it. But no, it’s just regular magical bullshit. Ancient magical bullshit is this thing’s ability to tell you everything you need to know from a picture.” She waved the slate at him as if to prove her point. “Our shock arrow count is up to thirty. Now we have more than enough to take on Vah Ruta and then some.”

I guess we should go meet Sidon soon, Link said, rising to his feet. What time is it?

“Nine thirty. At least now we know that skall lynels aren’t something to be worried about.” Aidan glanced at what remained of the lynel. As with most monster bodies, it was already starting to deteriorate into some strange black mist. “We should probably set up a fire somewhere and get some food into you. It’s been a long day.”

Let’s head down to the waterfall then, Link suggested. I don’t really want to eat next to that.

“Yeah, that sounds reasonable,” Aidan said distractedly, scrolling through the slate. “Wait a minute—that thing was only a red lynel? If we don’t get better at fighting, we’re going to get the shit kicked out of us,” she groaned as they walked down the path from Shatterback Peak. “If a red lynel’s that hard take down, can you imagine how impossible a blue lynel would be? Is there something that comes after blue? What if there’s one that’s green like lizalfos?”

Link laughed disparagingly. I don’t want to think about that right now.

“Fair.” Aidan flinched when a raindrop hit her in the eye. “We’re not going to be able to get a fire going with all this rain,” she sighed. “Maybe we should just find some shelter under a tree and eat what we have.”

They ended up settling under a pine tree that protected them from most of the rain. Every once in a while, an especially fat raindrop would roll down its pine needles and drop onto one of them. Aidan scowled every time it happened to her, but at this point, Link was too drenched to really care.

He offered her a bite of his meat skewer and she shook her head. “Eating’s more of a hobby for me than a necessity,” she reminded him. “I don’t want to say that I’m nervous about taking on Vah Ruta, but I don’t think we have time to go back down to the Zora domain and cook up some more food. I’ll just nibble on an apple later if I get hungry.”

Okay. Link rubbed his eyes sleepily and kept eating. Aidan looked him over and frowned. Something wrong?

“I’m pretty sure I saw that lynel cut you,” she said, “but your armor isn’t ripped at all.”

Link looked down to where the sword had sliced into him. There was a dark, bloody spot where the wound had been, but there were no tears in the armor. One of my fairies healed me, he said. Maybe it fixed my clothes before it left?

“How considerate,” Aidan snorted. Her expression quickly grew curious. “I wonder if we can ask the Great Fairy to fix your clothes if they ever get ripped. Or if her upgrading your armor automatically fixes them. I know she can make them more durable, but I wonder if she can use her magic to make them self-repairing too.”

Link listened fondly as Aidan kept musing over the limits of fairy magic. With his belly full and his body weakened by some blood loss, he felt like he was about ready to pass out. But they were still on a tight schedule to save the Zora domain, so he’d have to wait before he could really find some time to rest.

Well, he was pretty sure the Zora wouldn’t fault him if he took a quick nap. He did take down a lynel, after all.

Wake me in a few hours, Link yawned, curling up on his side.

“Gotcha. Sweet dreams.”

 ¤     ¤     ¤

“Link.” There were hands on his shoulders, shaking him awake. “Link, something’s really wrong.”

Blearily, Link opened his eyes to see Aidan’s panicked face awash with red light. His skin prickled and he sat up with a jolt, his senses on overdrive. It felt like something was crawling all over him.

Link, a voice in his head said.

His heartbeat stuttered. Zelda?

Ganon’s powers peak under the hour of the blood moon, she told him. Link felt the ground beneath him rumble as skall monsters began dragged themselves out of the ground. Their bony fingers left deep gouges in the dirt. By its glow, the aimless spirits of slain monsters return to flesh. He rose to his feet, hand going straight for the sword on his back. He heard Aidan scramble up behind him. Link, Zelda whispered. Please, be careful.

Link drew in a deep breath and scanned his surroundings. Skall monsters weren’t uncommon during all hours of the night. They didn’t usually pose much of a threat—just a blow could incapacitate them—and they often appeared in pairs or trios.

But tonight was different, somehow. Link gripped his sword tighter as more skall monsters clawed up to the surface, their eyes glowing ominously as they advanced. There was at least ten of them above ground and the sound of crumbling earth told him more would join them soon. It was as if an army of the undead was rising to greet them.

The red light around them was growing darker with each passing minute. Something else was coming.

When a deafening roar filled the night sky, Link felt his heart stop.

The lynel was back.

Aidan grabbed his hand and dragged him behind her. “On the count of three, we charge,” she told him. She raised his sturdiest shield in front of her. “One. Two.” A skall bokoblin rattled its bones at them as it drew closer. “Three!” They sprinted forward, knocking over the nearest monster. Link scooped up a fallen skeletal arm and chucked it at the swarm of monsters tailing them.

“Jump,” Aidan panted as they neared edge of a waterfall. “Jump!”

Link leapt forward, pulling his paraglider open when he reached the peak of his jump. He saw the cloth above him dip slightly and knew that Aidan had perched onto the paraglider. They drifted away from the cliffs, the screeching of the skall monsters fading as they glided away.

When the adrenaline rush faded, Link realized that there were strange dark wisps floating around him. The red light had faded but there was still a deeply unsettling feeling in the air. You okay up there? he asked Aidan.

“Somehow.” She peeked her head over the edge of the sail. “You know, even though that was my first blood moon,” she said, “I have a bad feeling that they didn’t used to be like that.”

Yeah?

“Well remember what that guy at the Dueling Peaks stable said? Something about how the next blood moon was probably going to be different from all the other ones he’s experienced? He said the air’s been heavy ever since you woke up.”

Yeah, but that doesn’t explain why. Maybe the blood moon just gets more intense every hundred years or so?

“Maybe.” Aidan was silent for a few moments. “I might just be paranoid, but what if someone else knows that you’re awake? Someone else who remembers you?” He could tell she was hinting at someone, but it couldn’t be…

Link’s blood ran cold. It’s not Princess Zelda.

Aidan hesitated. “But—”

Someone else knows that I’m awake. We just haven’t met him yet.

Aidan’s eyes widened. “You don’t mean…” Her brow furrowed. “Then I suppose he realized something was up as soon as those Sheikah towers started rising out of the ground. We probably confirmed his suspicions when we went looking for that bomb trial.”

Link frowned. You think—

“Absolutely. Impa said it herself, didn’t she?” Aidan sat up, pulling away from the sail. “Ganon took over the Guardians. It only makes sense that he can see through them too.”

Chapter Text

“I will head back for the Zora domain,” Sidon said as Link slipped off his back and onto a platform on Vah Ruta’s side. “I’m afraid I won’t be able to help you tame the Divine Beast, but I have faith that you will be successful.”

Are you sure you’ll be okay? Link signed, glancing over the prince. He hadn’t been able to deflect all the projectiles Vah Ruta had fired at them, and Sidon, being the larger of the two, had taken most of each impact.

“Certainly! I consider myself quite lucky to challenge Vah Ruta and come out victorious with only some minor scrapes. You did a splendid job keeping its attacks at bay.”

Link raised his hands to disagree, but Vah Ruta shook under his feet and he had to grab onto the platform to avoid being tossed into the water. When he steadied himself and looked up, the expression on Sidon’s face was understanding. “I appreciate your concern, my friend, but I assure you my wounds are very superficial. They will not hinder me on my journey home.”

The Divine Beast cried out and began to ascend, lifting Link further into the air. “I will be eagerly waiting for your return,” Sidon called out as the distance between them increased. “Please take care on your mission to reclaim Vah Ruta!”

Link watched Sidon twist in the water and swim away. He drew in a deep breath before he turned to take in his surroundings. There was a stream of water coming from Vah Ruta’s trunk, but it was only a weak trickle. Link raised a hand to shield his eyes from the sunlight reflecting on the surface of the lake. Dawn was breaking and shadows danced over him as a honey-colored glow illuminated the world around him.

Aidan was standing near a familiar glowing pedestal. She glanced over at him when he joined her. How are you holding up? He hadn’t seen her at all during their laps around Vah Ruta, but he remembered her voice in his ear, alerting him of all incoming projectiles.

“Practically unscathed,” she said, presenting her unharmed hands. “I think I went full incorporeal when you two got in the water. I’m not entirely sure how I managed to stay with you guys when Prince Sidon started swimming, but I guess I’m not going to look that gift horse in the mouth.” She grinned wolfishly at him. “At this point, I might as well be haunting you.”

How scary, Link drawled, pressing the Sheikah slate against the pedestal.

“You should fear me. I’ll make your paraglider dip and make you plummet towards the earth,” Aidan threatened. “I’ll burn all your meals.” Link rolled his eyes as the travel gate behind them lit up. “I’ll tickle you in your sleep.”

I’m trembling in my—Link froze when a soft voice filled his ears.

You’re here. The strange mix of disbelief and joy in Mipha’s voice made his heart clench. I have waited for this day, she continued. It makes me so happy that you are here.

He wasn’t sure if he should sign, but it was better safe than sorry. He didn’t want to try projecting his thoughts to her only to find out she couldn’t hear him. I’m sorry to have kept you waiting, he told her.

She chuckled softly in his ear. All will be well now, she murmured. Her voice filled with warmth. I am delighted to fight alongside you again, she told him, but first we must free Ruta from Ganon’s control. A series of images appeared in his mind and guided him to a glowing pedestal locked behind a metal door. Let me show you where you will find a map to prevent you from getting lost.

¤     ¤     ¤

“Incoming!” The waterwheel shuddered to life and Link squinted when a fine spray of mist rained down on him. The previously blocked pipe began filling the pool he was wading in and he swam towards the waterwheel’s paddles to wait for one to lift him into the air. Once he was out of the water, he turned and glared at Aidan.

At least tell me what you’re  going to do before you do it, he grumbled.

She ignored him and looked up from the Sheikah slate. “Okay, so you’re going to want to get to the peak of the waterwheel’s rotation and paraglide straight from there.”

Link readied himself as the paddle in front of him began to descend and sprinted forward. He launched himself into the air and used his paraglider to reach a ledge just behind the water pipe. A guardian scout shook its spear threateningly at him and he shot it in the eye. There’s a button up here, he reported, giving the scout a hard whack with his sword. It crumpled in a heap on the floor.

“Step on it, I guess.”

What if monsters pop out?

“The only other place we’ve ever encountered buttons was in a shrine,” Aidan sighed. “I highly doubt monsters would come out; at worst, you’ll just have a burning lamp dangling from the ceiling.” Link couldn’t see her from where he stood, but he could almost hear her snapping impatiently at him. “Chop, chop, darling.”

Link stepped cautiously on the button. A steady stream of water began flowing from a spout just inches away from him. He peered over the edge of the platform at Aidan. Hey look, you can swim up here now, he said.

She scowled at him. “Last time I checked, there hasn’t been a Zora princess who’s fallen in love with me enough to make me some armor; so no, I can’t.”

Link frowned. Then what were you doing when I ascended all those waterfalls?

“I kind of just floated next to you when we were going up Shatterback Point. And then I hung out with Prince Sidon while you were shooting lightning bolts at Vah Ruta.” She tapped the Sheikah slate and in a flash of blue light, appeared right next to him.

And how did that go?

“About as well as you’d think it would.” She clasped her hands cheerfully together. “So, how are you doing Mr. Pretty fish boy? Pretty good? No? I guess you’re just feeling shy.” She pursed her lips. “Or maybe you just can’t see me. It’s okay, I suck at petty conversations too.” She finished her re-enactment and rolled her eyes at him. “We pretty much just stared at you the whole time. By the way, good job using that sniper bow; Prince Sidon looked pretty impressed when you took out two orbs at once.”

He did?

Aidan looked at him and laughed. “Oh god, you’re cute.” She poked him in the cheek. “Look at you, being all happy that a pretty fish boy thought you were cool.”

Shut up. He swatted at her prodding fingers. But anyway, you can’t swim up waterfalls even though I’m wearing the Zora armor? I thought you would get the same advantages of whatever armor I have on.

“How am I supposed to know? Maybe I don’t get all the abilities you have until we enhance your armor twice like that Great Fairy said. Either that, or I only benefit from stat boosts and not set bonuses”

Stat boosts? Link’s brows furrowed. Set bonuses?

“Yeah, like increased stealth or speed. Gamer shit,” she said, waving her hand dismissively. “Anyway, as much as I love theorizing with you, we have two more terminals to activate and Mipha’s waiting for us to take Ruta back.” She peered into the corridor the guardian scout had been guarding. “I’m guessing we’re heading that way?”

Guess so. Link followed her to the end of the hallway where they found themselves staring down the length of the Divine Beast’s trunk. There’s a terminal on the end of Ruta’s trunk, right? he asked.

“Yeah. Let me lower it first before you try paragliding over there.” She brought up a map of the Divine Beast’s body on the Sheikah slate and dragged her finger over the screen. Ruta trumpeted in response and began to lower its trunk. “Ready when you are,” she said.

The terminal sat on the very tip of Vah Ruta’s trunk, so they had to pay attention to the orientation of the ground underneath them as the Divine Beast moved according to their commands. Once Mipha informed them they only had one more terminal to go, Link busied himself with collecting whatever treasure he could find aboard Ruta.

You can now access the main control unit, Mipha told him when the last terminal glowed blue. There should be a new glowing point on your map. She hesitated before adding, Ganon is a dangerous foe. Please be careful as you proceed.

“Sounds like there’s a miniboss waiting for us somewhere,” Aidan said when Link relayed Mipha’s words to her. “I suppose it makes sense for the big bad to wait for us to face all his goons before he tries us on for size. Personally, I think using your grunts as distractions while you fight makes for a better strategy, but what do I know?”

Link shrugged. He wasn’t in a position to judge whether or not it was in Ganon’s best interests to play defensive, so spending time strategizing for the enemy seemed like a waste of effort. I don’t know how this fight is going to play out, he told her. Each step they took toward the main control unit filled him with dread. Whatever’s waiting for us managed to take out Mipha. And she had been one of the most revered warriors of the Zora.

“Yeah, you’re going to need to try better if you want me to go hide somewhere,” she said. “If this thing goes to shit, you bet your ass I’m going to drag your half-dead body out of here. This has nothing to do with you being the Champion of Hyrule or the Hero of Light.” She jabbed his sternum with her finger. “I’m not giving up on you even if you kick the bucket here.”

Link followed the line of her arm up to her face. And if I suddenly decide that I don’t want to do this anymore? That I don’t want to be the Hero anymore? That I don’t want to fight Ganon?

Aidan’s eyes narrowed and her finger dropped from his sternum. “You’re not a hero to me,” she said. A cold pit settled in Link’s stomach. “I don’t expect you to save me. Hell, even if only one of us came out alive, I’d be fine with it so long as you’re the one dancing on my grave. You don’t want to fight Ganon? Fine. You want to become a fisherman? Fantastic. The one thing I won’t forgive is if you walk away from something you want to do because you think you have to.”

Then what are you going to do if I die? It was a hard thing to ask, especially since it brought the topic of his mortality to the forefront of his mind. And even if it wouldn’t matter to him once he was dead, he still needed to know.

“How bold of you to assume I wouldn’t turn to necromancy,” Aidan snorted. “Granted, I have no idea if that kind of magic exists in your magic-somehow-does-and-doesn’t-exist-at-the-same-time world, you can bet it’ll be one of the first things I try. If worse comes to worse, I’ll just tell Ganon I’ve converted and see if I can hack his weird skall monster bullshit and drag your bones out of the ground.”

Link stopped dead in his tracks and stared at her. Her expression was entirely serious despite the ludicrousness of her words. She wholeheartedly believed what she had just said, he realized, a strange feeling of giddiness rising in his chest. He let out a soft laugh and shook his head, his smile widening at the furrow of Aidan’s brows.

“What? Do you really think we can’t take him?”

No, I’m just laughing at how worried I was. Link felt something warm bloom in his chest as he gazed at Aidan. I have you. And your stupid necromancy ideas.

Aidan looked disgruntled, but she merely crossed her arms and huffed. “Damn straight.”

¤     ¤     ¤

The waterblight threw its head back and screamed as malice burst out of its body. Link watched, chest heaving, as the creature crumpled onto itself and was enveloped in a burst of red light. When the light faded, he found that the flecks of malice in the air had disappeared and every breath he drew was crisp and clean.

His bow slipped from his fingers. Link sunk to his knees with a low groan and slowly eased himself onto his back. The room was being drained, he thought as water lapped at his ears instead of flooding over him. They’d won. They took down one of Ganon’s creations.

He didn’t know how long he lay there, staring at the ceiling of Vah Ruta’s insides. The ground was damp underneath him and he felt his hair sticking to his face.

Link heard a strange sloshing sound and tilted his head to see Aidan crawling toward him on her elbows and knees. Her waterlogged clothes made a squishy noise with each twist of her body. What time is it? he asked. How long has it been?

