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Twilight gasps as the blade sinks in his side, tearing through cloth and chainmail and flesh as one.

He manages to swing his sword around, and with the sheer force of the strike, cleaves the lizalfos’s head clean from its shoulders. Black blood spatters his face and arms.

The body falls, and the lizalfos’s sword clatters to the ground with it, stained bright red in contrast.

Twilight meets Time’s eye across the battlefield. His mentor is saying something. Shouting. He can’t get to him – held back by an army of lizalfos and moblins and wizzrobes. He can see Sky, further in the distance, stumbling, burned, Master Sword flashing a brilliant blue against the horde. Warriors, cutting through a swathe of bokoblins but still getting pushed back as he struggles to stop the surging wave. Wild, almost out of arrows, firing one after the other, picking off any enemy that splits to go for where Hyrule is crouched over Wind. Four is fighting one handed, his shield arm hanging limp and broken against his side.

There’s too many. Everyone is exhausted, and injured, and being cornered and picked off, one by one.

They’re going to lose.

They’re going to lose, and Twilight is going to be the first to die.

He collapses to his knees, braced against his sword. He drags in a ragged breath, and it feels like knives. A silver lizalfos notices him, and turns his way.

There’s a burst of light in the distance, and a bone-chilling, painful scream. A wave of pressure slams down across the battlefield – the fighting stops, for just a moment, everyone pausing to take a breath as one, turning to gauge this new threat.

Time is gone. In his place towers a man with white hair, blank eyes, and red and blue marks on his face.

Twilight blinks, and the silver lizalfos approaching him is speared on a helix blade, body hanging limply. It’s thrown aside, and a moment later a disc of burning white light cleaves through a moblin Twilight hadn’t even seen – then travels beyond, eviscerating everything in its path.

“Old Man?” Twilight chokes out, still bleeding. “What-?”

Time – or rather, the Fierce Deity – simply looks at him, and continues on.

They’re in no position to follow him, to fight, to help, to do anything. Their party is broken and injured and in desperate need of healing.

Twilight tries anyway, feebly reaching out – but he blacks out, and when he comes to again, Hyrule is crouched over him, a sheen of sweat on his brow and the light of healing magic on his fingers. Time is nowhere to be seen.

“Where is he?” he croaks. “What happened?”

“Shhh,” Hyrule shushes him.

“He-”

“There’s nothing we can do,” Legend snaps. “Worry about what we can.” He has his hands pressed against Warriors’ leg, blood seeping between his fingers.

Twilight blinks, and the image fades. When he opens his eyes again, Hyrule has moved on. He rolls his head to the side, and finds him poking at Wild’s ribs cautiously. Warriors is standing next to him – wasn’t his leg wounded? It seems not so bad now. “No more healing magic,” the Captain is saying. “He can manage for the time being.”

“I’ll be fine,” Wild says softly, even though the pain is apparent in his voice. Twilight tries to summon words to chastise him for it, but the sound dies in his throat and he drifts off again.

The next time he jolts back to awareness, it’s to a cloudy sky, promising rain. He’s still in the middle of a ravaged battleground, but someone’s made a campfire. Bodies of fallen lizalfos and moblins litter the ground in the distance. The earth is gouged and scorched, and flakes of ash scatter with every gust of wind.

Twilight rolls over, and pulls himself up, scanning the loose circle of his fellow heroes. Everyone looks exhausted – and just about everyone is either sporting bandages or scrapes and cuts and bruises.

Time is nowhere to be seen.

“Oi. Farm boy’s awake again,” Legend grunts when he sees him.

Twilight slowly, painfully, gets to his feet. His tunic is stained with blood, but when he presses a cautious hand to his side, it’s whole, if slightly tender to the touch. Partial healing, he registers, like when he’s had to ration red potions in the past, or his injuries were too much for any one fairy to handle.

Gingerly, he sits down next to Wild. Wild glances at him, gives him a wan smile, but otherwise doesn’t take his attention off the cooking pot.

“How are you feeling?” Hyrule asks. He doesn’t seem to be injured, but in Twilight’s opinion he looks the worst of them all – far too pale, and bags under his eyes like bruises, and his tunic spattered with blood. Some of it is probably Twilight’s.

“I’ve been better, but I’ll live, thanks to you,” he says. “We’re out of potions, I’m guessing?”

“Used up everything we had just to get us stable,” Warriors explains. “Once we’ve eaten and rested a bit, that will be our first order of business.”

Twilight nods. By the looks of it, they could all use a swig of red potion – and Hyrule looks like he could use an entire vat of green. He clears his throat, and asks the obvious. “Where’s the Old Man?”

No one will meet his eyes.

“We’re not sure,” Wind eventually says, his voice wobbling.

Twilight takes a deep breath, ignoring the faint thrum of pain accompanying the motion. “What happened?”

“It all went so quickly,” Sky says. “We were being overwhelmed and then…”

“And then we weren’t,” Four finishes tiredly. “The Old Man put on that mask, and just – tore through everything. It was…” He stops, pursing his lips as he searches for the right word.

“Terrifying,” Warriors grunts. “No need to sugar coat it.”

