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LOZ:Twilight Princess:Ch.34 Rev

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----Chapter 34: Last of a Race


Link had sped back through Castle Town another countless time, crossing the western bridge to turn up into the northern lands.  He had traveled through the night to reach the border of the northern mountain range.  And all throughout the next day, he spent the hours navigating the steep and narrow mountain passes as Midna helped him keep an eye out for any signs of the hidden Sheikah village.  

Most of the mountains of the range were very close to the same height as their neighbors; locating the tallest among these peaks would be a long event.  Daunted by the task but refusing to give up so easily, Link strained his body to remain awake and willed his mind to focus.  When they climbed the pass of their third mountain, Midna noticed how his eyes began to droop after each blink of his eyes.

"You'll be no help to that girl being so tired," spat Midna, hiding her concern for him in her cynicism.

Link's bleary eyes snapped to Midna.  "I'm fine," he assured.

"No.  You're not.  You haven't slept since we returned from Snowpeak.  And that's been what?  Two or three days?"  Midna hovered at her side, arms crossed, her feral tooth slipping beneath her lip.  "Night's falling.  Sleep.  I'll keep watch."

Link did not wish to back down so readily, but with the darkening sky, a heavy fog clouded over the mountain peaks, leaving him blind as to which was the tallest among them.  With his vision impaired, he decided to concede to his companion's wishes.  

Even though the air was chill, he refrained from constructing a fire.  If there were any guards nearby, his position would have been freely distributed to them.  Instead, he led Epona under an outcropping and settled down beside her as she lowered into a comfortable resting position.  Link pulled his cloak tightly around him to combat the cold atmosphere.  Nestled against his horse, he could hear and feel each of her breaths.  He reached out a hand to comb through her mane.

Midna watched from a distance as Link closed his eyes almost immediately after he had settled in against Epona.  She marveled at his strength.  During their journey together she remembered many times wherein Link had gone days without sleep.  He was a selfless, caring man, and she admired him for that, the way he put his life in danger for the need of others … how he rode on through the night simply to help a girl gain back her memory.

That thought reminded her of a time when he had done very near the same for her.  When Zant had mortally wounded her by exposing her to the harsh light of Lanayru, Link had done everything to reach Zelda.  She could only imagine how ravaged his mind must have been by the power of the shadow king's magic, and knowing how strong, how forcefully, he had to have fought against its evil to bring her to salvation….

She found herself staring at her hands then, feeling the life brimming within her skin, skin which should have been but a shadow in this world, and in the night, she would have been a mere flutter in the dark had it not been for Zelda's sacrifice.  Midna thought that that night had been her last, but for a light dweller, a noble Hylian … closest descendants of the gods who banished her people….  For her to have given up her life like that … it had brought a whole new understanding to Midna.  She could not blame the people of this realm for the eviction of her race.  But for the gods to continually punish the twili race, to deny them reentrance into the world of light when their forefathers had long passed from existence….  For the gods to punish her for a crime she did not commit … it was unfair.

Midna drew her gaze again upon Link, her Hylian companion, the chosen hero.  She knew by the way he talked, the way he carried himself, that he had had near to a perfect and carefree childhood.  She envied that, longed to have a life like that, free of troubles, free of such harsh responsibilities, free of the burdens she carried.  She had often considered confiding in Link, telling him all the horrors of her past, explaining why she was the way she was.

None of it mattered, though.  Her choices had brought her here--banished by a false king to the light realm--just the same as Link's choices had brought him to the cell in which they had met.

Wherever it is you go, I will follow, he had said.  The memory of Link's promise made Midna smile, and that thought alone was enough to warm her against the cold of the night.

===============

"Come on, hero, time to get moving," Link heard through his dreams.

Link awoke and peeked through the fold of his cloak as the rays of the sun began lighting the skies over the mountaintops.  Midna hovered alongside him.  He petted Epona's head and she gently shifted from her dreams to see the coming day.  She rose and fidgeted about to stretch her muscular legs.  Obeying Midna's command and glad to bring on the new day after a restful night, Link pulled himself into his saddle and urged Epona onward.

The renewing brightness did little in warming Link as they passed through the trails of the mountains, and the fog had not completely lifted.  With Midna's help he searched the pathways above him that traveled along the mountains, and, finding a route that would lead him upward, he pivoted Epona toward it.  "Come, girl.  Let's get to higher ground."