“You mean since the waterblight disappeared? Ten minutes give or take. I didn’t exactly think to check the Sheikah slate when we won.” She stopped a few inches away from him and slumped onto the ground. Aidan propped her cheek on one of her forearms. “My chest hurts,” she whined. “I take back what I said before; you’re on your own.”

He snorted and instantly regretted it when the sudden movement made his ribs ache. You took one spear to the chest and you’re calling it quits? That’s not very heroic of you.

“When did I ever call myself a hero? That sounds like your job.” She swatted at him. “Me, I’m just your stupid traveling buddy who gets dragged into all your heroic stunts.”

You called yourself stupid.

“You said it first you asshole,” she grumbled. “My necromancy ideas aren’t stupid; they’re just not the most realistic.”

I fail to understand the difference.

She threw her glasses at him and they bounced off his hip. He looked at her, unimpressed, and she made grabby hands. “Give them back.”

You’re the one who threw them, Link laughed breathlessly. He still hooked his fingers around her glasses and tossed them in her direction.

“Yeah, and you’re the idiot who actually gave them back.” She stuck her tongue out at him and he scowled playfully at her. There was something comical about how she put her glasses back on without bothering to dry them and he laughed when she squinted at him through the clouded lenses.

What a pair we make, he sighed.

Aidan mumbled a sound of agreement and Link closed his eyes. It was strangely comfortable to be lying on the cold ground, he thought, but that was probably because he was too exhausted to move.

A few more minutes passed and Link felt himself starting to drift off. He heard Aidan shift and he cracked his eyes open at her voice. “I forgot to answer your question earlier,” she yawned. He watched as she propped herself up on her elbows and poked at the Sheikah slate. “We met up with Sidon at 12:30 AM and we didn’t get into Vah Ruta until two…” She blinked owlishly at the screen. “Cripes, it’s almost 1. We’ve been in here for eleven hours.”

So in other words, we’ve been awake for thirty, Link groaned.

Aidan lifted her hand and started ticking off fingers. “We took on a lynel, got surrounded by an army of skall monsters, rode Prince Sidon around like a dolphin,” she listed off, “fought off a couple of guardian scouts, sprinted around Vah Ruta, and took down one of Ganon’s top minions.” She rolled onto her side. “No wonder I feel like I’m going to pass out. I’ve never stayed awake for so long.”

Remind me to take breaks next time, Link told her blearily. Take a preemptive nap on the next Divine Beast we board.

She huffed out a laugh. “Get on the beast, take a celebratory nap. Got it.” She twisted her torso and her back cracked in response. “I vote that we take another nap when we manage to take back its control unit,” she mumbled.

Seconded. He was drifting off already. He heard the rustle of fabric and Aidan shuffle closer to him. She draped something warm and dry over him—probably one of the blankets they stole from Rhoam—and tucked a small bundle of clothes under his head.

“Wake me up if you get up first,” she yawned.

‘kay.

¤     ¤     ¤

He woke up to the sound of someone humming. Link turned his head and saw Aidan’s figure to his right. The slow rise and fall of her side told him she was still asleep.

There was someone else in Vah Ruta. For some strange reason, the realization didn’t trouble him. Instead, Link just waited for his body to stir and become more awake. The humming continued, sweet and gentle to his ears.

When he had blinked most of the sleep from his eyes, Link sat up slowly. He frowned when his body didn’t scream in protest at the movement and looked himself over. He felt oddly rejuvenated in spite of his battle with the waterblight. Maybe Aidan used one of his fairies to heal him after he drifted off?

I healed you while you were sleeping. Link shivered when Mipha’s voice filled his mind. The humming had stopped when she spoke. Are you feeling better?

He looked around until he caught sight of her. Small blue flames danced around her seated figure and she smiled at him. Link rose to his feet, his blanket slipping from his lap and landing in a heap on the floor.

I’m sorry, he signed. For taking so long to heal. For taking so long to wake up. For not being there to save her.

For not being able to remember her.

Mipha’s expression was gentle as she stood. Yesterday, she murmured, I was awash with tears. I had nearly given up hope, having been trapped here with Ruta by Ganon’s cunning. I feared that I would never be freed from his control. She paused, amber eyes roaming over Link’s face. All this time, my hope was to see you once more. And now, you’re here. She clasped her hands to her chest. You are truly here.

She stepped closer to him. Your courage has saved us, she said. Ruta and I are most grateful.

Link shook his head. I wasn’t able to save you. Not when it mattered most.

Mipha studied him. You have a kind heart, she told him. But if you truly think that you have failed me, then one could argue that all of us have failed you in turn. We, the Champions of our respective races, were unable to fend off Ganon’s attacks and perished in battle. She ducked her head. We left you to face Ganon alone, she whispered, and it nearly cost you your life.

And it cost you yours, Link thought. I have something else to apologize for, he started hesitantly. Mipha’s eyes softened with understanding.

Is it perhaps that you are unable to remember the events that occurred 100 years ago? She giggled at the surprise on his face. I became aware of it as you roamed Ruta’s interior. While you were never as familiar with Ruta as I was, you would not have been as dependent on its map had you still been in possession of your memories. She smiled. But I am certain you will remember us, she said. All will come in time.

She gestured to the main control unit beside her. For now, please activate this terminal to return Ruta to us. We are determined to see this journey to its end at your side. Link picked up the Sheikah slate from where it lay next to him and made his way over to Mipha. Together, they watched as the terminal reacted to the slate and glowed a brilliant blue.

Link turned to Mipha. Does that mean that you’re coming with us?

She cocked her head to the side. Yes, but, also no. Ruta and I will position ourselves so that we have a clear shot at Ganon for when you go to breach Hyrule Castle, she said. However, I feel our defeat 100 years ago was in part due to the impossible expectations we placed on you and Princess Zelda. She bowed her head. And as I am now a spirit, my power is no longer of use to me. Therefore, I would like to offer it to you. When you are in need of me, I will leave Ruta’s side to heal you. She clasped her hands together. You will always have Mipha’s Grace.

An orb of light appeared in front of her and imbedded itself into Link’s chest. Warmth flooded through him and he pressed a hand against his sternum where the orb’s aura lingered. When he looked up, Mipha had turned her attention to the main control unit.

Ruta and I must go, she told him. Her smile was bittersweet as she whispered, You must save her, Link. Princess Zelda is still waiting for you.

I promise. Link saw her eyes flicker towards something behind him and he turned to follow her gaze. He saw Aidan standing with her back toward them, Link’s discarded blanket folded over the crook of her arm. When he looked back at Mipha, he was startled to see a forlorn expression on her face.

I have always wondered what it would have been like had we Champions joined you and Princess Zelda on your journeys, she murmured. Would we have laughed with one another by the dying light of a campfire? Shared stories as we traveled across mountains and fields? Perhaps if we had supported each other more, we could have given Princess Zelda the courage she needed to unlock her sealing powers. She stared at her feet. I fear we were all too preoccupied with our own duties. More concerned for our own than for the wellbeing of everyone.

Then this is our chance to make it right, Link signed. This time, we’ll fight together.

Mipha smiled at him. I would like that very much, she said. Take care, Link. I will be watching over you on your journey. She stepped away from him, the blue flames around her glowing brighter. I will always protect you.

Link watched her disappear in a flicker of blue flame before he made his way over to Aidan. Sorry for the wait, he told her.

“Did you say everything you wanted to?”

I don’t think I could have even if I had all the time in the world. He pressed an open hand to his chest, right over where Mipha’s Grace rested. It grew warm in response to his touch. But it’ll be fine. She’s going to be with us until the very end.

Aidan’s brow smoothed when he told her of his conversation with Mipha. “Well, I suppose someone has to watch over Ruta and make sure everything’s ready when we take on Ganon,” she sighed. “There goes our chance at getting another traveling companion. And here I thought things were about to get livelier.”

It’s already lively enough with you around, Link replied dryly.

“Oh right, because it’s always cheery when a pessimist and a realist travel together,” Aidan retorted. “Speaking of which, you’ve been taking my job lately. I’m supposed to be the depressing one. You’re the one who’s supposed to tell me I’m being stupid.”

Link just shook his head and laughed. He ignored Aidan’s grumbling and took out the Sheikah slate. The screen prompted him about leaving Vah Ruta and he pressed continue. A bright light enveloped the two of them and transported them out of the Divine Beast.

Chapter Text

When the light faded, Link found himself standing at the entrance of the Zora domain. The Zora warriors standing guard stared at him for a few long seconds before reacting. “Get the prince immediately!” the black Zora shouted before his fellow guard ran in the direction of the throne room. “Welcome back to the Zora domain, Master Link,” he said as he stepped forward. “Congratulations on stopping Vah Ruta’s rain! King Dorephan and Prince Sidon have been waiting eagerly for your return.”

Before he could respond to the Zora guard’s enthusiasm, a loud shout caught his attention. He looked up to see Sidon sprinting toward him with a blindingly white grin. He felt his heart swell at the sight of the crimson Zora, but something in his chest ached as the prince drew closer. “Link! I had just finished speaking with my father about going to the lake to check on you. When I saw Dunma running towards the stairs, I knew you must have returned!” Sidon asked as he slowed to a stop before Link. “Were you able to tame the Divine Beast?”

Vah Ruta is no longer under Ganon’s control, Link reported.

“Excellent! You are truly a fantastic man, Link,” Sidon told him. “Come, my father awaits you. Now that you have returned, we must celebrate your victory.” The prince gestured in the direction of the throne room and guided Link and Aidan further into the domain. When they were out of earshot of the Zora guards, Sidon lowered his voice. “Link, I must ask, are you feeling well? I have no doubts that you faced dangerous foes aboard Vah Ruta and I would like to offer you a chance to rest as soon as possible. If you are tired, I can tell my father to suspend the festivities until you are better rested.”

I’m fine, Link assured him. He hesitated before adding, I actually would’ve gotten here sooner, but I accidentally fell asleep on Vah Ruta after I managed to take down the waterblight. He winced, feeling embarrassed at his confession. I’m sorry to have worried you.

Sidon studied him for a few long seconds before his expression softened. “I’m glad you were able to find some time to rest,” he said. “I am curious about this ‘waterblight’ you speak of, but perhaps we should wait until we reach my father for you to explain your trials in detail.” The prince lifted his head to smile brightly at the Zora who crowded the second floor of the domain to watch them ascend to the throne room. Link was pretty sure he saw two red Zora swoon at the sight.

“Link!” Dorephan boomed when Link stepped into his field of vision. “You have done well to survive your trial!” Almost as if on cue, the inhabitants of the Zora domain flooded into the room behind him and Aidan. “Now that Vah Ruta’s rains have ended, our domain and the rest of Hyrule will no longer be threatened by flooding. You have gone beyond anything we could have expected of you. We are truly grateful for all that you have done to save our domain.”

Muzu, who had been waiting to the right of Dorephan’s throne, stepped forward. “On behalf of all those who have doubted you,” he said slowly, “I sincerely apologize for how we have treated you. For how I have treated you.” He bowed his head. “You have thought about this domain’s well-being from the very beginning and have risked your life to bring peace back to our people. We the council humbly fold our fins in gratitude of your heroism.”

Dorephan smiled when Link tipped his head in response to Muzu’s words. “Sidon,” the king said, turning to his son. “I am proud of you for fighting the Divine Beast alongside the Hylian Champion. Without your assistance, I am sure this trial would have been much more difficult to complete.”

The prince’s eyes widened and he shot a disbelieving glance in Link’s direction. Link beamed and nodded enthusiastically. “You have grown very much,” Dorephan continued. “I am certain you will be a worthy heir when your time comes.” The crowd of Zora behind Link echoed the king’s praise through their cheers. Sidon ducked his head bashfully and shot Link a small smile.

“Link, I must reward your efforts,” the king declared. “I present you with a treasure that was deeply cherished by Mipha. Perhaps you can think of it as a memento of sorts.” An elderly Zora stepped forward, bearing a polished trident. “May this be a symbol of our friendship and of the trust that the Zora domain has in you.”

Link took the trident and turned it over in his hands. The weight of it was strangely nostalgic, he thought. An image flickered to the forefront of his mind, unbidden, and suddenly he was gazing at Mipha. She was smaller than he remembered, her childlike hands straining to hold onto the gleaming trident a blue Zora had given her. Her gaze was steady as she gripped her weapon and strode into the sparring grounds where Link was teaching a black Zora how to fight.

A tear slid down his face. Startled, Link raised a hand to wipe it away. In the distance, he heard Dorephan say something about preparing for a celebration. When Link collected himself, the throne room was almost empty. Aidan, who had been standing beside him the entire time, rested her cheek on his shoulder. Sidon fidgeted in his place next to his father, his eyes bright with concern.

The king’s expression was gentle when Link lifted his eyes. “Perhaps that trident stirred a memory of yours?” he asked softly. “Tell me, Champion, what did you see?”

He told them. He told them of the child-sized Mipha who had marched forward with determination burning in her amber eyes and the trident that had seemed too big for her hands. When he finished describing his flashback, Dorephan’s gaze was misty and Sidon looked solemn. Link felt Aidan shift beside him and her hand squeeze his elbow. He leaned into her touch and waited for the silence to break.

“You were no stranger to the Zora domain 100 years ago,” the king said. “Even before you were named Princess Zelda’s champion, you were a familiar face to us Zora. You were but a small child when you first came to our domain. Your father, who had come to speak with us at the behest of his king, had brought you with him. While the council and I spoke to Hyrule’s ambassadors, you became fast friends with the Zora children. The memory you recalled was of Mipha’s first sparring lessons. She was learning how to fight after having perfected her healing powers.

“The trident you hold in your hands is a lightscale trident. It was dearly beloved by Mipha. I think she would have liked it if we left it in your hands.” Dorephan nodded to himself, his expression gentle. “Now that Vah Ruta is no longer causing us trouble, I wonder if Mipha’s spirit can finally be at rest.”

Actually, there’s something left that she wants to do, Link signed. He recounted his conversation with Mipha and her resolve to help him fight against Ganon. While she may not be here to say this to you, Link said, she misses you dearly. He laid a hand over where Mipha’s Grace pulsed in his chest. Something’s been clenching in my chest ever since I came back to the domain. Even though Mipha is with Ruta right now, I feel like she’s aware that I’m in your company. I think she wants you to know that she’s determined to see this to the end.

“I see.” The king closed his eyes and drew in a deep breath. “If what you say is true, then I will not stand idly by. From this day forth,” he told Link, “the Zora domain will do whatever it can to support you in your endeavors. We are prepared to send our warriors with you for when you go to face the Calamity.”

Link felt his blood run cold. Images of battered bodies began to appear in his mind, trampled underfoot by corrupted Guardians. That won’t be necessary, Link signed quickly. I’m sure I can take on the Calamity once I free all the Divine Beasts. I’m not thinking of laying siege to Hyrule Castle—I just need to sneak in to fight Ganon.

Dorephan studied him. “You are without your trusty blade,” he said. “The sword that seals the darkness, as foretold by the great prophecy.” He closed his eyes. “Perhaps we have been too dependent on that prophecy,” he sighed. “We placed all our faith on our Champions without doing much to support them. It is very likely that we lost the fight 100 years ago because we failed to stand by our Champions when they needed us. Our expectations crippled them against an unsurmountable foe and their spirits have been taken prisoner by Ganon as a result of our selfishness.

“History shall not repeat itself,” the king declared. “I appreciate your concern for the Zora, but this is something that must be done. It is not that our faith in you has diminished,” he told Link, “but rather that our faith is baseless if we hide whilst our Champions face the Calamity alone. We should have never seen them as saviors. We should have instead viewed them as our leaders and had them guide us to victory.”

“While you may struggle to accept my father’s words,” Sidon cut in, “I must say that I agree with my king. This battle will have lasting consequences on all the inhabitants in this world. It would be selfish for us to cower while we entrust our fates to a single hero.” He gazed steadily at Link. “We cannot speak for the other domains or races,” he said. “But know that the Zora will stand with you.” His expression softened. “Do not fear for our safety. We Zora are a hardy kind. Like the waters we flourish in, we are ever-changing and resilient.”

Link didn’t know what to say. He wanted to argue with the two Zora in front of him and insist that they were making the battle against Ganon seem easier than it really was. There were going to be casualties and death would be inevitable. It didn’t make sense for them to sacrifice their own when he was already willing to give up everything to stop the Calamity. Why throw lives away that could otherwise be saved?

But as he gazed at Sidon, Mipha’s forlorn expression flickered to the forefront of his mind. They were right, Link thought. This was much larger than the prophecy that predicted salvation at the hands of two individuals. If they were to lose to Ganon a second time, they risked losing everything. All they had right now was a hero of prophecy who couldn’t remember his name or the life that he had led. The odds were stacked against them, so who was he to question their decision to take what little control they had?

He felt Aidan tug on his belt and he turned his head to look at her. “Sign what I say,” she said.