“It was like being near Dinraal, or Farosh, or Naydra,” Wild murmurs. “Just… overwhelming power. Pressure. All you could do was hold your breath and hope it didn’t turn your way.”

“And then?” Twilight asks.

“You were closest, didn’t you see?” Legend demands.

“He passed out,” Hyrule explains.

“He killed them all. Just… ripped through them. The whole battlefield in a couple of minutes. Then he stood there, and I called out to him, and he just… left,” Sky supplies.

Silence falls back over the camp, tired and weighty. Wild finishes cooking, and quietly starts spooning soup into bowls. Everyone accepts it with murmurs of thanks, eating listlessly, spoons dragging in their food. Wild has yet to cook anything less than delicious, but everyone is tired, and eating only because they all know better than to skip a meal just because they don’t feel like it.

It’s Legend who finally breaks the silence, dropping his empty bowl with a sigh. “So what was that, anyway?”

“It was a mask. It’s possession,” Four says quietly. “We’ve all seen the marks on the Old Man’s face before. They’re the same. That’s not a coincidence.”

“You’re right,” Twilight confirms. “He was scared of it, the mask, I think. Told me he only kept it as a last resort. Called it the ‘Fierce Deity’.”

“Do you know where he got it?” Wind asks. “Maybe if we have some clues we can figure out what to do?”

Twilight shakes his head. “He didn’t like talking about it. You all know what he’s like. I only know as much as I do because I found the mask in his things and pushed it.”

“He’s had it since he was a kid,” Warriors offers. “I rarely saw it in action myself, but he used it sometimes, back then. Wouldn’t say where he got it, wouldn’t let anyone else touch it. I asked him about it when we met again on this journey but all he said was that it wasn’t safe to use it anymore.” He scowls, kicking at the dirt. “Three guesses why.”

Twilight closes his eyes, and sets his bowl aside. It’s not quite finished, but he doesn’t think he can stomach any more. “We need to go after him. I could track-”

“You’re in no fit state to do anything,” Warriors interrupts. “ None of us are.”

“But we have to help him,” Twilight says, desperate.

“How?” Legend demands, standing, fists clenched. “What could any of us do against a monster like that? I haven’t seen anyone use power like that short of Ganon himself.”

“We’ve all defeated Ganon, or things worse than him,” Twilight contests.

“And what then? Let’s assume that we somehow manage it without killing the Old Man in the process. What, you think we can just pull the mask off?” Legend jabs at him. “You heard the smithy. Those marks on his face aren’t a coincidence. Hell, the fact he’s never used it before now should tell us all we need to know.” He crosses his arms. “The Old Man knew what he was doing. Let’s not pretend he didn’t know this would happen. He already said as much to the captain.”

“Hey,” Hyrule says, tugging at the back of Legend’s tunic. “Don’t.”

Legend jerks away. “He needs to hear it! He was unconscious. He didn’t see-

“So what,” Twilight snaps. “We do nothing then? We just abandon him?”

“Twilight-” Sky starts to say, then falls silent as he turns to glare at him.

The camp is tense, and hushed once more.

Wild stumbles as he packs away the cooking pot, and it falls to the ground with a jarring clatter. He hisses, grabbing at his side. Everyone turns to look at the commotion.

“Sorry,” he mutters, but his face is pale, and his hand is still cradling his ribs gingerly.

Twilight backs down, and a moment later, Legend does too. Nothing more needs to be said. Because as much as he burns to do something now, he knows – Warriors is right. They’re all injured. Twilight himself is weak – he barely has the strength to eat, much less fight, and Wild’s brow is creased with pain, and Hyrule looks sickly and all but asleep in his soup. The rest of them aren’t much better off.

None of them saved their Hyrules by being reckless. They all did it by being as equipped as they could be, with fairies and potions and tools up their sleeves, and knowledge of their enemy and their own limits. Courage alone didn’t win battles.

Wind’s voice, when it comes, is terribly small. “Is there really nothing we can do?”

“I won’t give up on him,” Twilight says. “And neither should you.” He hesitates, then adds, “But the Old Man would tell us to be careful, and to stick together. We recover, first. The Captain was right about that.”

Warriors doesn’t even acknowledge that. He just looks tired.

“Guess there’s more than just goat cheese in your brain after all,” Legend snarks.

Both Sky and Hyrule frown at him, but before either of them can say anything, Twilight says, “I said I’m not giving up. I’m going after him, first chance I get. Just not now.”

“It’s your death wish,” Legend mutters, but he doesn’t sound like he means it, so Twilight lets it go.

 


 

They don’t sleep that night so much as half of them pass out, and watch is held in shifts by a fitful, rotating roster of those of them made uncomfortable by half-healed injuries.

They scrape themselves together again over the next day. The remains of the battlefield look no less desolate and intimidating in the full light of day, and the forest they eventually retreat into is unnaturally silent and lifeless.

It’s a struggle, but they eventually gather enough materials – a haphazard mix of red chuchu jelly, lizards, mushrooms, and beetles - to brew some red potions. They’re not as potent as the sort they normally carry, but they’re in the middle of the wilderness with no way of knowing where the closest settlement is, and no way of finding any fairies. It’s an unfamiliar Hyrule, an unfamiliar era.