Epona traversed the trails carefully, avoiding the loose stones, and when at last they had climbed up the slopes of the mountains, they leveled off near the middle of a towering one.  Epona brought him to the cliff's edge, and as they were near the southern border of the range, the world of the northern mountains spawned entirely before them.  For as far as he could see there were mountains dotting the land.  In the far west, he could see the wastes of the desert.  To the east he could spy the tall peaks that comprised the Zoras' regions, and in the northern distance were the wintry summits of Snowpeak.  To say the least, the view was spectacular, yet simplicity was missing.  The simplicity and calm that he had seen within the mountain valleys surrounding Kakariko.

Link moved the sentiment from mind just as Midna nudged him.  "Do you see that mountain there?" she said, pointing toward the northeast.  A range of mountains in that area rose significantly higher than the others across the land, and near the midst of that range was a single mountain that towered higher than those surrounding it.

He cursed the fact that he must have been too tired to notice it yesterday due to his fatigue, and memorizing its placement among the mountain trails, Link jerked Epona into a gallop; Midna returned to his shadow.  They followed along the many winding paths among the mountains, a route that took them most of the daylight hours to cross.  Once the early hour of evening sent deep reds and oranges splaying through the sky, they reached the soaring peaks.

Link slowed Epona's pace to a quick trot so that, as they approached the mountain that rose highest above them, Link could scan every corner of its cliffs for the hidden route of which Darbus had spoken.  There were many fissures which Link imagined had been crafted in order to fool wayward eyes such as his, for he turned down several that--though all stretched inward for different lengths--always closed in dead ends.

Irritation had risen within Link by the time he had tried over ten of these tunnels.  "Maybe the right one is higher up," suggested Midna.

He answered in silence, the only indication that he had heard the imp being a twitch in the corner of his frown.

Again, Epona carried Link up a mountain, rising to the higher trails that time had constructed within its rocks.  There were several fractures in the side of the mountain, and the few that followed deeper into its hard surface did not penetrate completely.  These also dead ended; however, each failure led him further to the belief that Midna had indeed located the correct mountain.

As he moved along the path, he spied a jagged hole high in the side of the mountain, and further along he discover yet another gap that tunneled deep into its reaches.  Yet, there seemed something different in this pathway.  Its construction appeared much rougher than that of the others.  This, Link thought, was a mark of truth that it would lead him to the secret village of the Sheikah race.

Stowing his excitement just as it had risen, Link yanked on Epona's reins, and they entered into the corridor, which seemed to move through the mountain much deeper than any of the previous tunnels.

At last, Link was assailed with the sight of an end to the tunnel.  He moved ahead cautiously, for if Ilia and this woman had been imprisoned, there were sure to still be guards protecting their remaining captive.  He dismounted Epona away from the opening that led into the village, and, after depositing his cloak over the saddle, he snuck toward the entrance and spied inside.

The village had indeed been constructed within the mountain, the inside walls rising up and coming together overhead to form the ceiling as well.  The hole that Link had seen on the outside had been carved out in order to bring natural light to the residents.  The inhabitants of this ancient village were now bulblins, Link noted, spotting the first of what was sure to be many.

Instinctively, Link ducked down lower behind the rocks of the threshold, as a bulblin paced across the top ledge of one of the nearest houses.  As he scanned the rest of the town, he quickly discovered the presence of many more of their kind.  Those that he spotted in the abandoned houses carried bows and watched the streets closely, searching for any reason to nock an arrow.  There were also those that patrolled through the streets, holding fast to their clubs or swords, and outside a house at the far end of the town, Link could see several of their kind standing watch.

Midna learned here that his eyesight was indeed incredibly greater than her own.  She could see the better part of the sentries, but when Link indicated the guards outside of the house, she turned to him in both disbelief and surprise.  The dwelling was far in the distance, and Midna wondered if his ability to pick out their forms was due to the refined instincts of his bestial incarnation or a skill of which he had previously been capable.

Either way, she made no comment as to his skill and no objection in his pronouncement.

"If they've made one of these houses a prison, my guess would be the furthest house."  Midna did not argue.  Since there were apparently several bulblins protecting just that location, he had a high probability of being right.  "We need to take out these guards quietly," he cautioned.

"How many do you count?" she asked.

Link had not broken his line of sight, and when she raised the question, he scanned his eyes once more over the whole of the village from their vantage point.  "Twelve as I see now, but I can't see inside the buildings and there are sure to be guards within them as well."

Midna nodded and grinned.  "Well then, I'm ready when you are."

Link took out his bow, crouching down and peeking out from the side of his hiding spot.  He nocked his first arrow--silently appreciating the fact that he had been given the opportunity to restock--and aimed toward the right side of the town.  A bulblin was posted on the porch of a house, and it stood still, silently watching for any sign of an intruder.  Unfortunately, an arrow soon pierced its forehead, killing it instantly.  It slumped down quietly to the ground, its eyes blindly observing the world.

