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Different Tails

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    Nick's pace was so hurried that he barely noticed when he arrived at the Zora's Domain, despite the drastic change in architecture. The area sported watery caves with soft waterfalls; their hushed din served as the backdrop to the fox's rushing.

    "C'mon, Judy, ss-stay awake," his voice was on the precipice of desperation as Judy barely groaned in his arms.

    Somehow even the denizens of the domain failed to register to the panicked fox. They both appeared and smelled heavily piscene in nature, but stood on two legs upwards of five feet tall, and wore no clothes.

    A few backed away at the fox rushing forward with the bunny in his arms, and Nick immediately hoped that they must be the Zora.

    "Excuse me...! Uh, hey!" Nick grit his teeth as several of the fish-creatures leaped off into the water to get away from him. "Anyone...! This bunny is hurt; she needs medical attention!"

    "This way," an especially tall member of their race grabbed hold of Nick's shoulder tightly and led him off. Shooting a look to the fish creature, he noticed a spear in his other hand.

    Appearing at the top of a waterfall in a throne that looked like a large seashell was another of the creatures, feminine and unremarkable to Nick's eyes, but she did have an ornate trident in one of her hands.

    "What are you doing in the home of the Zora?" She asked.

    "Please, my partner, Judy, she's gravely injured..." Nick begged. "Do you have a hospital, or-"

    The Zora made a face. "Take them to the dungeon."

    "What!? No!" Nick shrieked as a couple of guards leaped from the waterfall, swam over to the stone Nick was standing on, and approached him to drag him off. "Take me if you have to, but help her, please! Lh-look! She's got the Triforce of Courage!"

    "Does she? Mm," the authoritative Zora made a dismissive sound. "Put them in the interloper's cell, then."

    Nick let out an anguished wail as they were taken to the dungeon. It had a damp smell and feel, and the cells appeared to have coarse coral-like bars.

    One of the guards opened a cell and roughly pushed Nick on the back, making him stumble forward as he kept a tight grip on Judy. His balance nearly lost, he bent forward on one knee, emitting a whine.

    "Please..."

    Hearing a shuffling, Nick looked up and protectively held the barely-conscious bunny closer. Another fish-creature, very dissimilar to the others, approached him. She was predominantly red and white and wore a cyan sash, as well as a lot of metallic jewelry. Though her eyes were yellow, Nick sensed a kindness and concern to her face that made him relax just a bit.

    "She's hurt," Nick mumbled, his throat so tight that the words barely made it out, "she needs help soon or she'll..." He couldn't find it in him to finish the sentence.

    "Set her down gently," the kind voice of the red-and-white fish creature instructed. "It's not too late for her."

    Baffled though he was, Nick felt compelled to obey her, and rested Judy as softly as he could on the ground.

    "My name is Mipha," she said, dropping to her knees over the bunny and holding her hands above her. "I am also a Zora."

    Nick was about to ask what Mipha was doing, but then red sparkles swarmed over Miphas hands and moved across Judy's body, congregating around her wounds.

    "What a hero you are, Sir Fox," Mipha smiled up at Nick, "to show such concern for a bunny in need of aid."

    "I'm not the hero, Judy is," Nick shook his head.

    Mipha smiled, the sparkles surging in strength. Judy groaned, causing Nick to draw a shallow gasp.

    "How odd," the Zora continued, "an injured bunny would make an easy snack for a fox, and yet I can see your transparent desire to help her."

    "Yeah, well," Nick barely flickered his eyes at Mipha as he looked over Judy, "things are a lot different where I'm from. I mostly eat-" He caught himself, coughing once. "Er, never mind what I eat. Will she be okay?"

    "Mhm, just a little longer... the wound is closing," Mipha's hands waved more over Judy, and Nick was amazed that she appeared to be speaking the truth; Judy's wound WAS closing.

    "Mmm..." Judy moaned, her eyes fluttering open.

    "Judy!"

    "Hey Nick- bwagh!" Judy immediately flailed her arms upon seeing the unfamiliar face. Her eyes darted about at Mipha's scant clothing, and to the guard, who wore nothing at all.