Twilight carefully turns, testing his movement, relieved to be greeted with the sort of ache that normally accompanies an overworked muscle or poorly placed bruise. The tightness has finally eased around Wild’s eyes, and Four is no longer cradling his arm, and Warriors is no longer limping.

Still, no one talks more than necessary. They’re all still tense after their near miss the day before, and at the sudden disappearance of their leader. Twilight itches to peel off, to go transform into a wolf and track down the Old Man, wherever he’s gone – but he’s leery of leaving the group. Nine of them hadn’t been enough to fight the horde they’d been ambushed with, and now they only have eight.

In the end though, tracking isn’t necessary.

They hear combat through the forest well before they see the smoke rising above the trees. They break into a run without discussion – it could be travellers in peril, or a small settlement under attack, and there’s never a moment to lose, not when black blooded beasts could be involved.

They never expected to walk into aftermath of a slaughter.

At least – not a slaughter of bokoblins.

The camp is ravaged. Crates of likely-stolen supplies lay splintered and shattered, a lookout post lays collapsed, burning, the bokoblin manning it lying dead among the remains. Arrows are sticking out of the ground haphazardly, but more than anything else… there’s only bodies. Two dozen bokoblins – not black-blooded, based on the spatters on the ground, but still blues and silvers, all dead.

In the middle of it all stands the Fierce Deity.

It’s the first clear look Twilight’s had of him. The face is the same as Time’s, as is the armour, but the similarities drop off there. The markings on his face are vivid, and symmetrical - complete. His eyes are a blank white – and the only sign at all of Time’s blinded eye is the faintest impression of a scar. Under his armour, he’s wearing a faded light green tunic instead of his chain mail, along with the matching cap. And instead of blond hair, it’s pure white.

Twilight’s running forward before he even thinks about it. “Old Man-!”

The Deity whirls, and Twilight is suddenly staring down at the point of an enormous green and blue helix sword.

He holds his hands up in peace. There’s nothing else he can do – not at this range, not against that kind of magic. He’d been determined but now, faced with the reality of it, he has to admit that both Warriors and Legend were right from the start – if the Fierce Diety decides to attack him right now, he’s as good as dead. “I don’t want to fight you,” he says softly.

Luckily, the Deity only holds his stance for a moment, then steps back – though doesn’t lower the blade. Twilight stays carefully, perfectly frozen, intensely aware of the others behind him, and praying no one does anything stupid.

No one does. The moment stretches, the stillness suffocating.

The Deity takes another step back. Twilight barely suppresses a flinch – then the Deity backflips into the shadows of the forest, and in a rustle of wind and leaves, he’s gone.

Twilight stares at the empty space he left in desolate silence. Wild places a hand on his shoulder and squeezes it. “I’m sorry,” he murmurs.

There’s nothing to be done.

 


 

They keep travelling, keep fighting the black blooded monsters, because the threat still must be dealt with, regardless of anything else that happens. Hyrule still needs to be saved.

They spy the Fierce Deity a handful more times over the following days, usually from afar. A glimpse between the trees, a silhouette on the horizon, an unmistakeable flash of light putting to silence the distant sounds of combat in the night.

“He’s following us,” Four murmurs in a low voice. “At a distance. You’ve all noticed, right?”

“It’s creepy,” Legend grunts.

Hyrule stares behind them – where the Fierce Deity’s silhouette had last been seen. “He’s not attacking us, though. He never has.”

“Maybe the Old Man still has some control or influence,” Warriors suggests, with a cautious look at Twilight.

“Not enough, or he would have taken the mask off, or tried to talk to us, or something,” Legend grumbles. “Don’t give him false hope.” He cringes when he sees Wind’s crestfallen look, and amends, “I’m just relieved he doesn’t seem hostile.”

They’re all relieved by that. It’s hard enough fighting these strange black blooded beasts, never mind an entity that had single-handedly wiped out an army of them.

It doesn’t make sense, and it haunts Twilight’s every waking moment, but as before, there’s nothing he can do about it. Not even when the next day they come across another bokoblin encampment that’s been ravaged, with pools of black blood still drying on the ground.

“He’s hostile, but not to us,” Warriors corrects.

“For now,” Four comments softly. “Let’s not wake sleeping dragons.”

Nobody argues, and nobody sleeps very well that night.

 


 

They get ambushed, because of course they do. They can’t seem to go more than a week without being mobbed by these new, overpowered enemies.

It’s not as bad as the previous time – not nearly as many enemies - but it’s a bad location. In the middle of thick forest, where their line of sight is broken, and they can’t use a lot of their arsenal without risking friendly fire. It’s down to gruelling melee fighting.

Twilight grimly locks swords with a black lizalfos, gritting his teeth as it presses its blade forward, hissing. He shifts his foot, pushes it off, brings his shield around to catch the next strike. The lizalfos whips its tail at him, and he jumps back – except his foot catches on a root, sending him stumbling into a tree trunk, and he ducks, barely avoiding a sword that would have struck him right between the eyes.

He earns a precious few seconds to regroup as the lizalfos tugs its blade free from the tree – then he sees Wind, fiercely holding off a moblin, as another lizalfos darts at him from behind. His heart leaps into his throat, a wordless warning on his tongue-

The lizalfos lets out a shriek of surprise when mid-step, he’s cleaved in two.