I understand. Link bit his lip as his fingers moved to form her words. But I need you to promise me something. Don’t let your warriors be heroes. A lump formed in his throat at what Aidan had to say next: Heroes don’t always come home. So if I go down, I need you all to do everything you can to survive. Just because we are fighting for a future doesn’t mean we all need to die.

Sidon’s citrine eyes pierced him. “Then I suppose we are in agreeance,” he said slowly, “but those terms must apply to you as well.” Dorephan nodded, his gaze slipping from his son to Link. “I do not wish to see you die while we flee for our lives. Should we find ourselves overwhelmed, I request that you consider retreating with us. It is better to regroup and rethink our strategy than play martyr to a being that does not care for reason. I do not want a future at the cost of your life, Link.”

Link glanced at Aidan. She met his eyes steadily. “I only said that ‘if I go down’ bit because I know the lengths you’re willing to go to,” she said. “But don’t think for a second that I’m letting you die on me.” Her mouth was set in a stubborn line. “I don’t want you to be a hero. I just want you to come out of this whole.”

Link stared down at the trident tucked in the crook of his elbow. Accepting Mipha’s help hadn’t been difficult considering the fact that she had already paid the greatest price in their fight against Ganon. To put it harshly, she had almost nothing left to lose. But to expect the warriors of the Zora domain to give up their lives in an uphill battle where victory was uncertain…

Maybe he was being cruel by assuming that other participants in the fight against Ganon would inevitably die at the beast’s hands. And he was being pessimistic by failing to factor himself into the happy ending where they managed to defeat the Calamity. It probably didn’t help that he also had a savior streak buried away with the rest of the memories he couldn’t remember.

It was strange to have his wellbeing cared for when everyone else expected him to save the world. After Impa and Rhoam, he just wasn’t sure if people cared if he survived so long as he saved Zelda first.

Link lifted his head and gave Sidon a defeated smile. I might need you to cheer me up with some pep talks from time to time, he signed. He felt the heaviness on his chest lessen as the prince’s expression brightened with hope.

“I will give you as many pep talks as you need.” Sidon raised a fist to his chest. “You can also trust that any Zora will do the same. We are all rather optimistic people, so even if I may be unavailable, please feel free to find any of us to deliver some inspirational words to you!”

The king smiled and shook his head fondly at his son. “Now that we have established our allegiances,” he rumbled, “I would like to remind you both that the rest of the domain is in the midst of preparing for a celebration. Had we more time, I think we would have been able to show you how Zora truly enjoy their festivities, but I’m afraid our people are a little too enthused to properly plan out a more extravagant feast.”

“It will be splendid nonetheless!” Sidon told Link. He frowned thoughtfully. “Although, if I remember correctly, you have not had a chance to fully experience the beauty of our domain,” he said. “I apologize to have put you to work as soon as you were fit to do so, but perhaps I can interest you in a tour of the domain tomorrow? While we do have some free time before the festivities begin, I’m afraid we may get in the way of preparations if we were to go now.”

Tomorrow sounds good, Link said. Can I do anything to help?

“Please, you are the reason for the festivities,” Dorephan chuckled. “I’m afraid all the Zora would refuse your assistance. Although,” he mused, “the children may be overjoyed if the heroes who quelled Vah Ruta stopped to spend some time with them. I am certain that their parents would be most grateful if someone could distract the children.”

“Yes, certainly!” Sidon’s smile faltered when he thought about his father’s words. “Heroes?”

Dorephan eyed him with a bemused expression. “Did you not aid Link in his trial? You are as much a hero as he is. Now go on, the children are missing their playmates.” He shooed them out of the throne room with a grand sweep of his arm.

Sidon glanced nervously at Link but led him down to the second level of the domain anyway. He seemed flustered when they passed by two red Zora who squealed his name. “My people are rather fond of me,” he tried to explain. “It seems that some of the more zealous ones have decided to start some sort of fanclub.”

He looked adorably troubled by it, Link thought. Beside him, Aidan sighed.

“Of course he has a fanclub. To be honest, I wouldn’t be surprised if he had a religion made after him.” She glanced at Link playfully. “You’d make a pretty good missionary for him.”

I don’t think he’d need missionaries. He’d probably convert everyone at first sight, Link replied.

Aidan snickered. “So that’s how he got you, huh?” Link scowled and swiped half-heartedly in her direction. She squealed and danced out of the way, her dark eyes glittering at him. Despite his best efforts, he wasn’t able to squash the smile that tugged at his lips.

The three of them eventually found the children tucked in the back of the second level of the domain. They seemed to be racing the sneaky river snails that crept along the edges of the sleeping pools. Aidan made a choked noise when the Zora children looked up at them and Link furrowed his brows at her. She was clutching her chest with a pained expression.

Something wrong?

“We have to take down Ganon,” Aidan said suddenly. “He’ll have to crawl over my dead body to get to these babies.”

Link stared at her until the gears clicked in his head. They are pretty cute, he mused, glancing over at Sidon. The prince had squatted down next to the children, cheerfully answering all of their questions. Link felt his brain stutter to a stop. Yep. Very cute.

Aidan followed his gaze and laughed. “Whipped,” she teased. Her expression quickly became solemn. “But yes, I would die for them.”

No more talking about death, Link chastised her. We’re celebrating, remember? Celebrating.

She scowled at him without malice. “Oh, so now that we’re out of the throne room you’re all sunflowers and roses. I see your hypocrisy, moody mcmooderson!”

Link rolled his eyes and turned his attention to the bright-eyed Zora child who wandered over to him. “Hi mister!” he chirped. “Prince Sidon says you made it stop raining!”

Link knelt down. I did, but I had a lot of help, he signed, glancing over at Sidon. The prince’s resulting smile was blinding.

“Cool! I’m Tumbo and this is my brother Keye!” He pointed at another small blue Zora. The Zora in question bowed his head shyly in Link’s direction. Link managed to give Keye a small smile before Tumbo tugged him closer to the edge of the nearest sleeping pool. “Did you know that these snails glow in the dark?” he babbled. “They get really bright and green at night.”

He’d seen a few of them in the floodplains out by the Dueling Peaks Stable, but he acted surprised when Tumbo covered a snail with his hands to make it glow. At some point the snail race started up again so Link and Aidan cheered along with the children as they tried to encourage their chosen mollusks to crawl faster.

It was a little strange for a mute person and someone who people couldn’t hear to cheer, but the children didn’t comment so Link didn’t bother to point it out. Despite all of Tumbo’s enthusiasm and Keye’s quiet professions of support, it was Laruta’s snail that won in the end and Sidon had to speak comfortingly to the two boys while she squealed over her victory.

The next game the children wanted to play was tag. Aidan perched on the edge of the sleeping pool and watched as Link unsurprisingly became ‘it’ every time the children went after him. As the slowest swimmer and the only non-Zora of the group, it took Link several lunges before he was able to tag someone. That someone turned out to be Tumbo, whose energy made him a less-slippery swimmer than the others, but Link’s victory was short lived when the Zora tackled Laruta and she passed the title of ‘it’ back to Link.

Link made puppy eyes at Aidan and she laughed at him. “The only person who’d know I was it would be you, idiot,” she said. She pulled her feet out of the water with a shriek when he swiped at her. “Good luck catching those Zora, hero.”

Link turned and made a show of studying his playmates. Tumbo and Laruta both squealed and swam in the opposite direction of him. Keye stayed where he was, his bright eyes tracking Link’s every move. Link narrowed his eyes before leaping forward. Unfortunately, his body wasn’t made for cutting through the water, so he only really managed to surge forward a few inches. Link’s cheeks burned with embarrassment, but the delighted laughter of the children made him feel better.

He swam clumsily toward Sidon, who was the closest to him in the pool. To his surprise, the prince didn’t pull away and instead widened his eyes in shock when Link’s fingers made contact with his crimson scales. “Oh dear, you caught me! Whatever shall I do?” He winked when Link stared blankly at him. Link felt his blush reach his ears.

“Prince Sidon got caught!” Tumbo shrieked, scrambling out of the way. Laruta, on the other hand, faux-gasped and batted her eyes when Sidon turned to her.

“Good god,” Link heard Aidan snort. He looked up to see an exasperated expression cross her face. “Could she be any more obvious?”

She’s a child, Link shot back.

“Zora have a much later growth spurt than Hylians,” Aidan retorted. “Regardless of her age, I’ve never seen a child with that much thirst.”

Before Link could snipe back at her, he felt something tap his shoulder and he turned to see Laruta looking innocently at him. He stared at her and felt humiliation crawl up his spine. He should’ve known better than to have been distracted in the middle of tag.

With a gargled roar, he whirled around and splashed toward Keye and Tumbo. His sudden movements startled Keye, who was momentarily paralyzed while his brother swam off with an excited giggle. Link felt a touch of guilt when he tagged the still-stunned Zora and retreated to gage his reaction. He lifted his hands out of the water and hesitantly signed, You’re it?

Keye blinked at him before he twisted in the water and disappeared. Link heard a few violent splashes and an ear-splitting squeal before the blue Zora resurfaced some distance away and triumphantly tagged Laruta. Aidan let out a low, impressed whistle. “That one’s going to be dangerous when he grows up,” she said, leaning back on her hands. “Jaws-in-the-making.”

Link watched Laruta carefully. The little red Zora seemed to be deliberating who her next victim should be despite obviously drifting closer toward Sidon. Link was sure that the prince knew what she was doing, but Sidon just smiled and floated in place. “Tag, you’re it!” She shrilled, throwing her arms around him.

“Good heavens! I daresay, you have the makings of a hunter in you. Your stealth is unparalleled.” Sidon nodded seriously and Laruta released him, splashing the water shyly. “Now, who should I go after? You?” He moved toward Tumbo, who yelped and swam away. “Maybe you?” Keye, who had been submerged up until his eyes, disappeared under the surface as soon as Sidon turned to look at him. “Or perhaps…you!”

Link yelped as Sidon suddenly appeared in front of him with a splash. The prince enveloped him in his arms, squeezing tightly. Link felt as if every nerve in his body had been electrified. He was certain his face was as red as a bokoblin at this point.

He glared heatedly at Aidan, who had propped her head on her hand and was giving him a shit-eating grin. I hate you, he told her.

She scoffed at him. “No, you don’t,” she sang. Her expression became bemused. “He hasn’t let go of you yet, you know.”

Link blinked and turned his head to look up at Sidon. The Zora prince smiled down at him and Link felt his face flood with heat. Thankfully, Sidon didn’t comment and just twisted to address the children. “I’m afraid we may have tired out our Hylian friend,” he told them. Link contemplated submerging himself for the rest of eternity when the children protested and Sidon’s arms tightened around him.

“Children!” A blue Zora poked his head into the entrance of sleeping area. “The celebration is starting soon! Come get ready!”

“Okay!” the children chorused. Link heard splashing noises and saw them slipping out of the pool.

Sidon’s hold on him loosened and Link felt the prince draw back. “You did well despite not being a Zora,” the prince said, swimming toward the edge of the pool. “I was quite impressed when you managed to catch Tumbo.”

Link rubbed the side of his neck. I was just lucky that he was too worked up to realize how close I was to him, Link signed after he pulled himself out of the pool. Sidon’s gaze was warm and the prince hummed as he waited for Link to retie his ponytail.

“Regardless of how distracted he was, you caught him.” Sidon waved when a green Zora called out to him. “Let us make our way to the celebration,” he said. “I am eager to reintroduce you to our customs, although we may have to delay the bulk of those lessons until tomorrow. They must be quite different than most Hylians’, no?”

Probably. Compared to how humble Hylian settlements tended to look, every inch of the Zora domain looked like a piece of art. If their preference for silver accessories was any indication of their tastes, Link was certain that Zora had much more lavish inclinations than most Hylians.

His suspicions were confirmed when they reached the stairs that led to the first floor of the domain. Sidon grinned as Link’s jaw dropped. “Had we a week to prepare, we would have decorated every level of the domain. This arrangement is much simpler than most.”

“Simpler?” Aidan breathed. “This is an artist’s wet dream.”

Link wasn’t entirely sure what she was getting at, but he found himself agreeing with her as they descended the stairs. There was something akin to an overhang that blanketed the lowest level of the domain. Polished gems and fragments of luminous stones hung from it on delicate silver chains and the light from nearby pillars made the rare stones glow. Mipha’s statue was wreathed in fine jewelry and surrounded by a ring of coral-pink flowers. Swift violets and icy nightshade blossoms wrapped around the metal legs supporting the overhang. Several large tables, piled high with food, sat in the middle of the space.

He turned to Sidon with wide eyes. This wasn’t here before, he signed, pointing at the flat, embossed ceiling overhead.

“If you look closely, you can see that the covering above us is collapsible,” Sidon said. “According to the historians, previous generations of Zora ambassadors were quite enamored with the ballrooms of Hyrule’s ruling class. They wanted to emulate the extravagance of indoor spaces while still honoring the architectural genius the first Zora carved into the domain. Thus, they decided to enlist artisans to create a covering that could be set up and taken down with ease for every level of the domain.”

Sidon explained that the covering was attached to extendable metal rods that could lift it into the sky. Once at its full height, the covering would be tied to nearby sturdy structures. “We decorate the covering before the rods are fully extended,” the prince said.

So in other words, Link told Aidan, this is just the glorified skeleton of a tent. But with a pretty metal disk in the middle.

“Doesn’t make it any less pretty,” she said. She lifted a hand, but she was much too short to actually touch any of the dangling stones. “It looks like we’re being surrounded by fairies,” she breathed.

Sidon tapped Link on the shoulder. “Since this is a rather impromptu celebration, my father will not be giving a speech tonight,” he said. “Please, take this time to eat your fill and mingle. Unfortunately, I must speak with my father and the council before I can enjoy the festivities with you, but I am certain there are many Zora who would like to make your acquaintance tonight. We are all rather friendly, so do not hesitate to approach anyone who catches your interest.” With a small bow, the prince excused himself and left Link’s side.

¤     ¤     ¤

“Ooo, and that one.” Aidan’s eyes glittered as Link picked up a portion of the fish she had pointed to. He watched her fondly as she checked to make sure no one was looking before she snuck a bite from his plate. He tried a piece of it himself and was pleasantly surprised by the richness of its flesh.

“You have quite an adventurous palate,” Kayden remarked. The innkeeper had been dragged over to them by his overenthusiastic wife, Kodah. She had apparently remembered Link from 100 years ago and had taken it onto herself to reminisce about their friendship when she found out about his amnesia. “Our previous Hylian guests were quite averse to the meals we offered them. They were not particularly fond of being served raw fish.”

 “Oh, Linny’s always been open to trying new things,” Kodah said. “He once got a fish bone stuck in his throat in the middle of an eating contest. Lady Mipha had to remove it with her magic before it caused any lasting damage.”

Link grimaced and Aidan patted his shoulder. “I too, have gotten a fish bone stuck in my throat,” she said sagely, “although that was because I was being careless, not because I was competing. Can you grab one of those for me?” She pointed at some bright-eyed crabs.

I don’t think you can eat those subtly, Link told her. She looked at him with wide, pleading eyes and he sighed. Fine, I’ll crack them open for you.

“Here.” Kayden passed him a smooth, flat stone and showed him how to break open the crustacean’s shell. To Link’s surprise, the flesh underneath was firm and cooked. “This is one of the few foods that Zora are fond of eating cooked,” the innkeeper said. “The ironshell varieties tend to have more meat in their claws, but razorclaws are the most popular because of their sweetness. Here, you should try all three.” He handed Link a fresh plate with the aforementioned crustaceans and ushered him over to a place where he could put his things down.

Aidan watched his movements hawkishly. He fed her a quick bite when Kayden and Kodah’s heads were turned and felt a smile tug at his lips when she hummed happily. “Have you gotten any better at swimming, Linny?” Kodah asked him. “There’s some dancing happening below us right now.”

Link blinked at her. Dancing?

“Rivan and I tried teaching you before, but you weren’t very good at staying afloat. You also got tired really quickly, so you always got out of the water before you learned all the steps.” Kodah twirled and demonstrated what she meant by moving her arms in wide, sweeping movements that brought attention to her fins and the bioluminescent dots down the sides of her headfin. “Kayden and I can try to teach you some partner dances so that you can dance with anyone who asks!”

Her husband must’ve read the uncertainty on Link’s face because he said, “Why don’t we go down so you can see the dances in person? You can decide from there if you would like Kodah and I to teach you. Or, if you are interested in practicing in a shallower area, I am sure one of the children would not be averse to being your partner.”

Link nodded and the two Zora led him over to a small waterfall on the second level of the domain. They dove into the water while Link paraglided down. The Zora domain sat on a ring of columns that lifted it out of the water. The body of water enclosed within the ring, Link decided, was what they were using as a ballroom. The intricately carved pillars that held up the weight of the domain were studded with beautiful shells.