    "Judy!" Nick repeated, dragging her up to hug her before checking to make sure this was okay. "How do you feel?"

    "Great!" Judy replied in a breathless voice. "What the heck happened? Who's this fish lady? ...Why are we in jail?"

    "Her name is Mipha, and she healed you," Nick explained to Judy. The Zora in question gently waved with a soft giggle. "As far as why we're in jail... I'm not sure. Why are you in prison, Mipha?"

    "I couldn't tell you," Mipha's good mood soured, and she walked back to her meager bed in the cell. "I entered this strange portal that led to this... different version of my domain, filled with all of these unusual-looking Zora, and well, I soon found myself imprisoned."

    "Well, we have to get out," Nick decided, pointing at Judy's paw. "Judy here has the Triforce of Courage, so maybe we can convince the higher ups that way."

    "The Triforce of Courage?" Mipha echoed, looking at the mark. "How... I didn't even know that the Triforce could come apart. ...What a strange world."

    "Yeah, you got that right," Nick muttered.

    "Nick, how do you think we're going to get out of here?" Judy looked at their surroundings. "If I tried to squeeze through those bars they'd probably shred me up worse than when we got here."

    Another guard entered the dungeon and loosed the door. "Bunny, fox. My liege wishes to speak to you."

    Nick and Judy exited without a second thought, but the former looked behind himself at Mipha, who did not move. The door shut again.

    "Wait, what about Mipha?" Nick's brow furrowed. "Why are you keeping her in a jail cell?"

    The guard did not reply, and instead led the two back to the throne room.

    The Zora royalty regarded the two with a dull expression from her seated position on the ornate throne.

    "All healed up?" She asked, though her expression didn't show interest. "Maybe you can tell me now why you burst into my kingdom."

    "Why is Mipha locked up?" Nick asked outspokenly. Judy turned her head slightly, looking at Nick with confusion.

    "That's none of your business, outsider," the fish royalty folded her arms. "I am Ruto of the Zora, the one true descendant of King-"

    "Well excuse me, princess!" Nick blurted.

    "I am Queen now, I'll have you know," Ruto shouted.

    "Okay, okay, wait a second," Nick held up both paws. "So you're telling me you and Mipha are both Zora, yet the kind, helpful healer down there in the dungeon is your prisoner... why again is that?"

    "Nick..." Judy looked at him with both amazement and disapproval, "maybe tone it down a bit? These people did save my life and all."

    "No, Judy," Nick directed a stern look at his partner, "they didn't save you. Mipha did."

    "I only let you out of jail to inquire about why your little bunny friend has the Triforce of Courage on her paw," Ruto pointed at Judy dramatically with the trident. "I did not let you out so you could question my rule, fox!" She glowered at him, and he looked just as intensely back. "Mipha claims to be of the royal line as well. She says she's a princess of the Zora, but I don't have any sisters, cousins, or any relatives remaining for that matter. She must be a liar, and must be trying to claim the throne for herself! Plus, she had this." She nodded to the trident. "Clearly a relic of the Zora she stole from somewhere. She claimed to be part of a group that was meant to keep Princess Zelda safe from Ganon, and Zelda's been gone for quite some time now! And if all that weren't enough, have you seen her!? She looks nothing like any of us!"

    "Uh huh, well, I think I see whats going on here," Nick nodded grimly, folding his arms. "And if you all could get your heads out from underwater, I think you'd see it too."

    "Nick...!" Judy hissed, looking at the guards who seemed more and more uneasy with their presence. "Back off! They all have spears...?"

    "I see what the big problem in this world of Hyrule is," Nick continued, heedless of the warning. "It seems to me that this Ganon guy is dragging important people from other dimensions to disrupt both the worlds he pulls them from and this world." He placed a paw on his chest. "Judy and I are from other worlds. Mipha is. The Korok we met was. Who knows how many other people Ganon has displaced? And- and this is the part that slays me... it seems like despite all that, Ganon's still got the upper paw on this world!"

    Ruto's voice sank to deadly seriousness. "What are you talking about!?"