It’s the Fierce Deity. Wind yelps, jerking around to face the new threat, but the Deity steps smoothly forward, and with an almost casual flick of his wrist, dispatches the moblin Wind had been fighting. He glances over, and Twilight blinks in horrified surprise as he suddenly throws that enormous helix blade, like it’s a spear – straight into the head of the lizalfos Twilight had been fighting, had nearly forgotten about in his worry for Wind. He curses under his breath, tearing his gaze away to track a second lizalfos, one that had been about to flank him – but that opponent has turned, and fled.

It doesn’t get far. So quick it’s almost as though he teleported, the Fierce Deity has picked up his sword again, and flings out a disc of burning white magic. The lizalfos never stood a chance.

“T-thanks,” Twilight stutters in surprise.

The Fierce Deity doesn’t acknowledge him – just moves on, as though he’s not even there. Like lightning arcing through the battlefield, a trail of pinpointed destruction left in his wake.

The fight is over in minutes, and the Fierce Deity is gone with it.

Twilight is left strangely bereft. He’d been in a battle for his life, like so many before it, and it’s been plucked from his fingers. It’s a good thing, he rationalises, but he’s strangely dissatisfied.

Warriors rubs a tired hand across his face, streaking it with dirt. “Like old times,” he mutters. “Hell. I forgot what it was like.”

“He protected us,” Wind says, still staring blankly at the body of the moblin in front of him. He whips around to look at the rest of them. “Do you think-?”

“Not a chance, kid,” Legend interrupts. “He’s in it for the fight.”

“But he’s on our side-”

“Because he’s decided, for now, that we’re not enemies. It’s not the Old Man making that decision.”

“But what if-”

“Possession doesn’t work like that,” Legend interrupts. He kicks at the ground, scowling. “Look, I get it, it’s a nice fantasy, but that thinking is dangerous.”

Fury rises in Twilight – mindless energy that has been milling around, unspent, after the battle, and now churns forward. He steps between Wind and Legend, and pokes the Veteran in the chest. “Just – stop it. What does it matter to you if some of us decide to have hope?”

Legend just sneers at him, eyes alight. “It matters when it makes you do something stupid. You’re still acting like this is just going to wear off. That just because he hasn’t killed us in our sleep, because he fights our enemies for us sometimes, that he’s still the Old Man deep down inside, and one day he’s just gonna be back to normal.”

“You don’t know that won’t happen,” Twilight retorts.

Legend barks out a laugh, and the sound is ugly. “What do you think will happen – that he’ll just fight through it with sheer force of will?”

“You don’t think he couldn’t?” Twilight clenches his fist and his teeth in equal measure, a growl better befitting his wolf form brewing in his throat.

Legend scoffs, face twisted. “I keep saying, if he could, he would have already. It’s been two weeks.” He pulls himself up, looking down his nose at Twilight even though he’s the shorter of the two. “He was stupid enough to put the mask on in the first place so he-”

He never gets to finish that thought, because Twilight punches him in the face.

Legend lets out a cry of surprise, more than pain, staggering back. Then his eyes flash, and he launches himself forward, tackling him full force. Twilight braces himself at the last moment, old Goron wrestling techniques kicking in on instinct, as they grapple, the Veteran kicking and punching until Twilight grabs him, half pushing him back and half throwing him clear. Legend stumbles, but lands on his feet, already bracing himself to attack again and the blood roars in Twilight’s ears as he raises his fists.

“Guys,” Wind urges. Then louder, “Guys!”

The rest of the world finally comes back into focus.

The Fierce Deity is standing near them – mere strides away. Watching. Frowning.

The rest of the group has given him a clear berth. Warriors and Wild both have a careful, subtle hand on their swords, weight shifted forward, ready to act, but – waiting.

Twilight glances back at Legend, then at the Deity again.

There’s very little expression there to read. But…

Slowly, Twilight backs away from Legend, and lets his arms fall by his side. Inoffensive.

Legend hesitates, but a second later, he does the same, averting his gaze.

Everyone is still for a long moment. Then the Fierce Deity turns, as though bored, and walks away. Back into the forest, gone as quickly as he arrived.

They all relax, near boneless with relief. “I thought we were going to have to fight him, for a moment,” Sky confesses. “He came out of nowhere. I didn’t think he’d stuck around after the battle.”

Four is staring after the Fierce Deity, a contemplative look on his face.

“It was like the Old Man caught us fooling around,” Twilight murmurs. How often had he broken up a squabble, in the early days when they were all tense and unfamiliar with each other, with nothing more than his looming presence and an air of disapproval?

Legend scowls, but it’s subdued. “I told you to stop getting your hopes up. He’s a Deity of war, of violence. He saw a fight, and was trying to decide which side to pick.”

Twilight clenches his fist again. “You-”

Warriors grabs him by the shoulder, and swings him away, dragging him from the rest of the group. “C’mon, we need to talk.”

Twilight stumbles after him – he can see Hyrule stepping up to Legend, saying something, until they’re hidden by the trees, and Wild is glancing after them with a worried look. Warriors doesn’t stop though, not until they’re out of hearing, and then – and only then – does he let him go.