“Traditional Zora dances occur in the water, but we are able to dance on land with non-Zora folk,” Kayden told him when they were settled on the perimeter of the ballroom. “While dances in the past were held for the sole sake of courtship, nowadays Zora are happy to enjoy the art of dancing itself. Of course, certain dances are still done to impress potential suitors, but for celebrations like this, most Zora merely wish to demonstrate their agility and prowess.”

There were several groups dancing in the ring. Children splashed closest to the perimeter and Link saw some elder Zora swaying in the water a little further in. At the center of it all were Zora in their prime, all of whom were eager to show off their abilities. Link watched as Zora rocketed themselves out of the water and twisted in beautiful spirals. Each dancer made sure to fan out their fins and flash the bioluminescent spots that trailed down their bodies before gravity returned them to the water.

Kodah nudged her husband with a snicker. “It looks like Torfeau and Gaddison are finally being honest with each other,” she said, pointing to a nearby pair of Zora. A black Zora and a lavender Zora were swimming languid circles around each other a little way’s away from where the most enthusiastic dancers were performing.

“It was only a matter of time before Gaddison was going to act,” Kayden replied. “She probably was waiting for the situation with Vah Ruta to be resolved before she made a move.”

“Do you see how they’re taking turns showing their fins to each other?” Kodah asked Link. “We managed to catch them at the beginning of their dance.”

Torfeau, the black Zora who had spoken to Link in the Lanaryu Great Spring, slowed to a stop and watched as her partner circled her. Gaddison angled herself perpendicular to the water each time she rose to take a stroke and flashed her fins when the sweep of her arms was at its greatest. After a few rotations, the lavender Zora’s movements grew bolder and she began to catch more air with each stroke. Soon she was leaping out of the water and spinning in tight spirals that made her scales shine.

Torfeau followed Gaddison’s figure with her own body until she was also gliding through the air. When both of them were airborne, the lavender Zora stopped twisting her body and began flaring her fins again. Torfeau mirrored her movements a few times before turning sharply and diving deep into the water. Gaddison circled the spot where her partner disappeared before following suit.

When the two surfaced together, they were spinning with their arms around each other. Gaddison laughed when Torfeau headbutted her gently and they nuzzled each other as their dance came to a close.

Link was startled out of his stupor when the sound of applause filled the air. It seemed like the other dancing Zora had stopped to pay witness to Gaddison and Torfeau’s courtship routine. The new couple seemed to be delighted by their audience and swam away after waving to them.

“They’re probably going to find a corner of Lanaryu to tuck themselves in,” Kodah cackled.

“Well, now that we don’t have to worry about Vah Ruta anymore, I’m sure Bazz won’t get too angry at them if they show up late tomorrow. Besides, I think he’s enjoying the festivities just as much as they are.” Kayden nodded in the direction of a swaying black Zora. He was sipping something from an ornate metal cup. “Would you like to try some Amberfin?” the innkeeper asked Link. “It is a drink beloved by all Zora.”

What’s in it? Link followed Kodah and her husband to a small table where drinks were being poured.

“Fermented Hyrule herbs with a touch of Chickaloo nuts and apples,” Kayden said as Kodah handed Link a cup. “It’s sweetened with courser bee honey. You might find it strange, but we Zora are quite fond of sweet things. It provides some contrast to the food that makes up the bulk of our diet and is quite enjoyable to share with company.” He clinked his cup against Link’s.

Aidan sniffed his drink curiously before he took a sip. It was sweet with a hint of bitterness and had a distinctly spicy aftertaste. It’s really nice, he told Kayden as he hid his cup behind his back. He felt it tip in his hand when Aidan helped herself to his drink.

“Oh, that’s really strong,” she murmured. Link agreed with her; he could already feel the heat of the alcohol pooling in his belly. “It’s amazingly good though,” she told him when he took another sip.

Kayden smiled at him. “We Zora have pretty high alcohol tolerances, so you may want to pace yourself if you aren’t used to it.” He opened his mouth to continue, but he was cut off several high-pitched cheers. Link turned his head to see Sidon waving at three red Zora.

“I see you’ve been introduced to Amberfin.” Sidon’s eyes twinkled when he reached Link. “Have you been enjoying the celebration thus far? I pray that the food has been to your liking.”

Everything is so amazing here, Link signed. From the decorations to the dancing, Link could see that a love for the arts permeated every aspect of Zora culture. I got to see a courtship dance.

“Is that so? I presume Gaddison and Torfeau finally decided to announce their interests in one another.” He smiled brightly at Kayden and Kodah. “Thank you very much for keeping Link company in my absence,” he said. “I have just finished making adjustments to my schedule with my father and the rest of the council.”

“Oh, it was my pleasure. It’s been over a century since I’ve last been able to talk to Linny,” Kodah said, waving a hand dismissively. “Anyways, now that you’re here, we might be able to convince him to try dancing! You can just copy what Kayden and I do,” she said cheerfully when Link’s face paled.

“Is that something that interests you?” Sidon asked Link.

I think you already know how clumsy I am in the water, Link signed.

“I thought you did quite well catching Tumbo earlier.”

“If you managed to tag Tumbo, then you’re more than ready to try dancing!” Kodah bounced excitedly. “It’ll be so much easier to teach you now that you have a partner.”

Link turned to Aidan for help. She gave him a wide-eyed, innocent look. “And take away your chance at dancing with the prince?” she gasped. Her eyes sparkled with laughter when he scowled at her. “Just get in the water,” she said fondly. “Go dance with that pretty fish boy.”

Link looked up at Sidon reproachfully. The prince cocked his head to the side, a patient smile on his face. Fine, Link sighed. Kodah cheered and slipped into the water, her husband following with a fond shake of his head.

“Rest assured, I will keep you afloat,” Sidon told him as they followed the Zora couple into the dancing area. “You had no worries when we faced Vah Ruta together, correct? Perhaps it may help you to think of this as a safer repeat of that time.”

But there aren’t any ice blocks being shot at us.

Sidon’s smile brightened. “Hence why it is safer.”

Link shot a disparaging look over his shoulder at Aidan. She seemed delighted.

Kodah and Kayden drifted closer to him and Sidon. “So first you’ll want to circle each other,” the red Zora said as her husband began to orbit around her. “You need to do slow alternating strokes in the water to show off your fins—or arms,” she corrected when Link looked down at his finless body.

Sidon glided through the water with minute shifts of his shoulders. Link tried to follow his movements, but his body wasn’t exactly made to cut through water as elegantly as the prince’s was. “Try to raise your arms higher,” Link heard Kodah say. “Make your strokes slow so you can really show off your fi—arms.”

Link tried to follow her suggestions and flailed when he tipped over. He shot the red Zora an uncertain look. I’m not really built for dancing in the water, he told her.

“Come on, Linny! Where’s your adventurous spirit?”

“Do we need another eating competition?” Aidan shouted from where she sat.

Link grumbled and tried again. His next few strokes were as clumsy as his first, but he was starting to get in the hang of it. He couldn’t keep his arms out of the water for as long as Sidon, but at least he wasn’t half-drowning anymore. “Open your eyes, Linny! You’re supposed to be able to see your partner!”

Link had already learned the hard way that Hylian eyes weren’t built to withstand continued exposure to water, but he had no way of communicating that to Kodah as he swam slow laps around Sidon. So instead he threw caution to the wind and forced his eyes open just in time to catch the breathtaking sight of Sidon’s flared fins and the bioluminescent spots glowing down the slope of his body.

This looked oddly familiar, Link thought. Then he inhaled water in shock and nearly choked to death. There was the sound of frantic splashing before two hands fit themselves against his ribcage and the upper half of his body was lifted in the air.

“Are you okay?” Link coughed violently and cracked open a stinging eye to see Kodah hovering next to him. Her expression was stricken.

Link felt his cheeks blaze with heat. You didn’t tell me you were teaching me a courtship dance, he signed between coughing fits.

Kodah frowned. “I wasn’t though? I was just teaching you some basic moves.”

“What I think Kodah means to say,” Kayden sighed as he swam closer, “is that she forgot the first Zora dance you saw was a courtship dance. Swimming in circles around your partner and showing off your fins while you do so is a part of every Zora dance—courting or not.”

“Oh.” Kodah looked flustered. “I forgot you lost your memory,” she said, fidgeting with her fins. “We used to watch the adults practice their dances all the time when we were younger, so I thought you knew…” She grimaced. “Sorry.”

Link felt the tension leech from his body and mild embarrassment replace it. It’s okay. But I think I want to take a break from dancing, he told her.

“That would probably be for the best.” The sound of Sidon’s voice startled him and Link flushed when he realized who had lifted him out of the water. “Here, allow me to bring you back to stable ground.” The Zora prince swam forward and set Link on the ring around the watery ballroom.

Thank you, Link signed. I’m sorry you had to fish me out of there.

Sidon cocked his head. “There is no need for you to apologize. I would not have liked it if you were to drown while dancing with me.” He gave Link a charming smile. “It would not be very princely if I were to let my partner suffer a watery death.”

Link twisted the hem of his shirt before he realized Sidon was joking with him. We wouldn’t want that, he agreed. It’d be a nasty mark on your perfect track record.

“Indeed. I would like to keep my reputation as pristine as possible.” His citrine eyes sparkled at Link. “Therefore, when you feel confident enough to try dancing once more, I would like you to consider having me as a partner again. I do have to make sure you are satisfied with my ability to both lead and follow.”

Link bit his lip shyly. Okay, he signed.

“Excellent.” Sidon turned his head when he heard someone call out to him. Link saw two red Zora wave vigorously when the prince caught sight of them.

It looks like you’re a pretty popular dance partner, Link told Sidon when the crimson Zora faced him again.

“Ah, Tula and Tona request a dance from me at every celebration.” Sidon looked slightly embarrassed. “It is a good thing for a prince to be loved by his people, I suppose.”

In other words, the two Zora were part of his fanclub. Link smiled and waved goodbye when Sidon politely took his leave and swam towards the center of the ballroom.

Kodah came up to him with concern on her face. “Do you want to go back up to the first level of the domain? Kayden can settle you in one of the beds if you’re not feeling well,” she told him.

I just want to sit here and watch people dance for a little bit, Link reassured her.

“Okay! I can keep you company—”

It’s fine, he cut her off. I’ll be fine. Besides, I think your husband’s interested in having a dance with you. He nodded towards Kayden.

Kodah looked conflicted. “Are you sure you’ll be okay by yourself?” she asked him.

Link smiled at her. The quiet will give me some time to think about how to improve my dancing skills, he said.

The red Zora looked comforted by his words and gave him a bright grin. “If you ever need any more lessons, you can usually find me lurking around the inn,” she told him as she started swimming towards her husband.

Okay, have fun. Link watched as Kodah reached Kayden’s side and the two of them began circling each other.

He heard the pitter-patter of non-Zora feet and looked up to see Aidan reach his side.

I messed up dancing with the pretty fish boy, he groaned.

“I think you scored, actually. Sure, you didn’t really get to dance ‘properly’ with him, but at least you got him to manhandle you a little.” Aidan’s eyes sparkled as she settled down beside him. “Sweep you off your feet.”

You mean pick me up like a petulant child, Link sighed.

“I mean, if you want to piss on your own parade, then yes. He did pick you up like you were a kid having a tantrum, but he also asked you for another dance. If that doesn’t count as a win, I don’t know what does.” She smiled wryly. “I know I’m technically supposed to be the pessimist between the two of us, but silver linings. Maybe you can convince him to dance with you on land this time. Show him how smooth you are on solid ground.”

Link stared suspiciously at her. I feel like you’re trying to have something happen between me and him.

“I must confess, that has been my secret mission all along. I am not a strange spirit here to help you defeat Ganon; rather, I am here to help you kiss a pretty fish boy.” She clapped her hands together and pointed them in the direction of a very, very pretty fish boy. “And I will succeed or so help me God.”

He laughed and shook his head. You’re ridiculous.

“Shut up, you love me.”

Chapter Text

Gaddison. Marot. Bazz. Rivan. Kodah. Link dragged a finger down the Sheikah slate’s screen. Smiling faces frozen in time stared back at him. The old Big Bad Bazz Brigade reunited and captured in a picture together. Rosy half-images of his childhood flickered through his mind. Bazz’s childlike courage became polished as the decades passed. Gaddison’s bright smile was now demure with newfound wisdom. Rivan was the one who changed the least—still honey-eyed and laughing with a warmth that rivaled the sun. And him, now the shortest of the bunch, crowded into the middle.

There were new notes scrawled in the slate. A request for luminous stones, a missing family member, and a project to recover the histories scattered around the Zora domain. A strange ceremonial song and the missing trident that went with it.

A request to take a picture of the red-maned lynel that haunted Shatterback Point.

Do you think we should do these before we leave the Zora domain? Link asked Aidan. She stopped jabbing her spear at an imaginary enemy and straightened her back.

“We can probably pull off most of them,” she said. “I doubt we’ll be able to find Mei nearby though—I think the guards would’ve found her by now if she was still in the domain. Aside from going on a treasure hunt for that trident, I doubt any of them are going to take up that much time.”

Link bit his lip. If he was being generous, they’d probably need two days to complete most of the quests. Finding all the stone monuments would likely be the most time-consuming task, but he was sure he remembered seeing some of them on path to the Zora domain. But regarding Laflat’s request…

Wouldn’t it be better if we took down the lynel again? That way they don’t have to worry about it until the next blood moon.

Aidan’s brow furrowed. “Did you forget how it almost killed both of us last time? Granted, we’re a little more prepared this time around, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to be any easier to take down.” She studied him and crossed her arms. “This isn’t just about keeping the Zora safe, is it?” she asked. “What else is eating at you?”

Link stared at the Sheikah slate. Making sure that the Zora domain was safe was a pretty big driving factor behind his sudden interest in facing the lynel again. Walking around with Sidon yesterday had done wonders for reconnecting with old friends who still remembered him. Their delight at being reunited with someone who should’ve died long ago had somehow helped him put a name to the strange, warm feeling in his chest he had felt ever since the moment he stepped into the Zora domain five days ago.

It had felt like coming home. His younger self must’ve had very good memories here, Link thought as he closed his hand around the front of his shirt. His old friends had painted him as a bright, optimistic child—a jarring contrast to the version of himself he recalled at Lanayru Bluff. There he had been quiet, somber, and stoic. But here, he had been happy.

Killing the lynel would only protect the domain until the next blood moon. But he wanted to do what little he could to protect the place his younger self had loved. The place he found himself falling in love with all over again.

When we started fighting the waterblight, I realized that this journey was going to be much more dangerous than I thought. I have a really bad feeling in my gut that the enemies we face are only going to get more bloodthirsty from here. He twisted the hem of his shirt. I guess I just wanted to practice fighting a little more. So that I’d be prepared for what comes after us further down the road.

Aidan drummed her fingers down the shaft of her spear. She was quiet for a few heartbeats before saying, “That’s a valid reason. But I’m pretty sure it’s not the one that’s biting at you the most.” She let out an exasperated huff and shook her head fondly at him. “Alright, I’ll let you go. Besides, I have a good feeling I know what’s giving you that itch.”

Link knew she was giving him an out. Their conversation could end there and that would be it. But now she’d piqued his interests and he wanted a chance to pick at her brain. Oh?

Her expression hardened. “You changed during that fight,” she said. “There was something about you that was different.” She shifted on her feet and scratched the back of her neck. “Usually you get this panicked look on your face whenever you think you’re in a tight spot. It mostly happens when there’s a mob of bokoblins around us or a blue moblin charging us, but they’re playground bullies next to a lynel. But when you fought that lynel up on Shatterback Point, there was this air of confidence around you.”

She leveled him with a steady gaze. “It’s like I saw the Champion everyone else says you were. Maybe I’m just too used to seeing you get overwhelmed but, it scared me a little. I didn’t know who you were for a second. But then the fight was over and you went back to being a dork. I realized the you in front of me is no different from the you from 100 years ago. I think that you found a piece of yourself fighting that lynel.”

Link nodded slowly. It was the first time I felt like my body was mine, he told her.

“I see.” She gave him a wry smile. “Well, I’m not against lynel-hunting so long as you don’t get too reckless. This time we have Mipha to save our asses if we get put in a tight spot.” Her gaze lowered and her voice grew soft. “I want to protect this place as much as you do,” she said. “The people here—they’re so wholesome. They’re so kind. Yeah, the elders gave you a bit of a hard time, but they’re not stupid enough to ignore everything that you did for them. And besides,” she murmured, “when you’re here, you look like you’re home. And I don’t want you to ever lose that.”

Link stepped closer to her and gently wove their fingers together. He felt her squeeze his hand and with a soft smile, he squeezed back.