    "You!" Nick thrust a finger at her. "You imprisoned a warrior princess just because she came from another world. Because of that, you've cut off a potential ally, and as long as these visitors from other realities find themselves divided and ostracized from this version of Hyrule, Ganon will continue to dominate your realm."

    "Okay, I've had just about enough of this, you preachy brat," Ruto stomped her foot into the water, causing a splash. "Guards- eh!?"

    Nick's outstretched hand started to glow, and the fox was himself surprised at this, wincing at the bright light. When it faded, he had the mark of the Triforce on the back of his paw, with the lower left triangle glowing.

    The guards listened for Queen Ruto's command, but it didn't come. They started clamoring among themselves.

    "The fox has the mark of the Triforce of Wisdom!"
    "Does he speak rightly? Is Mipha a Zora from another world?"
    "What are we to do?"

    "Alright, everyone settle down," Ruto looked down at the two mammals. "If these two little fuzzy creatures really have the marks of Wisdom and Courage, I suppose we should leave them to their devices."

    The guard closest to the queen spoke up, stepping forward. "What of Mipha, your highness?"

    Ruto chanced a look at Nick, who held a stern gaze at her.

    "Ugh," Ruto rolled her eyes. "Release her. That's what you wanted, right?" A guard moved to the dungeon to comply with this.

    "Actually," Nick's eyes half-closed and he grinned widely, "what I want is the Zora Sapphire."

    "Ghh!" Ruto flinched exaggeratedly. "Oh, you only want my most treasured possession."

    Judy opened her pouch and showed off the Kokiri emerald. "We're collecting the three special jewels so we can recover the Master Sword and slay Ganon."

    "Fine..." Ruto grumbled, retrieving an ornately decorated jewel that contained three sapphires, and tossed it into the pool near Nick and Judy's feet. A guard let out a panicked yelp and dove in to retrieve it. Upon surfacing, he offered the dripping jewel to Judy, who accepted it with a nod.

    "Thank you," Judy nodded.

    "And..." Ruto looked at the two, then flicked a hand twice dismissively. "Guard, show them the shop. They need some tunics or something; those clothes they have are all torn and ragged. They look like they take a teen and a child size."

    The two mammals looked down at their attire. Nick's clothing was covered in dirt from his haste to the Zora domain, and Judy's was in tatters from the Stalchildren attack.

    Before long, the two found themselves in the shop.

    "The Queen said to outfit these two in your finest tunics," the Zora guard said to the shopkeeper.

    "Whuh...?" The shopkeeper looked at the two. "For free? Yugh... very well then." He went back to retrieve some clothing in their size.

    "Well, Queen Ruto didn't exactly say that..." Judy grinned sheepishly at the guard.

    The Guard winked one of his black, almond-shaped eyes. He spoke in a low voice. "To tell you the truth, it was good to see Queen Ruto like that again. She lost a lot of her feistiness once the previous Hero of Courage fell. I just want to thank you two for that."

    "Females are at their best when they're feisty," Nick nodded sagely, a serious look on his muzzle. Judy elbowed him in the side for his trouble "Oof! Feeling better, my dear?"

    "Just peachy," Judy replied in a challenging voice, smirking at Nick.

    "Well, if the Hero of Wisdom proclaims that, who am I to argue," the guard chuckled.

    Shortly thereafter, Nick and Judy were clothed in the Zora's deep blue and white tunics. They both tested the fabric and found it to be a good fit.

    "Those let you breathe underwater, just so you know," the shopkeeper gestured, as if bored.

    "Thank you!" Nick grinned. "We will be on our way."

    "Breathing underwater...?" Judy echoed.

    "I'm not eager to test that out," Nick rolled his eyes. "That's probably some prank they play on outsiders to try to get them to drown. How could clothes help you breathe underwater?"

    "I'm not sure," Judy tapped a finger on her cheek. "How did Mipha heal me, anyway?"

    "Pinkish magic sparkles from her hands-" Nick stopped himself. "Okay, that's a good point. Ugh, I guess nothing in this realm makes sense."