“Okay. I know it’s tough, but you need to learn to ignore the Veteran on this already. Let up on him.”

What?” Twilight sputters. “Why are you talking to me about this? Shouldn’t he be the one who lets up?”

“Because of the two of you, you’re actually the more mature one. And because you’re operating under a misconception.”

Twilight straightens, challenging. “Oh?”

Warriors sighs. “Look, I get it, he pisses me off too. But you’re too close to see - you don’t seem to understand why he’s saying all that. It’s not because he wants to write the Old Man off. It’s because he’s scared that we might have to.”

Twilight huffs. “C’mon, he’s never got along with the Old Man, and you know it.”

“You can say that about the Veteran and most of us.” Warriors folds his arms. “It took me a while too – the Old Man was the one who finally clued me in, after he broke up one of our arguments. Sometimes, yeah, he’s just being a snarky pain in the ass, and sometimes it’s just awkward teasing. But stuff like this? He’s terrified. He’s worried we’ll be forced to kill the Old Man.”

Twilight’s world stutters to a halt. “W-what?”

Warriors glances away. “Look, I don’t think it’ll come to that, but it’s a real worry. We don’t have any way of getting the mask off him, not without fighting him – and I don’t think it’s a fight any of us could go less than all out on. This is him preparing himself for the worst-case scenario, and he doesn’t understand why the rest of us aren’t doing the same.”

Twilight stares at his feet, running over all the awful things Legend has said, ever since Time left them. And he hates that the Captain has a point. If Legend really didn’t care, if he were truly unbothered, he would drop it, instead of constantly picking at it like a scab and carelessly stumbling over everyone else’s feelings.

“You don’t have to forgive him for it. Hell, you don’t even have to get along, all we need is for you to drop it when it gets too heated,” Warriors says. “We can’t fight among ourselves, right? Old Man wouldn’t like it, and it doesn’t look like the Fierce Deity likes it any better.”

That spark of hope flickers dangerously. “Then you think-”

Warriors sighs. “I think you’re both right, in a way. The Fierce Deity – he’s clearly on our side, at least, we’ve pretty much confirmed that now. And I think the Old Man has something to do with that. But I don’t think… I don’t think he’s coming back,” Warriors adds gently. “I think this is… I don’t know, the Fierce Deity honouring a deal, or just reacting to the last moments before the Old Man put the mask on, or maybe some other thing we don’t know about.”

Twilight’s heart sinks, and his eyes blur, despite himself.

It was easier to ignore, when it was just Legend spitting truths he didn’t want to hear, when he could just convince himself the other hero was a jerk who was only saying those things to pick a fight. When it’s from Warriors, being even-handed and reasonable…

“Hey.” Warriors’ hand lands on his shoulder. “We don’t know anything for sure, right? You’re right too – that we shouldn’t give up.”

Twilight doesn’t have anything to say to that. He’s still determined but…

He doesn’t know what to do next. And no one else seems to either. They can barely even approach him without risking a fight, and risking a fight is to risk killing him, lest they be killed themselves.

He and Warriors head back to the group. Twilight catches Legend’s eye, but neither of them apologise. Hyrule sighs, and Sky frowns, but no one presses it.

Wild bumps his shoulder when they start walking again. “You okay?” he asks softly.

“How can I be?” he mutters, then shakes himself. “I’m sorry, it’s just… I can’t just do nothing. But I don’t know what else to do.”

Wild stares at him, looking thoughtful. In the end, though, all he does is pat his shoulder, and they continue walking in solemn silence.

 


 

Not much changes over the next few days. Everyone walks on eggshells around Twilight and Legend both, but that’s not new – Twilight had been snappish and irritable even before their fight, and Legend has been snarky and grumpy in the entire time everyone has known him. They let it be though, dropping the topic whenever one of them makes a comment, and focus on the issue of navigating this endlessly large forest and clearing of it the remaining black blooded beasts.

So, not much changes. Until it does.

The Fierce Deity hasn’t approached them so directly again since their fight, but he’s kept pace with them. He’s taken to settling in a spot where he has a view of their camp – usually the nearest clifftop, but when they’re travelling through particularly thick forest, inevitably he wound up somewhere closer – once nearly scaring them all half to death when they spotted him sitting in a tree right on the edge of camp. No one had really slept that night, not until he’d up and vanished off somewhere an hour before sunrise.

This time, he’s not quite that close – he’s taken a seat on a fallen tree just beyond camp – but still in easy hearing distance, and plain sight to anyone standing. The camp is a trifle more tense for it – no one talks as Wild makes dinner, and cluster around the fire instead of spreading out.

Wild keeps looking over at the Deity too – even though most of them make a point of not looking. He seems distracted as he serves them each up a bowl of stew to a chorus of murmured thanks. Twilight watches, puzzled, as he pauses when it comes time to serve himself – and then gets another bowl and spoon out of his slate, fills it, and strides from the camp with purpose.

“Cook, what are you doing?” Sky frantically whispers.

Wild glances at Twilight, then at Legend, and says, “Something stupid.”

Before anyone else can react, he approaches the Fierce Deity, bowl and spoon held out in offering. “Do you need to eat?”