¤     ¤     ¤

When they were finished with most of their quests and all the shrines they could find in Lanayru, they made sure to say goodbye to Kodah and Sidon before they left. The two Zora saw them off at the entrance of the domain with bright smiles and warm wishes for safe travels. “Make sure to come back from time to time! There are still so many stories I want to tell you about,” Kodah said. She handed Link a bundle of food that Kayden had cooked in preparation for their departure.

“The Zora domain will always be open to you,” Sidon told him. “Whether it be for rest or for company, please know that you are welcome.”

Thank you both, Link signed. He waved to them again when he crossed the bridge from the domain and turned to Aidan. Which way should we go?

“Well, the Lanayru area is all the way to the east, so if we don’t want to backtrack, we’ll have to head either north or south.”

South, then. Heading north would put them at the foot of the giant volcano in the distance, and Link wasn’t sure how they were supposed to scale something so daunting. That, and he was pretty sure they’d die from the surrounding heat.

“Solid.” In a few taps, they were enveloped in a blue light and transported to the Rucco Maag Shrine. “Let’s go.”

¤     ¤     ¤

Just fucking go!” Link could hear Aidan cursing vehemently as he sprinted in the opposite direction of the lynel. The crackling sound of a shock arrow zipped past his ear and he bit back a hiss when it struck the ground just centimeters from his feet.

It was clear from the arrows raining down around them that the lynel had no interest in chasing them down. Rather, it seemed content with shooting at them from a distance. Link felt frustratingly torn between relief and unease; a charging lynel was terrifying, but at least you could dodge it. Lynels were unfortunately very talented archers.

A yelp from Aidan proved his point. Link glanced over his shoulder just in time to see her stumble over her numbed legs. He didn’t see an arrow shaft sticking out of her, so she had probably been shocked by the electricity from the lynel’s arrow.

She managed to stay her feet, but just barely. He kept charging forward, Aidan hot on his heels, until he slipped on a patch of ice and went face-first into snow.

There were hands pulling at his tunic. Gasping, Link scrambled onto his arms and knees, desperately praying that the lynel hadn’t fired a shot at him while he had been down. When he was upright again and the whistle of an arrow never came, Link felt his thrumming heartbeat slow. With a furrowed brow, he turned to Aidan, whose nose and ears were bright red.

Did we lose it? Link asked.

She blinked at him. “Mentally? Oh, you meant the lynel.” Her chest was heaving with exertion, but she didn’t look terrified anymore. She looked more dazed than anything. “Yeah, I think we managed to get out of its range.”

Link looked over her shoulder and couldn’t see the lynel anywhere. The tension leaked out of his body and he sagged against her with a groan. I didn’t think we’d see a blue-maned lynel this early on, he whined.

Aidan patted his back. “This is probably Ganon’s way of telling us that he knows we’re here,” she suggested. “After all, that lynel on Shatterback Point still had a red mane.”

That’s a sh—Link took a sharp breath when a cold gust of wind cut through him. His teeth began chattering almost immediately. Why in Hylia’s name is it freezing?

Aidan’s brow furrowed with concern. “Did you just notice that we’re standing in a snowfield? Our breaths have been coming out white for the past minute or so.” A quick scan of the area confirmed his fears: every direction except the one they came from was covered in snow. He saw a flash of blue light in his periphery and suddenly she was wrapping him in a thick fur. “Is that better?”

The air he was breathing was stinging his throat. He shook his head furiously and stomped back in the direction of the lynel. “Um, that’s the way we came.”

It’s the only place that isn’t snowy, he shot back. How cold is it right now?

Aidan glanced at the Sheikah slate. “We’re looking at temperatures under twenty.” Her face paled. “I don’t think the doublet King Rhoam gave you is going to cut it; it says it only keeps you warm above thirty-two degrees.”

In other words, he was going to need more cold-resistant clothing. The only problem was, he had no idea where to find them. Aidan seemed to have the same realization because she said, “We should probably reconvene with Impa and see if she knows where we can get you warmer clothes.” She smiled apologetically when Link grimaced. “I know you’re not the biggest fan of hers, but she’s kind of our best bet. She’s been around for a hundred years, so she must know something.”

Fine. Maybe Impa would be a little less stiff with him now that he’d managed to free one Divine Beast from Ganon’s control. But for now, how exactly are we supposed to get past that lynel?

Aidan blinked owlishly at him. “Carefully?”

¤     ¤     ¤

Somehow it worked. Link supposed the stealth armor helped dampen the sound of footsteps and they managed to avoid being detected by the lynel. Aidan bit her lip and gave him a tight smile after they tiptoed out of the monster’s range. “ I mght have forgotten that we could have just teleported to Kakariko instead of sneaking past the lynel,” she said, fiddling with the Sheikah slate.

Link stared blankly at her before everything clicked in his head. So in other words, we just wasted twenty minutes.

Aidan nodded timidly. “At least we know that lynels don’t have eyes on the back of their heads,” she said.

I thought you were supposed to be the pessimistic one.

“Yeah, but I also like balance and you’re not sunny enough for me to be dreary.” She gave him a pointed look. “So what do we want to do? Do we want to take the scenic route or do you just want me to teleport both of us to,” she squinted at the Sheikah slate, “Ta’Loh—”

A loud snore interrupted her. Aidan lifted her head, an oddly haunted look on her face. “What was that?” she asked in a tight voice.

It doesn’t sound like a lynel.

“Yeah, that doesn’t mean it’s not dangerous. Remember when that stone talus nearly smashed your shins back on the Great Plateau? Last time I checked they don’t roar either.” Both of them flinched at the sound of a thunderous snort.

Link turned in the direction of the noise and saw a large shape lying several yards away from them. Aidan followed his gaze and paled, shoving the Sheikah slate in his hand. He scowled at her. So you didn’t let me face the waterblight alone, but you’re making me do this?

“We’re not stuck on a Divine Beast right now,” Aidan shot back. “Besides, you’re the one with the faster reflexes. I’m pretty sure you can climb halfway up this cliff face in a second.”

Link rolled his eyes and inched closer to the rotund creature. He snapped a picture of it and scanned the slate’s screen as information on the beast began to come up. Apparently, it’s some kind of monster related to bokoblins, he said, passing the slate back to Aidan. It didn’t look very threatening as it slept in broad daylight.

“I’m pretty sure this guy ranks as a miniboss with stats like that,” she sighed. “Let’s get a better vantage point before we decide what to do. I don’t want to be caught off guard if it wakes up suddenly.” Link nodded and began to scale the cliffs that surrounded them.

Approximately an hour later, they were standing at the edge of Nirvata Plateau just over looking Purifier Lake. The hinox in question slumbered obliviously below them.

Aidan was checking the Sheikah slate again and Link felt his fingers twitch when he stared down at the hinox. They were really high up, he thought. It probably wouldn’t be able to retaliate if they attacked it from here.

Curiosity wrapped its tendrils around his heart. They had quite a few arrows after taking down all those lizalfos in Lanayru, but he didn’t want to waste them all on the hinox. Throwing weapons was out of question—he’d have to fetch them and he was pretty sure he wasn’t going to be able to kill the miniboss by chucking swords at it. The Sheikah bombs, on the other hand, were a feasible option. He’d have to wait for them to regenerate after using them, but he didn’t have to worry about running out. If he alternated between the round and cube bombs, he wouldn’t have to wait too long in between explosions.

He yelped when a finger jabbed him hard in the side. Startled, he turned to face Aidan. She looked mildly disgruntled. “I’ve been talking at you for the past five minutes,” she said. “Do you want to teleport to Kakariko or do you want to walk? We haven’t explored Nirvata yet and it might be interesting to make a pit stop at the Peak of Awakening before we go talk to Impa.”

She frowned when he reached for the Sheikah slate, but let him take it without protest. Wordlessly, he tapped the remote bomb rune and gave her a puppy-eyed look when a round bomb materialized in his hands. Aidan’s brow furrowed and he glanced down at the hinox before looking back at her. She followed his gaze and gave him an exasperated look. After a few moments of silently pleading with her, she caved and shook her head fondly.

“Will it even reach?” she asked as he passed her the slate again.

It’s worth a try, he said. He angled himself slightly to the right and threw the bomb as hard as he could. It bounced off the walls of the plateau on its way down, but rolled smoothly into the crook of the hinox’s neck. From the corner of his eye, Link saw Aidan detonate the bomb.

The monster jerked awake at the explosion and rose to its feet. Link held his breath as it looked around for its attacker. After a few minutes of peering around, the hinox returned to its place and stunningly, fell asleep again.

When Link turned to Aidan again, he saw his own curiosity reflected on her face. He heard the sound of the bomb rune being activated and this time, a cube bomb materialized in front of him.

With the wordless go-ahead, he aimed for the hinox.

¤     ¤     ¤

“Is there something that you’ve dreamed of doing for a long time? Why haven’t you done it?”

That’s a horrible thing to ask someone with amnesia.

“Humor me. We’ve already gone through all the questions that don’t involve memory and all of your answers to them have been lackluster at best.” Link looked at Aidan, who was eagle spread on the ground beside him, and sighed.

After a few minutes of brain-racking, he shook his head. It’s been less than twenty days since I’ve woken up, he told her. I’m pretty sure the past me would’ve been able to give you an actual answer.

Aidan was quiet for a few heartbeats. “Then what does the you who has only been awake for less than twenty days dream of doing? Sure, it hasn’t been three weeks yet, but there must be something that you want.”

Link sat down and crossed his legs. Aidan lifted her head to look at him. “Are you sure you can still hit the hinox sitting down?” she asked.

He threw the bomb in his hands and reached out for the Sheikah slate. She passed it to him and after fifteen seconds had passed, he detonated the remote bomb. The snoring below them cut off abruptly when the sound of an explosion filled the air. On the slate itself, a strange red bar decreased by the tiniest amount.

I just want to sit for a little bit, he said. I’ve been standing for hours.

Aidan scrambled to her feet. “Then let me start up a fire. It’s starting to get really dark.” Link leaned back on his hands and watched as she carefully placed a piece of flint on top of a pile of wood. She jabbed the pile with a Zora spear and a campfire poofed into existence.

He smiled fondly when she leveled the campfire with a suspicious glare. Even after all these days, Aidan still expressed frustration over the oddly magical and oddly not-magical things of their world (“A flint makes a spark, not a fire out of thin air,” she had argued when Rhoam had showed Link how to light a fire. “How are you supposed to get the fire going without kindling?”).

She made grabby hands for the slate and he passed it over to her. A meal apparated in his lap and Aidan’s face was lit up with a blue glow when a bomb appeared in her hands. I thought your aim was horrible, Link told her as she squinted down at the hinox.

“If you can throw a bomb at something you can’t see and still hit it, then I can at least throw a bomb at something in my line of sight,” she retorted. She chucked the bomb and tracked its fall with her eyes. After half a minute passed, she detonated the explosive and cheered when the hinox let out a startled snort. “Anyway, you haven’t answered my question yet.”

Where did you get all these questions from? Link took bite out of a lightly seasoned chunk of fish.

“There’s an exercise you can do called ‘Fast Friends’. You pretty much answer a bunch of questions that force you and your partner to participate in self-disclosure and get closer because you’re being emotionally vulnerable and or intimate with each other,” Aidan told him distractedly. She lifted a cube bomb over her head and took aim. “It’s supposed to be used to promote the development of friendly relationships, but all the newspapers back home are thirsty for headlines so they called it ‘How to Fall in Love with Anyone’ instead.”

Link frowned. Newspapers?

Aidan spared him a sideways glance. “Yeah, at some point this thing called the printing press was made and it got a lot easier to spread information around to people. You could make a bunch of copies of something without having to write it all by hand.”

He thought of the rumormill that Tona and Tula had been squealing over when he and Sidon had passed them on their tour of the domain and shuddered. He could imagine how beneficial a printing press could be for spreading important information, but if it were used for disseminating falsities or frivolities instead…

By Aidan’s previous tone of voice, he was sure that his worst fears were very much realized in her words.

I don’t think we need to build up our relationship that much more, Link said. I’m pretty sure you’ve seen the worst parts of me already.

“Touché,” Aidan sighed. “But what else are we supposed to talk about? Everyone knows you’re supposed to have existential or philosophical conversations when you’re killing time.”

Link took another bite of his dinner. That’s the first time I’ve ever heard of that.

“That’s because you lost your memory,” she said sweetly. She snickered when he shot her a half-hearted glare. “You’re not being a very good conversational partner, so maybe this is a lost cause.” She sighed dramatically. “To think I would have to travel with someone with such little intellectual intrigue.”

In my defense, I’m pretty sure most of it has been beaten out of me by monsters.

Aidan winced and threw another bomb. Below, the hinox grunted in pain. “Brutal.”

Link huffed with amusement. Indeed. He popped another morsel of fish into his mouth. What’s your answer?

“Hmm? To something that I’ve dreamed of doing?” Link nodded and she let out a dry laugh. “Well now that the question’s been directed at me, the ‘why haven’t you done it yet’ seems pretty accusatory.” She fiddled with the Sheikah slate. “This sounds bad, but…I’ve always wanted to see myself the way that other see me.”

Link’s brow furrowed. Is that a good thing or a bad thing?

Aidan made a disgruntled noise. “This may sound like a humble brag, but I’ve heard it’s pretty good.”

And why haven’t you been able to do it?

She fell quiet. There was no nervous energy emanating from her, but Link could tell she was thinking about how to articulate her answer. Her fingers ran over the screen of the Sheikah slate with slow, distracted strokes.

“There’s this thing called imposter syndrome,” Aidan said. “Simply put, it’s the belief that you’re just tricking everyone into thinking that you’re exactly who they think you are. They see positive qualities in you that you don’t see in yourself. And you’re left wondering how you managed to convince them that you’re everything that you’re not.” She shrugged, but the movement was jerky and awkward. “People tell me that I come off as confident. Self-assured. Competent.”

And they’re dead wrong?

A round bomb materialized in Aidan’s hands and she let out a humorless laugh. “In a sense, yes. Even now, I feel like I’ve barely got my head above water.” She tapped an agitated rhythm against the smooth surface of the explosive. “Like I’m always being saved by the skin of my teeth.” Her gaze softened. “There’s a friend of mine who thinks I’m funny,” she said quietly. “I’m flattered whenever she laughs at what I say, but I don’t think I’m funny. I just think that the things I have to say are stupid.

“And it’s not that I don’t want to believe them,” she mumbled. “The people who think so well of me. They’re wonderful; all of them are. Honestly, I’m amazed that they still want anything to do with me.” She half-heartedly threw the bomb and tugged on a lock of her hair. “I’ve gotten a bit better now—I can get past the whole ‘they’re just humoring me’ bit, but the dissonance between who I am and who they think I am has me rooted to the floor.

“I keep trying to tell myself, ‘if these wonderful people see something wonderful in you, then maybe they’re not wrong’, but that thought always ends in a question. Maybe you’re just doing a great job tricking them and they’re just too naive to notice.” She kicked at the ground. “You were so busy worrying about how other people see you and now you have to deal with the fact that they’re in love with a persona you made up. And even if they tell you that they do see the real you and that they like that person, you can’t help but wonder if they’re lying.

“After all, if they like that person so much, why can’t you?” The bottoms of her boots scraped the ground as she shifted on her feet. “So you’re still tricking them somehow. You’ve gotten so good at tricking them that you feel like they’ll never really understand who you are. And you tell yourself that you’re happy that they’re at least in love with some part of you, even if that part’s a complete lie. And that works for a while, at least until you realize you’re stuck again and then you’re wondering why they like you all over again.

“Sorry, that was a lot,” Aidan apologized. “Why don’t you take a nap? This big lug doesn’t look like he’s going to die anytime soon and you should get some sleep.” She wasn’t looking at him. “It’s getting late.”

¤     ¤     ¤

He hadn’t realized he had drifted off. When he woke up, the sun was high in the sky and there were bokoblin bows strewn a few feet away from him. Aidan must’ve fought off some skall monsters in the dead of night, he thought as he sat up. The thick blanket covering him fell to his lap as he rubbed at his eyes.

Speaking of Aidan, she was curled in a ball on the other side of their dying campfire. There were dark shadows under her eyes and she was snoring softly. She probably fell asleep some time after daybreak; he would’ve been pummeled awake by skall monsters otherwise.

Link rose to his feet and tiptoed over to her. A quick glance at the Sheikah slate clasped loosely in her fingers told him that the hinox was still alive—albeit with only a third of its original health left. He draped his blanket onto her and gently tugged the slate from her grasp. With quiet strides, he made his way over to the edge overlooking where the hinox slept.

Pulling up the bomb rune, he went to work bombing the monster from the high heavens.

¤     ¤     ¤

The sun was setting by the time Aidan woke up. He heard her shuffle over to him and he turned to see her waddle up to him, still swaddled in his blanket. “How’s it going?” she yawned as a greeting.

Just a little more and we’ll be done. He felt his eyes water as he fought off a responding yawn. Aidan’s eyes twinkled and she smiled at him.

“Haha, made you yawn.”

You made me do it, he grumbled.