    "I mean, I was genuinely curious," Judy laughed. "I was barely awake during all that."

    On their way out of the realm, Judy tugged on Nick's sleeve and pointed into a dwelling. "Ooh! Ooh, Nick, look! That room is full of pots!"

    "...And?"

    "I'm going to go smash 'em!" Judy exulted, beginning to rush forward. "Ulk!" Nick quickly reached out to grab her by the back of the collar.

    "Judy, come on," Nick sighed. "Those pots obviously belong to someone. We've already got their domain's jewel and some new duds, let's not resort to petty theft."

    The bunny grumbled in disdain as Nick let her go, and sucked her teeth at him. "Fine... o' 'wise' fox."

    "Hmhmhm..." Nick gazed over the mark on the back of his hand. "Yeah, I'm going to be riding that one for awhile."

    Right at the entrance to the domain, Judy's ears perked up and she stood alert as she saw Mipha waiting there. The Zora waved at their presence as the two walked over to greet her.

    "Mipha! You're out!" Nick grinned, clearly happy about this; his tail swished to further communicate the fact.

    "I'm very grateful you put yourselves out for me," Mipha said kindly.

    "Well, one good turn deserves another, that's what I always say," Nick said, rubbing his paw on his tunic. "That's just good karma."

    "Nick, you have not always said that," Judy protested.

    "Will you be joining us on our journey?" Nick asked hopefully.

    "I would very much like to..." Mipha said, her eyes wandering. "However I'm out of practice from my incarceration and I'm sure I'd just slow you down. That and I need to figure out how I'm going to get the Lightscale Trident back from Queen Ruto..."

    "Ah, oh well," the fox sighed. "I don't suppose you know of any healing songs?"

    "Sorry no, I've only been able to heal in the traditional, hands-on manner," Mipha gave them an apologetic smile.

    "Okay Nick, let's get going," Judy nodded.

    "You two both have marks of the Triforce?" Mipha blinked. "I'm sure Hyrule is in good hands... or paws in this case."

    "Well, I guess it won't do if we're complacent or let our guard down," Judy considered, but then bunched up both paws into fists and looked determined, "but we'll try our best!"

    After saying their farewells, the two adventurers soon found themselves in Hyrule Field again, following the mountain range north.

    "So, um..." Judy grinned, rubbing her paw behind her head. "Was it weird for your to get assistance from a bunch of naked fish people? As a predator, that is...?"

    "Hm..." Nick chuckled, "didn't really think about that too much. Was it weird for you to follow a plant person around?"

    "Touche..." Judy shrugged, "I wonder what kind of fantastic beings we'll meet next-"

    Judy's words froze in her mouth as she saw a brown creature in the distance.

    "Oh..." Nick's jaw hung open. "Oh.... kay then..."

    Before them stood what looked very much like a horse. Instead of walking on two legs like normal, it was on all fours and much broader and stockier than the horses they were used to. It looked at them, and nothing like sapience was visible to them. It was also mostly naked except for a saddle.

    "Is that like a horse from ancient times...?" Judy blinked. "Is it from another reality...?"

    "Maybe horses never evolved intelligence in Hyrule," Nick thought aloud. The horse knickered as if in reply, flicking its tail.

    "It's... er, she's very... majestic, in a weird sort of way," the bunny observed the proud-looking animal, posed atop a hill.

    "She kinda looks like Detective Oates, to me," Nick chuckled.

    "She does not," Judy laughed, "oh sweet bales of hay, she does... they've got almost the same markings."

    The horse neighed loudly and took off to the north.

    "C'mon, let's follow her!" Judy beckoned, rushing forward. "She seems to be going our way!"

    "Jeez, haven't you learned anything yet?" Nick grumbled, following the bunny. "Chasing after some random ancient horse..." He mumbled to himself before they settled into a brisk power walk together, watching the horse also slow down to a trot in front of them. "Really glad you're okay, Judy..."

    Judy smiled up at Nick. "I'll be more careful next time." The fox instinctively looked up at the sun to make sure they had a lot of traveling time left.

    He nodded his agreement. "And we aim right for their heads next time. Straight away."