The group as a whole tense – half of them blindly reaching for their swords. But the Fierce Deity just stares at Wild with blank, white eyes, and takes the bowl with careful, gentle hands. As though the bowl is made of delicate crystal, and held by a clumsy child in offering.

“Bring it back, if you want seconds,” Wild says, then backs away slowly, returning to the cooking pot, and finally serving himself a bowl too.

They all watch from the corner of their eyes, trying not to be obvious, as the Deity takes up the spoon and slowly, methodically, eats Wild’s stew. It takes a few minutes for the rest of them to even remember they have food of their own to eat.

When he’s done, he stands – and everyone immediately forgets about their own food again. Warriors’ hand flinches for his sword once more, but he stops at the last second.

The Deity approaches the camp on light steps, holding the bowl awkwardly. Wild looks up at him. “Seconds?” he guesses. And then with alarming casualness, scoops another serving of stew into the offered bowl. “Sit there, until you’re done,” he says, pointing at the empty spot next to Twilight.

“Cook-” Warriors hisses, but he’s silenced when Wild glares at him.

The Fierce Deity seems to hesitate for a moment, then quietly sits as directed, and resumes eating. He’s right next to Twilight, and Twilight’s heart is trying to hammer its way out of his ribcage.

He takes a deep breath, steeling himself. He knows what Wild’s doing, and he won’t let the chance slip away. “I need to ask,” he says, clearing his throat. “Time – Old Man – Link, are you still in there? If you can give us any signal…”

The Fierce Deity makes no sign of even registering the words. His face is blank and expressionless as he placidly eats Wild’s stew. The only time they’ve seen any emotion on the Fierce Deity’s face, it’s been anger – and then, almost only in battle.

Hesitantly, Twilight reaches out. Slow, like he’s approaching a skittish cat. Palm flat. The Deity jerks away from it when he gets close, suddenly frowning, but Twilight pauses, waits, and when he doesn’t move, slowly, carefully, reaches for his face.

His fingers meet flesh, warm and smooth. The Deity watches him, blank-eyed, still faintly frowning, and Twilight’s heart breaks.

He retracts his hand, just as slowly, and his throat feels tight. “Sorry,” he chokes. “I just… wanted to check.” He drops his head to stare into his bowl of stew, willing his hair to cover his eyes.

Next to him, the Fierce Deity resumes eating a moment later, as silent and unbothered as before. Once he’s done, he offers his now empty bowl to Wild, with the same gentleness he took it. He pauses for a moment once Wild accepts it, then nods his head slightly. Wild returns the gesture.

Then he gets up, walks away from the camp, and takes up his previous position, staring out into the night. Looking up at the moon.

“That was risky,” Warriors says eventually. “On both of your parts.”

“Nothing bad happened, though,” Wind offers hesitantly. “And he’s never once raised his blade against us. Not unless we startle him, and even then he’s never actually hurt us.”

“I had to try. He reminds me of me, when I woke up,” Wild admits quietly. “My head was a mess for a long time. The first person I met, I just followed from a distance the first few days, like a feral dog. I understood language but talking was… it didn’t even occur to me that I could, at first, even if I knew how.”

“It worked out,” Hyrule agrees. “If there’s any hope of reaching him-”

Legend scoffs, but for once, doesn’t comment. He’s staring at Twilight. Has done, non-stop, since the Deity sat next to him. Didn’t even take his eyes off him to watch their strange guest leave.

He doesn’t ask, though. That goes to Four. “Twilight,” Four murmurs. “When you touched his face…”

Twilight closes his eyes, so he doesn’t have to see their expressions. “It’s not a mask.”

No one says anything more that night.

 


 

“Someone will have to tell Malon,” Sky eventually says, three nights later over the campfire.

“Tell her what, though, exactly?” Legend asks. “He’s not dead.”

“He’s not Time, though,” Wind says quietly.

“Then what is he?” Hyrule murmurs, staring off in the distance. They can just barely see his silhouette beyond the camp. Their creepy, silent stalker.

No one has an answer. Wild makes dinner in silence, glancing occasionally towards where the Fierce Deity has settled, chewing on his lip nervously. He’s further away than normal, but he comes when Wild waves him over now, and stays long enough to eat.

Twilight has chosen a spot where he can watch their shadow without moving, and does so. “I never told anyone before, but I met him. After he died,” he admits to the crackling background of the campfire. “His shade. Tormented with regrets. And I worry. That he’s still in there. Still suffering.”

“If anything, we should take solace in that,” Four murmurs.

“Much as I hate to say it, he’s right,” Warriors grunts. “Means he’s not going to be stuck like that forever. Means he can die, and eventually pass on.” He glances off to the distance, to where the Deity has perched on his customary lookout over their camp.

“What could even kill him, though, realistically?” Legend asks. “If we don’t do it, is anything else even capable?”

No one has an answer for that. No one wants to address it.

“How did it end?” Hyrule asks softly. “Did he – your shade – find peace?”

Twilight pokes at the fire, expression melancholic. “Yeah. Yeah, he did.”

“Then we have that,” Sky says solemnly. “But let’s not give up on a better outcome.”