“You should be happy you yawned so easily,” Aidan said, seating herself. “Research suggests that people who yawn in response to others tend to be more empathetic.”

Link stared at her until she looked up at him and let out an exaggerated yawn. He felt a smile tug at his lips when she laughed.

The two of them sat in silence for about half an hour before Aidan spoke up. “The hinox is almost dead, right? Maybe we should wait until after midnight before we kill it.”

Link, who was just about to throw the bomb in his hands, paused. Why?

“Because it’s almost nine. I don’t want to risk there being a blood moon tonight and have it come back to life while we’re scavenging its remains.”

He gave her a look. Why would there be another blood moon? The last one happened a week ago. The next one won’t happen for a while.

Aidan threw up her hands. “Hey, last time I checked, that Hino dude said that there’s no accurate way of predicting when a blood moon will happen! Besides, I’m not from here, so I have no idea if your moon acts the same way mine does. Maybe yours just rotates itself really fast sometimes and boom—two blood moons in a month.” She frowned thoughtfully. “Actually, there’s this thing that happens on my world called a blue moon, and that’s when there’s two full moons in a single month. What would a second blood moon be called? A ruby moon?” Her eyes widened. “No, a garnet moon!”

Link facepalmed. It hasn’t even been a month since the last blood moon, he told her.

“That doesn’t disprove that your moon can’t suddenly rotate really fast,” she shot back. “I’m not an astronomy major, but your world has enough magical bullshit that I’m willing to bet anything can happen.” He leveled her with a disbelieving stare, but she ignored him. “You should ask Hino the next time we stop by the Dueling Peaks about whether or not he’s seen a garnet moon before. Or if there’s any research documenting a garnet moon.”

Wouldn’t it make more sense to ask Purah or Impa instead? After all, they’ve been alive for the past hundred years.

Aidan blinked blankly. “Oh, right. Yeah, let’s go ask them. Shouldn’t you put that away?” she asked, nodding toward the bomb in his hands.

I’m just going to throw this last one, Link told her.

“Okay.” She craned her neck to watch the explosive fall after he threw it. They both waited until it bumped into the hinox before detonating it.

Except the hinox didn’t get up after it exploded. It just let out a death rattle and began disintegrating into a thick, black miasma. Link stared at it for a few heartbeats before the panic settled in. What do we do? he asked, whipping around to look at Aidan.

“Shit—uh—” She stood up suddenly, the blanket around her shoulders falling to her feet. “Go get its monster parts.”

Link felt his eyes were bugging out of his head. Didn’t you say that there might be a blood moon tonight?

She scowled at him. “Oh, so now you believe me?” She waved her hand dismissively. “Ugh, whatever. Look, I’ll keep an eye out and start chucking down bombs if it comes back. It’s not midnight yet, so as long as you get your ass back up here before the clock strikes twelve you should be fine.” She clapped her hands at him. “Move, Cinderella!”

He wasn’t exactly sure what she was talking about, but he just rolled his eyes at her before he jumped off the plateau. He threw open his paraglider when he was close to hitting the ground, slowing his descent, before landing next to the decaying hinox. The putrid fumes wafting off its corpse made Link’s stomach heave and he wrapped his stealth armor’s scarf over his mouth and nose.

Luckily, it seemed like hinoxes disintegrated much faster than most other monsters. By the time Link had waved away some of the black miasma, the hinox’s body was gone. All that was left beside Purifier Lake were some mediocre weapons, some giant yellow toenails, and a bunch of fruit.

He quickly gathered everything and made his way back up the cliffside. Aidan was waiting for him and helped him stash away his spoils. When he checked the time on the Sheikah slate, it was already five minutes past midnight. He glared at Aidan. A second blood moon, huh?

“Just because it didn’t happen doesn’t mean it won’t,” she snipped back at him.

¤     ¤     ¤

After a brief conversation with Impa and a quick pitstop at Purah’s, they found themselves heading eastward, toward the Tabantha region. Link’s skin tingled when the blue light surrounding them faded and they were gently deposited into the depths of the Shrine of Resurrection. He couldn’t help but smile when Aidan clicked her tongue at the wall they had to climb to exit the cavern. She grumbled even as he gave her a boost up.

She gave him a dirty look when he easily scaled the obstacle. “This is why I’m glad you’re in charge of climbing,” she wheezed, slowing getting onto her feet. “Hyrule would be doomed if Princess Zelda put all her hopes on a recuperating hero and all she got was me.”

Link felt the beginnings of a laugh rumble in his chest, but it died when Aidan’s face, stiff and expressionless, flashed through his mind. He remembered the way she tugged on her hair and the way she kicked at the ground. The way her fingers shook against the smooth surface of a remote bomb.

If…he was being entirely honest, he wasn’t sure where he would’ve been without her. She had been a constant in his life ever since he stepped out of the magnesis shrine. Her bantering, her warm hands, her mischievous eyes—all of them were so familiar, so comforting to him. If she hadn’t been with him when he collapsed in the floodplains outside the Dueling Peaks or when he had fallen apart at Lanayru Bluff…

If she hadn’t distracted that lynel when he laid bleeding out on the grass.

If she hadn’t made him laugh all those times with her snarky comments or encourage his fledgling feelings towards the Zora. If she hadn’t shaken him out of his worries or fought the waterblight at his side.

If she hadn’t taken the chance to be vulnerable with him. If she hadn’t been willing to open up to him. If she hadn’t thought to trust him like he trusted her.

Link took in the sight of her. Her clothes were dusty and her boots were scuffed in a million places. Her glasses looked a bit battered and their lenses were kind of dirty, but at least they weren’t broken. Her hair, despite all the violent winds they endured and all the chaotic situations they found themselves in, fell straight and untangled down to her shoulders.

This could have been easy. She could have been a selfless spirit hovering over him, giving him advice, giving him comfort, and doing everything to benefit him. She could’ve just busied herself making sure he was alright. Could’ve been someone who would just point things out to him and keep to herself if he wasn’t interested in conversation. Someone who would only appear when he needed her.

But she badgered him into doing things and laughed at him when he was embarrassed. She filled hours of silence with mindless chatter and asked him to answer strange, nonsensical questions. She forced him to consider perspectives he didn’t think of and made him aware of a world he could never exist in. She cussed violently, made offhand comments about the people around them, and said some of the stupidest things that he’s ever heard.

And none of that felt fake. None of that felt like a persona that she was acting out.

All those times that she told him that he wasn’t living a lie—it felt like she had truly been trying to convince herself.

“Link?” Aidan’s brow furrowed and she reached out for him. There was concern in the depths of the dark eyes. Gentle, obtrusive, and compassionate concern. “You okay, buddy?”

I think, he said slowly, taking her hand in his, that Hyrule would be lucky to have you.

Chapter Text

“But it’s a puppy,” Aidan whined.

A puppy that wants to kill you, Link retorted, glancing over his shoulder at the wolves chasing after them. If you want to pet something that won’t bite you, then you should’ve pet the dogs at the stable.

“But these ones are pretty too.” He heard Aidan squeak and turned in time to see one of the ‘pretty’ canines snap at her. “Bad dog!”

For Hylia’s sake. Link came to a stop and whipped his bow off his back. With one smooth motion, he notched an arrow and sent it flying. The arrow pierced Aidan’s aggressor in the throat and the wolf collapsed with a whimper. Its packmates turned tail and fled when Link readied another arrow and pointed it at them.

When the wolves disappeared, Link put away his bow and walked over to Aidan. She was staring forlornly at the canine he had slain. He scratched the back of his head as he drew closer. Sorry, he told her.

“No, it’s fine,” she sighed. “They weren’t going to leave us alone until we killed one of them.” She checked the Sheikah slate and grimaced. “You might want to process it,” she said, showing him the screen. “Apparently you can get ‘prime meat’ off these guys.”

Link felt mildly guilty when his mouth watered at her words. I take it that you won’t want any? he asked, crouching down beside the wolf.

“I’m pretty sure I’ll be over it once I can’t recognize it anymore,” she said, passing him the Sheikah slate. “It’s always easier to eat things when you can’t recognize what they came from. Show me a cow and I’ll feel bad, but show me a steak and I won’t think twice.”

Do people where you’re from not hunt wolves? A prompt showed up on the screen and asked him if he wanted to process the kill. He pressed ‘yes’ and the wolf in front of them was enveloped in a white cloud. When the air in front of them cleared up, there were two generous hunks of meat left behind.

“Not very much anymore. People used to go after them for their pelts, but I’m not sure what they did with the rest of the bodies. Eating carnivores isn’t really a common thing back home, I think.” Thankfully, Aidan only looked mildly uncomfortable when Link stashed away the two pieces of prime meat. “I think I might need to thank Purah the next time we see her,” she said. “She really did us a favor by adding more magical bullshit to that slate.”

Link chuckled and handed her the Sheikah slate for safekeeping. When they had last parted ways with Impa, the Sheikah elder had informed them that her older sister wanted to speak with them. Apparently, Purah had the ability to upgrade certain rune functions and wanted to tinker with the Sheikah slate to see if there was anything else she could unlock. It eventually led to the discovery of a helpful, but entirely unnecessary rune that processed monsters and animals in less gory ways.

At the very least, it meant that Link’s weapons had increased durability now that they weren’t being used as glorified cleavers.

Kaneli said that Teba was at the Flight Range, right? Depending on how far north it is, I might have to change into my snowquill armor.

Aidan shrugged. “Why wait until you’re freezing to switch clothes? Besides, it looks like we’re headed towards another snowfield, so get changed while you’re ahead.” She tapped on the screen of the Sheikah slate. “Here, I’ll even help you out with another one of Purah’s magical bullshit runes.” In a flash of blue light, Link’s entire outfit was swapped out with his snowquill armor. “Boom.”

Link looked himself over before shooting Aidan a dry smile. Wow, you’re certainly on a shopping spree, he teased, repeating the words of a delighted Rito shopkeeper.

She scowled viciously at him. “We needed those clothes. What the hell did he think we were going to do? Only buy one piece of armor? I wasn’t going to let your fingers and toes freeze off.”

We didn’t need the entire set to stay warm, Link reminded her. We could have just bought the tunic and pants. Instead of selling him a bunch of monster parts we probably needed to afford the headgear, he added internally.

“Yeah, but,” Aidan’s cheeks flushed and she looked somewhat chastised. “The headgear was cute.” She fidgeted with her hands and looked up at him. “Was it a bad idea?”

That was enough teasing, he decided. Aidan had been staring holes into the headgear when they were back at the Rito’s shop. And he had to admit, the accessory was pretty cute. Maybe he could convince Aidan to try it on sometime, given that she was so enamored with it. At least with a full set of armor we can try our hand at getting a set bonus. But we’ll need to find another Great Fairy fountain before we can make that happen…

“Okay. You should probably ask around the Rito village when we get back,” Aidan said. “Or after we help take down Vah Medoh. The Rito are pretty easygoing, but I’m pretty sure they’d be a little more helpful if their feathers weren’t ruffled.”

While Vah Medoh was a nuisance, it didn’t pose nearly as much of a threat to the Rito as Vah Ruta had to the Zora. Vah Medoh was harmless so long as anyone or anything flew at low altitudes. That didn’t stop the Rito from complaining though—the Divine Beast severely limited their freedom to explore the skies.

I just hope Teba’s open to letting us help with Vah Medoh, Link sighed. If he was anything like Revali, then taming the Divine Beast would be an extremely tedious endeavor.

He felt the weight of Aidan’s gaze settle on him as they headed north. “Maybe let’s take it easy on our way to the flight range,” she suggested. “You recovered a memory back at the village, right? It looked like it was a bit easier to digest than your previous ones.”

Link thought of cobalt blue feathers and dismissive emerald eyes. I met one of the previous champions, he said slowly. It didn’t seem like he liked me very much.

Aidan’s eyebrows quirked upwards. “Oh? I suppose just because you were allies doesn’t mean you guys actually got along.” She tapped her chin thoughtfully. “What was he like?”

Full of himself. Link twisted his fingers into the hem of his snowquill armor. His past self had been strangely nonreactive when Revali circled him, but just thinking about it made the current him squirm. The Rito had been resentful of him for reasons that were beyond his control. He called himself the best archer among the Rito. I don’t think he was very happy that the Hylian Champion was taking center stage.

“Uh-huh.” Aidan’s expression was unreadable. It made his skin prickle.

What? he snapped.

“Okay, since I’ve pretty much been playing armchair psychologist for you, I’ll just let that go,” she said dryly. “Don’t take it out on me just because you’re uncomfortable.” She crossed her arms and studied him. “What really happened in that memory?” she asked. “Even if he really was a jerk, you wouldn’t get this angry. Something else ticked you off that wasn’t him.”

If he was being entirely honest, Link knew that he was being more sensitive than usual. It’d been over a week since the last memory he recovered and that one had been of a comparatively less abrasive and much kinder Mipha. He had been quiet during that particular memory since there hadn’t really been a need for him to respond to Mipha’s words.

But in this most recent memory and in the one he had recovered at the Lanayru Bluff…

I don’t understand my past self, Link grit out. Had he thought that it was better for him to keep the peace with Revali and not react to his taunts? He was baiting me. He stared down at his gloved hands. He said the only reason why I was playing the lead role was because of the sword on my back. The sword that everyone says I’ve lost. The sword that seals the darkness away.

“Are you angry because he was right? Or are you angry because he was wrong?”

I’m angry because I don’t think I wanted to be the hero in the first place, Link said. From what I can remember at the East Lanayru Gate and at Revali’s Landing, it felt like I was just doing what was expected of me. Staying vigilant. Holding it together. Pushing forward, even if I had no idea where I was going. Brushing off the things Revali said of him.

He made it sound like the only reason why I was champion was because of a centuries-old prophecy. That everything and anything important about me boiled down to the weapon I wielded. He clenched his hands into fists. He was angry for a lot of reasons. But most of all, he was angry that he didn’t stand up for himself. I can’t help but wonder, Link choked out, if he’s right.

Aidan was quiet for a few moments. “Maybe he was.” Link’s head snapped up and he stared at her. “But that makes me wonder what important means. Are you called important because you’re doing something for a larger cause? If so, then all of the people who were supposed to stop Ganon were only important because they offered something.” She ticked off one finger. “You, the hero of prophecy, with the sword on your back.” She stuck out another digit. “Princess Zelda, with the blood of the goddess in her veins.

“Mipha, the Pride of the Zora. Revali, the Prodigy of the Rito. If they weren’t the best of the best, do you really think they would’ve been selected as the pilots of the Divine Beasts?” Aidan cocked her head at him. “Even if you were the hero of legend, I hardly think that they’d make you champion if you could barely swing a sword around.

“Boil everyone down to the basics, and they’re only important for one thing,” she said. “Mipha has to control Vah Ruta. Revali has to control Vah Medoh. You have to cut down Ganon. Princess Zelda has to seal him away.”

Link’s mind took a few seconds to catch up with her words. That still doesn’t make me feel that much better about myself, he said.

“That’s because you’re thinking about all of this wrong. In the grand scheme of things, no single person was important. It was just the roles that were important.” Aidan held up four fingers and wiggled them. “Someone to control Ruta. Someone to control Medoh. Someone to subdue Ganon. Someone to put him in his place. If what happened a hundred years ago instead happened two hundred years ahead of schedule, it wouldn’t be you, Princess Zelda, Mipha, and Revali on the front lines; it’d be some other unfortunate group of heroes.”

Link’s brow furrowed. So none of us were important?

“In the grand scheme of things. But you’re missing the trees for the forest.” Aidan crossed her arms. “If we’re looking at the meaning of ‘important’ as being someone who impacts the lives of others, someone who contributes something that benefits others, then you are important. Whether you’re the hero of legend or a humble boy who never steps outside of the village you were born in, you have the potential to be important. It just depends on your definition of what counts as important.”

Link gave her a disgruntled look. I think saving the entire world is a little more important than anything that village boy could do, he said.

“Is that so? But what if that village boy made sure that his entire village survived a famine after their crops failed? What if he fought off a pack of wolves that were harassing the village cattle? If he saved someone who was suicidal?” Aidan’s mouth thinned. “Maybe to that person that he saved, the world ending meant little next to the fact that someone wanted them to live.”

She cast her eyes downward. “If you ask me, if I were that person that village boy saved,” she said softly, “I think he’d be more important to me than the hero who saves the entire world. Yeah, maybe it’s not as glamorous of a good deed, but it was important nonetheless. He made someone feel like they were worth fighting for.” She kicked at the ground. “Anyway, now we’re horribly off track. What else is biting at you?”

Link gazed at her. He was skeptical that saving a single life could be just as important as saving the lives of many, but the expression on her face made him reluctant to argue with her. As ludicrous as her words were, they felt heart-wrenchingly honest.

She would honor the village boy who rescued her over a hero who saved the world.

Aidan scowled and Link realized that he’d been staring at her slack-jawed for some time. Embarrassed, he scratched the back of his neck. I don’t know why I didn’t stand up for myself, he admitted. Why I just let him talk at me like that.

“Maybe you were too shocked by what he had to say to react,” Aidan said. “Do you remember anything else? Or did the memory cut off after he was done speaking?”

Link shook his head. He left after challenging me to meet him up on Medoh. The memory ends after that.

Her eyes widened. “While it was up in the air? Dick move, bro.” Aidan pursed her lips thoughtfully. “In that case, you don’t know if you got angry afterwards. Either that, or, maybe you just let it go.”

But it doesn’t make sense why I would do that.

“Call this wild speculation,” Aidan drawled, “but maybe you weren’t that invested in the whole ‘take down Ganon and save the world’ thing. I mean yeah, you had a stake in it and the world would probably end if you didn’t, but aside from that, what did you have to lose?” She studied him. “It makes me wonder,” she said slowly, “if you’re getting angry now because you have something you know you want to protect.”

I’m pretty sure I had something I needed to protect back then too, Link told her.

“Need and want are two different things,” she sighed. “Need is obligatory. Want is intrinsic. You needed to protect the world because it was the only option ahead of you. You want to protect the world because now you have people you care deeply about.” She raised her hands non-threateningly when Link frowned at her. “Not to say that you didn’t care about anyone back then. At this point, all we know is that you spent a bit of time at the Zora domain, but you were probably too young to really hold onto those memories. You were only four, right? Besides, Kodah said that you were only there for a month.

“So maybe back then you were telling yourself that you needed to protect the world because that included your old childhood friends in the Zora domain and all the people you were working with to fight Ganon. But now? You want to protect the Zora. The pretty fish boy and all his hospitable people and all those old friends who remember and love you.” She smiled wearily at him. “Remember, this is all speculation. I don’t know if you’ll be able to regain all of your memories by wandering around the world, but based off of what you’ve told me so far and what we’ve heard, I don’t think my theory is too much of a stretch. Defending the world because you’re obliged to is very different from saving the world because you risk losing something very dear to you otherwise.”

Link let out a frustrated huff. In other words, we won’t know until we get more of my memories back, he recounted.

“Yeah, but I’m honestly not too concerned about it,” Aidan said. “It’s important to know what you felt back then, sure, but I think it’s a little more important to know how you feel right now.” Her eyes twinkled at him. “Mipha talked to you when we got onto Ruta, right? Maybe you can finally get the chance to talk back at Revali when we board Medoh.”

He wasn’t entirely sure how well that would go, but he decided to humor Aidan with a curt nod. We’ll cross that bridge when we get there, he sighed.

¤     ¤     ¤

Teba, thankfully, was much more reasonable than Revali. He was gruffer than most of his Rito brethren, but he had warmed up to Link after he managed to prove his archery skills.

If Link was being entirely honest, the test hadn’t been all that hard. It probably would’ve been more difficult if he had been a Rito since he would have to alternate between flying around and shooting arrows. But as a Hylian, he could get away with just floating along with his paraglider and waiting for the perfect opening to fire at the targets.

It also probably helped that time seemed to strangely slow whenever he took out his bow in midair.

This is a beautiful bow, Link told Teba. The falcon bow was light and had a supple bowstring. He didn’t know much about archery aside from how to draw a bow and aim at something, but even he could tell that a lot of time and patience went into the crafting of the weapon he was holding.

“Bah, flattery will get you nowhere,” the Rito said. Despite his words, there was a satisfied gleam in his eye. “Rito archers are fond of bows that allow them to fire arrows quickly. While I am certain this quality is not unappreciated by other people, I must say that we Rito are rather adamant about exclusively using quick-draw bows. It would be almost scandalous for a Rito to be found with any other bow.”

“That’s…dedicated of them,” Aidan said. “I didn’t know preferring other types of bows was on the same level of a clandestine affair.”

Link ignored her and kept his attention on Teba. “I see that you have already purchased some clothing from Brazen Beak.” The white-feathered Rito looked rather pleased. “Good. It will keep you warm when we start picking away at Medoh’s defenses. Unfortunately, regular arrows will not be enough to take out the cannons that guard it. We will be needing bomb arrows to do any sort of damage.”

The dismay of possibly going on another fetch quest faded when Teba handed him a bundle of red-tipped arrows. “These are an expensive commodity, so use them with care,” he said. “If you use them recklessly, I will be unable to provide you with more.”

Gotcha. Are we ready to go?

“One last thing.” Teba crossed his arms. “Why are you doing this? Why are you risking your life to face Medoh?”

Link wasn’t sure if it would be a good idea to tell Teba he was the Hylian Champion from 100 years ago, but saying that he wanted to save the Rito village also seemed…self-important. After all, he was a Hylian. There was no obvious reason why he would be so motivated to protect the Rito aside from altruism. And that…almost felt like he would be condescending.

He would just have to twist the truth a little. I had a Rito friend who loved the skies, Link said. I think it would’ve been cruel if he couldn’t fly wherever he wanted to.

Teba studied him. “I see. So you are facing Medoh to return the free skies to all those who wish to navigate them.” His voice dropped to a low whisper. “I pray, for this friend of yours and for my people, that the Rito will fly freely again.”

The white-feathered Rito crouched down and spread his wings. “I will bring you to Medoh,” he said. “Let us make haste.”

¤     ¤     ¤

“Do you think he’s going to be okay?” Aidan asked Link as they landed on Medoh.

I threw a fairy his way before we parted, he told her. Teba had been putting on a brave face, but it was obvious that he was just gritting his teeth through the worst of his pain. The flesh on his left flank had looked horribly burnt. Hopefully it got close enough to heal him up a little bit. The fairy’s healing power would increase his chances of actually reaching the Flight Range before the pain caught up to him. He shivered at the thought of Teba plummeting out of the air because of his wounds.

Aidan didn’t look reassured, but there wasn’t much else Link could say to her. They could only pray that Teba would manage to find some sort of shelter to tend to his injuries.

“I wish we had two Sheikah slates,” she sighed. “That way I could just teleport him back to the Rito village and come back to you once he was safe.”

I’m sure that would go over well with the village, Link snorted. Their best warrior limping home on an invisible person’s shoulder.

Aidan’s cheeks pinked and she facepalmed. “Oh. I totally forgot they can’t see me.” She gave him a small smile. “It’d make quite a scene, wouldn’t it?”

Absolutely. Link was relieved to see the tension fade from her shoulders.

She looked thoughtful as he activated the travel gate. “Do you think Revali would get angry at us if you took a pre-emptive victory nap?” she mused. “We don’t have to take it now, but maybe before we have to take on whatever’s possessing Medoh?”

Link initially thought she meant to spite the Rito Champion, but then he realized that she was thinking back to when they had defeated the waterblight. The two of them had pretty much passed out from exhaustion as soon as they purged Ganon’s influence from Ruta. Who cares about what he thinks? Link waved his hand dismissively.

A smile tugged at Aidan’s lips. “Oh? Are you getting back at him for talking smack at you all those years ago? That’s quite a grudge you’re nursing.”

Indeed, a voice tutted in his head. You made me wait one hundred years and all you can think of is having a nap? That’s not very befitting of a champion.

Link was about to retort something when Aidan’s sharp gasp caught his attention. He felt electricity course through his veins when he saw the shock on her face. You can hear him? Link signed excitedly.

Of course she can hear me. I hardly think it is polite to exclude people from a conversation that may involve them, Revali huffed. And stop with that signing; I can hear you just fine.

Oh dear, Mipha murmured, her presence a sudden warm glow in Link’s mind. I must apologize then; I was not aware that I was offending you, Aidan. I fear I was too overjoyed to see Link to think to project my voice.

Oh, Mipha. Has this Hylian champion already seen to rescuing you? I see he plays favorites as always. The Rito’s words were of the teasing sort, but Link could tell that he was somewhat miffed. I am certain the—Aidan, you said?—is not particularly offended by your actions.

Aidan, who had been listening in slack-jawed awe, scowled. “Watch it, bird-boy, ‘the Aidan’ can speak for herself,” she said. “You’re just upset that you weren’t the first person we saved. You’re not as subtle as you think.” She turned to Link as Revali spluttered. It seemed like she was trying to figure out how to talk to Mipha. “Is everything okay with Ruta?” Aidan asked the Zora. “You said you would only leave its side to heal Link, right?”

Mipha’s voice was tinged with embarrassment as she spoke. There is nothing amiss with Ruta, she said. I was merely delighted at the chance to speak with my fellow champions again. I will return to Ruta immediately.

“No that’s not what I—” Aidan groaned when Link gave her an apologetic shrug. “She’s gone, isn’t she? Great, now I scared off the nice one. Can you apologize to her for me the next time you get clocked by a bokoblin?”

That wasn’t a memory he was particularly proud of. Heat flared in his cheeks and he glared at Aidan as Revali took the bait. Oh dear, a champion being bested by such a lowly monster? The Rito sounded horribly pleased. Are you sure that slumber wasn’t wasted on you?

Link saw Aidan open her mouth before she snapped it shut again. She looked like she was trying not to grind her teeth. “Listen, tsundere-chan, we’re here to take Medoh back from Ganon,” she said to the sky, “Are you going to help us or not? I’m sure you haven’t been all that happy that Ganon’s taken your people hostage.”

Revali was silent for a few heartbeats. As much as I hate to admit it, he said, it has troubled me that the Rito have been unable to fly freely in Medoh’s presence. Since you have successfully freed Vah Ruta from Ganon’s control, I assume you are aware of what you must do for Medoh? You must first activate five terminals before you can take back the main control unit.

A series of images flashed through Link’s mind and led him up into the interior of Medoh’s chest cavity. You’ll need a map to guide your way. The guidance stone at Medoh’s head has information of the Divine Beast’s layout. Revali’s voice became softer, kinder. Do you think you can make it there?

Chapter Text

No, don’t turn Medoh that way. You need the wind to spin those fans, Revali sniped.

“You know, somehow, Mipha was more helpful than you are and she barely said anything,” Aidan grumbled, turning to Link. “Okay, new plan. I’m going to tilt Medoh to the right all the way and I’m going to need you to open up those windows again. I’ll magnetize that right turbine to keep it in place.”

Link whacked the switch with his claymore and shifted his weight as Medoh raised its left wing. Wind blasted the two turbines and a hidden mechanism lifted the two walls that blocked a giant stone battering ram. Gravity drove the battering ram forward and it flattened a glowing button into the wall.

There was a triumphant tinkling noise and a gate lifted to reveal a terminal. “Thank Hylia,” Aidan groaned as Link activated the third terminal.

We’re doing good on time, he said. We’ve only been in here for about two hours.

He could hear the pride in Revali’s voice when he spoke: But of course! You are being advised by the Champion who piloted Medoh himself!

“That’s probably because this isn’t our first rodeo,” Aidan said, ignoring the Rito entirely. “We fumbled a lot on Ruta because we had no idea what we were doing. That, and I think Ruta’s puzzles were a lot less straightforward. With Medoh we just have to tilt him this way or that.” She mimed the positions they could move the Divine Beast in. “It also helps that Medoh is significantly smaller than Ruta. We’re less likely to get lost.”

How did you get lost on Vah Ruta? Didn’t you have a map? Revali asked Link.

He scratched the back of his neck. Aidan and I aren’t the best at figuring out maps, he admitted.

Link expected Revali to wave their weakness over his head like a flag, but the Rito was oddly quiet. I see. Well, the next terminal may be a little more difficult to reach, Revali said. It’s on Medoh’s other wing and there isn’t a cart you can ride to it. You’ll have to tilt Medoh and glide over. I’m certain that you’ll be able to reach it if you keep a steady head.

Oh. Thank you.

Think nothing of it, Revali said dismissively. You are cleaning up after me, after all. It was my carelessness that led to Medoh being taken over by the Calamity. His voice was soft. The least I can do is help you free it again.

Link glanced at Aidan, but she was quiet and pointedly not looking at them. She was giving them some space, he realized. That’s right, neither of you have been able to fly free for the past hundred years. I’m sorry, Link told him. If only I managed to defeat him the first time…

You are the Champion of Hyrule, Revali said. You are the hero with the sword that seals away the darkness. You are the warrior of prophecy, destined to save our world from Calamity Ganon. And yet, he murmured, you are mortal. Perhaps it is too late to say this, but there is a part of me that wishes we champions had worked together more. Perhaps if we had not been preoccupied with…posturing, we may be looking at a much happier, safer world than we are now.

But enough with hypotheticals, we have a Divine Beast to retrieve, the Rito said. I am going to check on the main control unit. If you have need of me, you can find me on Medoh’s back.

Link felt Revali’s presence disappear from his mind. When he turned back to Aidan, he saw that she was watching him. Do you think all of them regret it? he asked her. Not working together more?

“Hindsight’s 20/20,” Aidan offered. “It’s pretty normal for people to go through all the ways they could’ve done things better after something horrible happens.” She shrugged as the two of them headed back in the direction of Medoh’s chest cavity. “Right now, Mipha and Revali are confronted with the possibility that teamwork could have made things better because you’re helping them take their Divine Beasts back. Given that they couldn’t beat Ganon on their own, the next feasible strategy they could come up with is to work together.”

They hopped down to the bottom level of the Divine Beast and made their way to its left wing. After a bit of wandering, they found themselves standing outside of Medoh and across the way from a small cavity at the end of its wing. A few taps of the Sheikah slate had the Divine Beast tilting again and they made their way over.

The fourth terminal lit up when they activated it and Revali told them the location of the last terminal. Link looked at Aidan as they moved in the direction of the last glowing dot on their map.

We might not need that nap until after we take down what’s occupying Medoh, he told her.

She shot him a wicked grin. “You mean Revali? Yeah, I’m pretty sure he’d go down in a few swipes.” Aidan cackled when he gave her a half-hearted glare. “Well, we should probably ask Revali how his enemy works. Even if it’s not a goliath, there’s a lot of ways he could’ve been taken down. Just because you don’t hit hard doesn’t mean you can’t do lasting damage.”

When they finally met the Rito by the control terminal, he confirmed Aidan’s words. Ganon’s beast is a dangerous foe, Revali said. It wears you out and strikes you when your focus slips. It managed to defeat me 100 years ago, but only because I was winging it.

Aidan frowned. “Somehow I feel like that isn’t the whole story,” she said. “But I guess it can wait until we’ve actually managed to take back Medoh.” Link nodded in agreement and pressed his Sheikah slate against the main control unit. Black malice burst from the device and began swirling in a huge mass overhead. In a flash of blue light, the windblight was upon them.

Stay sharp! Revali shouted. Its aim is dead on. If it catches you off guard, you’ll be dead within the hour.

¤     ¤     ¤

He was going to have to thank Teba for all those extra bomb arrows, Link thought as he took aim at the windblight. Aidan was currently holding the blight’s attention and was doing her best to make sure it was solely focused on her. Link’s fingers tightened around his bow when she slipped and he forced himself to take a deep breath when she managed to scramble behind a pillar before the windblight could unleash a cyclone upon her.

They’d been fighting for what felt like hours. The windblight had toyed with them in the beginning, using its lasers to corner them before knocking them away with a concentrated blast of wind. At some point, Aidan had decided that she was going to distract the windblight while Link whittled away at its health with arrows. They were slowly doing damage to the blight, but it looked like Aidan’s legs were starting to give out on her.

It was like fighting a lynel, but instead of being daunting, it was annoying. The windblight was content to fire at them from a distance, but as soon as they advanced, it would send them back with a swipe of its hand. While the windblight’s attacks weren’t particularly powerful, he and Aidan had to constantly be aware of their surroundings in case a stray gust of wind threw them against a hard surface.

Link loosed his arrow when the windblight swiped at Aidan. It struck the blight dead in the face and it fell from the sky with a cry.

Aidan sprinted back toward the windblight and whipped the weapon off of her back. She raised the sledgehammer over her head and brought it down with all her might. Link couldn’t help but wince at the sickening crunch of her hammer connecting with the windblight’s head.

He didn’t want her to be caught in the blast radius of his bomb arrows, so he switched to normal ones and began firing. He managed to stick it with four arrows before the blight shuddered and transformed into an amorphous orb. Aidan missed it with her next swing and glared at it as it retreated.

She turned to Link, her chest heaving. “How much left?” she shouted.

He glanced down at the Sheikah slate next to him. Only a fifth of the blight’s health remained. One more time, he yelled back. If you can charge up an attack, we should be able to finish it off in one go.

Aidan groaned and tucked her hammer away. “If I throw up after all that spinning, I’m blaming you,” she grumbled.

I’ll hold your hair out of the way, he told her. The windblight was reforming itself to his left and he was already taking aim. Be careful.

Unfortunately, just as Aidan ran forward, the beast decided to play its trump card. Link heard her curse vehemently and duck behind a pillar as four blight scouts began to fire lasers at her. He rolled out of his spot when they shot a few beams in his direction and bit back a yelp when one of them grazed his calves.