 


 

They get used to it, eventually – they’ve all become used to far stranger things.

The Fierce Deity never fully joins the camp, but he begins to also sit with them while Wild cooks, patiently waiting in eerie silence. He never responds to any of their questions with anything other than a blank stare though – the only reason they know he even has comprehension is he’ll occasionally do something someone requests, like handing Wild things when he asks, or fetching far too much firewood when Sky mentions that they’re running low, or heading off to single-handedly destroy a bokoblin camp when Warriors reports it after his patrol.

He doesn’t seem to sleep – or if he does, they never see him do it – but they set watch as though he does. There’s an uneasy void in leadership that Warriors half-heartedly fills. Morale never fully recovers, but it’s an unfortunate truth that their way becomes easier. The Old Man had been a force to be reckoned with, but the Fierce Deity cleaves through black-blooded monsters as though they’re no more threatening than chuchu jelly.

He never follows them into towns or villages. There’s no sign of him following through portals either, even though they wait and watch at a distance for hours the first time they step through. They’re all convinced he’s trapped in another time, that they’ve finally seen the back of him, until he shows up at camp that night as normal.

“How did he do it?” Legend frets for the next two days. “What kind of broken power-”

Four shrugs. “I don’t think we’ve even seen a fraction of what he can do. That magic attack of his – that’s just raw power. Not even filtered through an element.” He sighs. “Anything that’s within the realm of possibility for Ganon, we have to assume he has the capability of it too.”

Hyrule shivers.

“At least he is on our side,” Wind reminds them. They’ve all become more comfortable with that idea now, even if they’re not quite comfortable with the Deity himself. Not even Twilight, who has to sit next to him every meal, because apparently he’d taken Wild’s one-time suggestion to mean that is forever his spot.

“I hope our enemy enjoys it,” Legend grumbles. “See how it feels, being on the other side of an overpowered monster.”

“He’s not a monster,” Sky corrects him.

Legend waves it off. “You know what I mean.”

They do. It’s an amusing, if macabre, thought. For once, the unlevel playing field is in their favour.

 


 

In large part because of the Fierce Deity’s ongoing presence, they make incredible progress, and finally, finally, they start to close in on their enemy. The battles get closer together, they’re on the move nearly constantly, and all of them can taste it in the air, that familiar energy of a quest nearly complete. The Fierce Deity walks with them now, more often than not – still silent, still separate, but always within sight. Legend jokes that it’s because he knows there’s always a fight on the horizon with them, and he doesn’t want to miss out. For the first time, the joke sounds friendly and teasing instead of scared and bitter. Even Wind musters up a small smile at it.

Then they step through a portal, to Hyrule Field.

This time, instead of turning up at camp that night, the Fierce Deity is already waiting when they step through. He doesn’t acknowledge their arrival – he’s sitting on a rock, watching the sunrise.

“How does he do that?” Legend mutters. “Is he time travelling here and just waiting for us now?”

“I’m more worried about why he doesn’t seem to want to use the portals the same as the rest of us,” Four murmurs.

“Maybe he’s had a bad experience with portals,” Wind suggests.

“So have the rest of us, hasn’t stopped us.”

“Focus,” Warriors says. He wears the mantle of leadership well, even if he visibly hates it and keeps it strictly to matters of their quest and battle. “This looks like Hyrule Field if I’ve ever seen one, but I don’t think it’s mine. Anyone recognise it?”

“It’s not exactly my era, or the Old Man’s, but it’s… near it, I think,” Twilight says. He fishes out his Hawkeye, searching for any unusual landmarks that might give him clues. “The horizon is similar – more similar than some of the others we’ve been to.”

“Between or before?”

“We could look for the ranch, and make a guess off that,” Hyrule suggests, then grimaces, sending a furtive look at the Deity.

The ranch. The odds of Malon being there are slim, but if she is? If they’re close enough to the Hero of Time’s era that she’s still alive?

No one has told her yet. No one knows what to tell her. But all of them know, deep down, that even if it’s only a chance, this would be the worst possible way to find out. To be confronted with the shell of her husband, unresponsive, uncaring? To look into those blank eyes and not even receive acknowledgement, or worse, be treated as a threat or an enemy?

Even a letter would be better than that.

“I don’t think it matters,” Warriors decides quickly. “We keep to the normal plan. Follow the trail, take out the black-blooded monsters. The portals always drop us close, so we can’t be too far.”

By now, Hyrule and Legend have figured out a way of, not so much tracking, but dousing for their enemy. Twilight’s seen both Zelda and Midna do something similar before - it involves a lot of magical theory that flies over his head, but it’s even more effective than him transforming to a wolf, so he doesn’t say anything, just waits until Hyrule points them a direction. They start walking, all alert and battle ready.

The Fierce Deity stays close – falling into step just behind them. To anyone watching, he would seem one of the group, straggling behind. They’re used to it now, and don’t pay it any mind, though all of them look back periodically to check if he’s still there or not. Habit, mostly – sometimes he would vanish without a sound, and minutes later they would inevitably hear distant combat.

By midday, a forest looms on the horizon – unusual in the abrupt appearance of it, open fields transitioning to dense woods within a matter of steps. Twilight frowns. If he’s reading the horizon right, that should be the Faron Woods that lead to Ordon but… something is wrong about it.