Watch your blind spot! Revali shouted. Try to gain some air.

Link quickly scanned the area around him. There was a vertical turbine just a few feet away that he could use to his advantage, but he needed to get there without being blasted to death by the windblight’s scouts.

As if she had read his mind, Aidan skidded to a stop in front of him and parried a laser from one of the scouts with her shield. “I’ll cover you,” she said without looking at him.

Thanks. Link sprinted toward the turbine, narrowly sidestepping a stray shot from a scout. He whipped around to face the windblight and threw open his paraglider. It caught the rising air from the turbine and propelled him into the air.

He felt as if he was floating. Link could hear the flutter of fabric as he snapped his paraglider shut and drew his bow. The bomb arrow in his hand hissed as he readied a shot at the windblight. His hands were steady as he fired arrow after arrow at the beast and he felt a jolt of victory when the blight screamed.

Go for it! At Revali’s words, time caught up with Link. The smoke cleared from around the windblight and it lay, unmoving, on its side. There wasn’t enough time for Link to reopen his paraglider, so he fell from where he had been suspended and felt the impact of his landing rattle up his spine. He grit his teeth in response to the pain but pushed himself forward despite his aching legs.

Aidan was already bringing the rim of her shield down on the motionless blight when he reached it. She must’ve broken her sledgehammer at some point, Link realized when he caught sight of shattered pieces of wood at her feet.

The rasp of his sword from its scabbard caught her attention and she narrowed her eyes at him. “About time,” she wheezed, raising her shield over her head. “Making me do all the dirty work.”

Link ignored her and drove his sword deep into the windblight’s shoulder. The beast let out a scream and recoiled, jerking his weapon out of his hands. It shuddered and curled in on itself, clearly intending to retreat from its attackers.

You must kill the windblight now! Revali yelled. It’ll hide and heal itself if you let it escape!

“Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck,” Aidan hissed as the blight began to revert to its orb form. Link found himself echoing her panic as he reached for his bow again. They weren’t going to make it, he realized. Aidan didn’t have a weapon on hand and he wasn’t going to be able to notch his bow fast enough.

But then Aidan twisted her body and flung her shield at it. Link watched it leave her hands and fly in an arc toward the retreating windblight.

Everything seemed to be happening in slow motion. The shield clipped the blight in the jaw and Link heard a sharp crack when its head snapped to the side at an unnatural angle. The windblight let out a low cry and collapsed in a heap before them. Its lone hand grasped at the sky as it rolled onto its back and screamed. Jets of malice erupted from its body and the windblight’s back arched as it was enveloped in a ball of red light.

Link closed his eyes as the world around him faded into white. When he opened them again, the blight was gone.

He turned to Aidan, who was wide-eyed and slack-jawed. Her arms hung limply at her sides and her chest heaved with each breath. When she met his gaze, she looked dumbfounded. “I just killed something with a giant frisbee,” she said dazedly.

Link didn’t know what a frisbee was, but based off of what she was saying, he imagined it was small and shield-like. I’m guessing that’s not normal? he asked.

Aidan shook her head, blinking slowly. She frowned and pitched forward. Link’s hands shot out and grabbed her arms. She laughed nervously as he steadied her. “That’s not good,” she slurred. Her eyelids drooped and she leaned into him. “That’s a lot of black spots,” she muttered.

Before he could say anything, she went limp. Link dropped to his knees and caught her before she fell to the ground. He could hear Revali buzzing in his ear. What happened? the Rito asked. Why did she just collapse like that?

Link tightened his hold on her as he searched his memory for an explanation. She had been fine before they approached the control terminal, he thought, so something must’ve happened in the ensuing chaos. The only problem was that he had been busy aiming at the windblight and had only watched her in his periphery.

She must’ve hit her head, he said. He faintly remembered the blight sending Aidan flying with a sweep of its arm at some point during their battle. She had probably cracked her skull against something. Mipha! Link yelled as he lowered Aidan onto her back.

In a flash of blue light, the Zora appeared before him. Is something—oh dear. She quickly knelt down beside Aidan and held a hand over her sternum.

I think she hit her head when we fought the windblight, Link told her. She was fine up until a few seconds ago.

I see. Mipha scooted closer and gently slipped her hands under Aidan’s head. All will be well now, she said. I can heal her. Her amber eyes flitted over his body and landed on his legs. I will tend to your wounds once I am finished. For now, please activate Vah Medoh’s main control terminal. I am sure Revali is eager to be freed from Ganon’s grasp.

Link nodded and Mipha’s hands began emitting a pale teal glow. He rose to his feet and jogged toward Medoh’s control terminal. Revali was watching him approach with his arms crossed. I’m guessing all will be well with our little oddling, he said when Link reached him. She has one of the best healers tending to her.

Link glanced over his shoulder. Mipha was bent over Aidan and he couldn’t see either of their faces. Revali was silent for a few seconds before he cleared his throat. Link tilted his head towards the Rito. I must say, I’m rather plucked, Revali said. You just defeated the bane of my existence. I suppose I should thank you for that. He laced his fingers together. Thank you. For freeing Medoh.

He looked strange, Link decided, being so reserved. The Revali from his memory had been bright and bold, cocky on the side of overconfident and willingly leaning into his pride. While he hadn’t seen the Rito’s skills in action, the fact that Zelda accepted him as the Champion of Medoh spoke to his expertise in battle.

So why was he lowering his head?

What happened one hundred years ago? Revali twitched at Link’s words. How did you…

Die? the Rito chuckled. So you’re not only persistent, but also rather blunt. I suppose eloquence is beyond your capabilities.

Link’s mouth flattened into a line. And you’re dodging the question.

Revali cast his eyes downwards. Yes, I suppose I am. He fell quiet and stared at his feet. Link leaned against the control terminal and waited for him to gather his thoughts. You do not remember the events that took place one hundred years ago, yes? You were quite clumsy stumbling around Medoh. I had half the mind to scold you. Revali smiled sadly. Well, even if you had your memories, I think that you would still be unaware of what happened to us Champions when the Calamity finally attacked. After all, you were not with us when Ganon took over the Divine Beasts. He lifted his head and gazed over at Mipha. I am not surprised our Zora Princess did not think to divulge that information to you. She has always been rather sweet on you.

Link’s cheeks filled with heat. Revali’s eyes widened and he looked oddly…peeved? I presume she has told you? I didn’t think she had it in her. He huffed and shook his head. Or, rather, perhaps my words are more indicative of how we Champions were to each other. Strangers, the Rito sighed. We hardly knew each other outside of our stations. So who am I to assume I knew her?

There was a strange bitterness underlying his words, Link thought with a frown. Revali seemed almost unreasonably frustrated over Mipha. Were you—

Before you make any judgments, the Rito said, I would like to state that we were not given any specific instructions on what to do against Ganon. He cocked his head to the side. Certainly, we were expected to pilot the Divine Beasts and wield them against the Calamity, but there were no details as to whether or not we were required to be armed ourselves.

Realization dawned on Link and his blood ran cold. You mean?

Yes, Revali murmured. He chuckled and stared at the ground. His expression was bittersweet. In my case, I had rushed back to Medoh as quickly as I could. After Princess Zelda was unable to awaken her power at the Shrine of Wisdom, that is. He crossed his arms. I was standing on Medoh when it happened. The Village Elder had sent my brother to deliver my bow to me after they caught wind of Ganon’s return. His emerald eyes narrowed. I still remember the shock on his face, he said. That sniveling bookworm…we had never looked more alike in that moment. I suppose it was heartwarming to be reminded of the blood that flowed between us in our last moments together.

Link frowned. Your brother?

Revali shook his head. You never met him, the Rito said. One hundred years later…and I can still remember the look on his face when Medoh raised its shields. Medoh took to the skies before I could say a word. I’m sure that fool flew back to the village as soon as he realized he wasn’t going to be able to deliver my bow. He ran a finger down the side of Medoh’s control terminal. Not that I would know, of course. Ganon’s windblight attacked me as soon as I tried to figure out what was going on.

I fought the windblight one hundred years ago, Revali whispered, and I died by its hand. I suppose in some sense, he said, shaking his head, I learned why we Rito are rarely found without our bows. They play to our strengths—our ability to fly and weave through the air. He lifted his hand to the sky and the light of the setting sun pierced through his ghostly form. We are not as hardy as the Gorons, he mused, nor are we as ferocious as the Gerudo. The Zora are much better equipped to do lasting damage with their teeth and claws.

Our strengths lie in the marriage of our bows and our flight. If a Rito was to be caught without the former, escape would be the first thing on his mind. Even I, the most talented amongst the Rito, would have run in the face of a formidable foe. He closed his hand into a fist. But Medoh’s shields prevented my retreat. I became nothing more than a caged sparrow. The damage I was able to deal was…laughable at best. The windblight toyed with me for days. I was forced to be hypervigilant. I lived my last moments in a state of constant paranoia.

It allowed me the illusion of safety before it killed me, Revali said. I still remember the glowing ring around its eye as it shot me. His face twisted into a grimace. I am almost disgusted that it was the last thing I saw.

I’m sorry, Link said.

For my death? Even I am not fool enough to blame you for it.

Link shook his head. I’m sorry that it hurt you like that, he said. I’m sorry that you never had a chance to say goodbye.

Revali stared at him for a few long moments before he barked out a laugh. If anything, the Rito village likely bid me good riddance, he said, waving his hand dismissively. You may think me too self-absorbed to be aware of the thoughts of others, but I was well aware of what they thought of me. But I was the best among them, so they had no choice but to grouse behind my back. He clapped his hands. Enough of this sentimentality. We must free Medoh as soon as possible. There was a sad gleam in his eye. A hundred years is a long time to keep a bird from flying.

Link hesitated and Revali tut-tutted at him. I will leave you to it, the Rito said. For now, I will check up on the oddling. I will also make sure to speak with Mipha—one hundred years is a long time to reflect and ruminate on your past. We Champions should try to be much cosier with one another before we take on Ganon again. Maybe this time we’ll actually succeed.

Revali made a beeline toward the Zora, who was still bent over Aidan’s prone figure. Link couldn’t see if Mipha was still healing her, but he figured he could check after activating Medoh’s control terminal. A quick press of his Sheikah slate against the terminal turned it blue and, within seconds, he was making his way back over to where his fellow champions were waiting.

Mipha was helping Aidan up into a seated position and Link lengthened his strides. How are you feeling? he asked her. She looked…annoyed?

“I wish I had healing powers,” she said.

You would abuse them, he replied immediately. Mipha and Revali both looked taken back at his response, but Aidan shot him a look that told him she thought he was stupid.

“Yeah, why wouldn’t I? Goodbye random headaches and all those times I stubbed my toe. Oh god, no more cramps. That would be heaven.” She started ticking off fingers. “No more tenderness; no more aching backs. Pull a Charlie horse in the middle of the night and boom—gone.” She wiggled her fingers in what he supposed was an approximation of casting healing magic.

Link felt a smile tugging at his lips. You’re being ridiculous, he said.

“Sore from exercising too much? No problem,” she continued. “Heal papercuts before you accidentally put hand sanitizer on them. What if you could also magic away acne? No more cystic bumps, no more angry pimples on your forehead.” She turned to Mipha. “God, I’m jealous.”

The Zora looked at a loss for what to do, so Link drew the attention away from her. It looks like you’re feeling fine, he told Aidan.

“For a person who definitely fractured their skull, yeah,” she said. “Mipha said that if the windblight threw me any harder my head would’ve actually been smashed open.”

Link’s eyes widened. Excuse me?

Mipha threw up her hands in a placating fashion. Her injuries weren’t nearly that bad, she said hurriedly. What Aidan just described would have been the worst case scenario—one that thankfully did not happen.

Her words were reassuring, but only a little bit. He glared at Aidan. We’ll see if I let you fight the next blight, he told her.

“Don’t take me out, coach,” she whined. “I can still fight.”

Revali crossed his arms. As heartwarming as this all is, he drawled, you all ought to get going. Medoh and I need to get ourselves into position so we can fire at Ganon when you finally decide to put the nail into his coffin. He sniffed haughtily. We’ve already waited a hundred years—I’m not really keen on waiting a hundred more.

Of course. I apologize for not being more considerate. The sooner we can defeat Ganon, the better. But before I return to Ruta, I must see to your wounds, Mipha said, gesturing for Link to sit down. He settled down beside Aidan and felt his body relax as the Zora’s healing powers washed over him.

He only had a few cuts and scrapes, so it was mere moments before Mipha was drawing back. Thank you, Link told her as her image began to fade away.

It is my pleasure, she said. From now until the next time you are in need of me, please take care. She dipped her head and disappeared in a flash of fire.

Revali’s arms were still crossed when Link turned to him. I’m not letting you take a nap here, he said when Aidan opened her mouth. Mipha told me you slept for hours before you freed Vah Ruta and I’m not keen on letting you sleep on Medoh as we ready ourselves to attack Ganon. His voice dropped slightly. Besides, it is much better for you to sleep on proper beds after such an arduous battle. Sleeping on the floor would undo all of Mipha’s healing.

“Alright, alright.” Aidan held up her hands placatingly. “We’ll leave you alone, tsundere-chan.”

Before you go, Revali said when Link unhooked the Sheikah slate from his waist, I want you to have something. You’ve proven yourself to be quite a warrior—a warrior worthy of my unique ability. He threw his arms outwards. A skill that I have dubbed: Revali’s Gale! He raised a hand to the sky and a ball of light formed between his fingers.

With a flick of his fingers, it flew towards Link, disappearing deep into his chest. Wind swirled around his ankles and Link had a split second’s notice before he was launched into the air. He backflipped and landed lightly on his toes. When he lifted his head, Revali looked somewhat pleased. Feel free to thank me for my thoughtfulness, the Rito preened.

Thank you, Link said. Revali took a small step back, a startled expression crossing his face. It was almost as if he hadn’t expected Link to actually be appreciative. At Link’s side, Aidan snickered and whispered something suspiciously similar to ‘tsundere-chan’.

I’ll be taking my leave, the Rito said. I will join you again when you have need of me.

In a flash of blue light, he was gone. Link turned to Aidan and smiled. Well, that was interesting.

“Entertaining is the word for it,” she snorted. “He looks nice when he’s flustered. Like a teenager who doesn’t know what to do in front of his crush.”

Link thought back to the strange look on Revali’s face during their conversation earlier. Do you think he might have feelings for Mipha? He seemed somewhat…bothered when he found out that I knew how she felt about me, he asked Aidan.

Her expression fell and she stared at him. “Are you kidding me? He—no—he does not have a crush on Mipha,” she said in a low, disbelieving tone. Link furrowed her brow and her jaw dropped. “You’re shitting me. Are you really this oblivious? Although, I guess that would make sense. You were thick-skulled a hundred years ago, so why would you be any different now?”

I’m not sure I’m following, Link said uncertainly.

“Yeah, that’s because you aren’t. You’re a train headed in the complete opposite direction.” She snapped at him. “Think about it. He’s haughty. Snooty and abrasive. Helpful and yet annoying at the same time. All key characteristics of a tsundere.”

I don’t know what that means, he sighed.

“Tsundere,” Aidan said, “noun. Someone who acts tough and unfriendly around the person of their affections.” She held up two fingers. “There’s two types of tsunderes: type A and type B. Type A can be physically, verbally, and emotionally abrasive. They beat the crap out of you because they get angry at you for reasons you don’t understand even after you establish that your feelings are mutual. Type B stops being violent once you’re in a relationship with them. Capiche?”

Link stared at her. What?

“Capiche—it’s—” she waved her hands frantically. “Do you get it? Do you understand what I’m saying?”

Yes, he said slowly, but I don’t see why Revali would—the gears in his head clicked and he froze. Wait.

Yes?” Aidan drew out the word.

But he—why would he—Link stared at her. Huh?

“Tsunderes, man,” she replied sagely. “Once you know their patterns, you can spot them a mile away. Or five minutes after you meet them.”

Enough, Link groaned. My head hurts and I’m tired. Let’s just get back to the Rito village. He tapped on the Akh V’quot Shrine before another thought passed through his mind. Deciding to humor it, he turned to Aidan. How exactly do you know this much about them? he asked.

“Because I adore them? Tsunderes are my favorite,” she said. “Type As’ whole violent schtick gets tiring over time, but Type Bs are the best of the best.” She smiled at him. “It’s adorable when they get all pouty.”

Link pursed his lips. Uh-huh.

“I mean, you’re allowed to disagree. I think you prefer genki-types.”

He tapped on the shrine again and pressed ‘yes’ when a prompt came up on the Sheikah slate. He wasn’t entirely sure if he wanted to ask Aidan to define another term for him, but he was a bit curious as to why she would make such assumptions. And why would you say that?

“Because that type fits a certain pretty fish boy to a ‘T’.”