He’s not the only one who seems to think so – as they approach, they slow, until Hyrule places a hand on Legend’s arm, lowering the staff he’s been using to douse. “That’s the Lost Woods,” Hyrule murmurs. “You don’t just wander in, not without some kind of directions.”

“We’ve got the dousing spell though, right?” Wind asks. “Isn’t that directions?”

“No,” Warriors says. “The Lost Woods has weird magic in all of our eras – without a guide, or more information, it’s not safe to go in. Not even with a dousing spell – the magic in there is just as likely to twist it and send us in circles until we’re in too deep.”

“This is the same woods we were in before with the Old Man though,” Four muses, frowning. “The one with the all the fairies, right?”

“In the Old Man’s era,” Warriors agrees. “But we don’t have the Old Man, not really. Unless-” He turns, to look for the Fierce Deity, then pauses. “Wait, where did he go?”

They all turn, and look. The Fierce Deity has vanished. Not surprising in itself but… it’s been days since he has.

Twilight turns back, in panic, to the woods. “You don’t think-”

They all stare at the mists drifting lazily from the edges of the treeline. The sun is out, but it feels cold.

Warriors swears. Sky hits him in the arm and looks pointedly at Wind. Wind also swears.

It’s Wild who dares voice what they’re all thinking. “You think he went in there?”

“Where the heck else would he have gone?” Legend groans. “Shit. This means we don’t have any guide at all.”

“He’s not the Old Man, though – that’s the Fierce Deity, and I’m not sure if he even has any of the Old Man’s knowledge or memories. And if he somehow does know these Woods, will they react to him the same way? Haven’t exactly seen many Fairies chasing after him since… well, you know.” Warriors glances at Twilight. “Unless it’s closer to the one in your era – is it very different?”

“I think – I think we called it the Misty Woods.” He swallows. “I don’t know much about magic, but Ordon has tales about it. Potions sellers going too deep and never being found again, children going missing, and entire search parties disappearing after them, even taking every precaution they could. No one goes in there if they can help it. Every time I had to, I had a guide.”

Warriors grunts. “Thought so. Dammit. What a mess.”

“What do we do, Captain?” Sky asks.

“Make camp,” he says. “If we’re that close to our enemy, maybe they’ll make the first move. But going to their battleground of choice, when that battleground is the Lost Woods?” Warriors shakes his head. “Let’s leave that until we’re out of other options, and take that time to prepare.”

So they make camp, even though it’s only early afternoon. Four looks over everyone’s weapons, making sure all their swords are perfectly sharp. Wild takes stock of their supplies, and every last empty bottle they have is filled with either red or green potion. Hyrule and Sky spar for a while, working out some of their tension, but stop before either of them can become overtired.

As the sun sets, Wild cooks dinner. The Fierce Deity remains conspicuously absent – the first meal he’s missed in weeks. And they wait.

The stalchildren come in the night. Hordes of them. Plans for sleep are quickly abandoned.

The Fierce Deity still doesn’t appear. “Not like him to miss a fight,” Legend huffs, as the sun rises and the last of stalchildren finally disperse.

Robbed of a night’s rest, they nap in the warmth of the early morning sun instead.

When it approaches midday again, and they’ve all had some rest, Warriors stands up, sighs, and gets ready to make plans.

He never gets the chance. Eight portals bloom, in a circle, around them.

“What?” Wind whips out his sword, standing at the ready, waiting for an enemy to come through. Nothing does. The portals just wait, faintly thrumming with power.

Twilight stares. “Eight,” he murmurs. There’s never been eight before – only ever one at a time. It seems as obvious a message as they could receive.

Four scratches his head. “I guess… he did it?”

“The dousing spell,” Warriors orders, and Legend and Hyrule fumble in their hurry to check it.

“Nothing,” Hyrule reports shakily. “It’s… it’s gone.”

They all stare towards the woods. They remain as deceptively tranquil and placidly mysterious as before. No smoke rising from the depths, no distant sounds of destruction or combat carried on the wind.

It’s an anticlimax. It’s deeply unsatisfying in a way none of them can articulate.

“What happens now, then?” Wild asks. “Do we just… go home? What about him?”

Warriors closes his eyes. “There’s nothing we can do. We have even less of a way in there than before – and no way out. Maybe if it were one of our eras, but…”

It’s a sensible call – the sort the Captain is good at. Not throwing safe soldiers into hopeless battles, not turning a sacrifice into an even greater tragedy.

None of them like it.

“Deity was really strong,” Wind offers meekly. “Maybe he can make his own way out?”

Twilight thinks of a stalfos, wrought with vines. Thinks of destiny, and regrets. “Maybe,” he says woodenly.

Legend scowls. “So what, after all that, we just go home? We didn’t even do anything! We weren’t even needed in the end – he could have done it alone from the start!”

“No,” Sky says, to the group at large, but he’s looking directly at Twilight. “No, the Goddess needed us.” He turns away, hiding his expression in shadow. “Because without us, I don’t think he would have ever…”

The words die in the air, unsaid.

Hyrule is saved, but Twilight doesn’t remember it ever tasting quite this bitter.