He took aim with another arrow and shot toward the moving bulblin he had seen first.  He compensated for the bulblin's speed and direction of movement.  He waited another instant, wherein his victim moved out of sight of those below and across the town, and then an arrow sailed directly for it.  It impaled the bulblin in the left temple.  Another instant kill.

It had crumpled to the floor, but the sound had not been heard by the others.  Link squinted, trying to see inside the houses bordering the village.  Those two bulblins had been the only ones that had had direct sight of the entrance … save for those in the streets.  He had needed to dispatch those guards in order to sneak into the village, but it would have been an unwise decision to move in after they had been dealt with.  If those in the streets and the houses spotted him--which, currently, they were sure to, considering their number--then stealth and surprise would no longer be at his command.

He spied movement within the house he had just robbed of its balcony guard.  The physique was that of another guard.  The bulblin, standing beyond a thin pane of glass, made no indication that it had seen its comrade die.  Normally, Link would have seen the glass as an obstacle, yet he would use it to his advantage.

As long as he could time the aftermath right … and run fast enough.

He aimed toward the window, positioning his shot with the utmost care.  As he released the arrow, he called to Midna, "Hide when you need to; help when you can."

And the arrow shattered through the glass, piercing its target through the heart.  The splintering sound echoed through the enclosed mountain village, and the attention of every bulblin collectively turned toward the house.  Link held fast to his bow, standing to peer over his concealment and counting seventeen heads total.  Those nearest in the streets headed toward the house, and with their gazes averted, Link moved across the open path toward the right side of the town.  He knew that once the dead bodies were discovered, his enemies would then look toward the tunnel entrance.

Link passed his first victim and entered the house, flattening himself against the wall.

He could hear the yelps of the alerted bulblins, passing the news throughout their number that there was a trespasser within the village.  Their voices sounded more like grunts and squeals to Link, but he could hear a distinct alarm within their tones.

Link spotted a set of stairs that led up to the higher levels, and he sprinted quietly towards it.  In the upper rooms, Link encountered a bulblin with its back turned to him.  It looked out toward the opposing house.  Without a sound Link's hand dove for one of his daggers, and in the next instant drove it quickly into its backside, throwing a hand across its large mouth to stay its yelp of dying pain.  He then lowered its limp frame to the floor and moved into the interconnected house to the right.

He passed through an open section, adjoined balconies, before diving into the house.  He searched through its rooms, using his stealth tactics to slay the two enemies he encountered.  Link then returned to the balconies and nocked one arrow after another as he killed multiple bulblins swiftly as they investigated the source of the shattering window.  After the third kill, the bulblins were alerted that the intruder had moved position, and Link submerged himself within the houses once more.

However, he was faced by a bulblin that he had obviously mistakenly skipped over during his search through the house.  Its club was raised above his head, but before the blow occurred, Midna pounced from Link's shadow, her dark magic tearing through its chest.  With a shrill scream, it fell over dead.

Link turned a quick nod in her direction, but the moment did not last for long.  As he peered out the first of two windows, he discovered that--as he had expected--the rest of the guards had heard the dying scream of their comrade.  The bulblins in the streets were marching in on the house he occupied, and one of their number spotted him at the window.  Link quickly ducked behind the frame, but the single guard had signaled to the others of his exact location.

Link nocked an arrow to his bow and raced across the first window.  Several arrows sailed toward him in the moment he exposed himself.  Fortunately, all had glided through the pane after he had safely shielded himself at the wall between the two windows.  He grimaced at the thought of what he was about to do, but those archers needed to be taken out.  He shifted to the second window and peeked outside.  He noted the position of both archers.  Both were across the street on the ledges of the opposing houses.

Turning back to the other window, Link gritted his teeth and revealed himself, taking a quick aim of the leftmost archer.  He released his arrow, and it sailed directly into his enemy's skull.  Simultaneously, the second archer had fired toward him, an arrowhead grazing Link's neck.  Just as he fell back into his hiding spot, holding a hand to his wound, several things happened at once.

He heard the remaining archer squeal, a thump following shortly afterward.  Midna grinned down at him.  "You're welcome again."

A sword flew toward him, Link dodging just in time for it to pierce the wall beside him.  Its owner stood at the opposite end of the room at the top of the staircase.  It reached to its belt for a short sword and approached him slowly.

He could hear two more sets of feet trampling through the downstairs.

Link rose to his feet and whacked his bow into his attacker's head.  It stumbled to the side, having not expected such a hit from a man with blood trickling from his neck.  Link then tossed down his bow and reached for a dagger, but the bulblin regained its ground.  Link guarded against its superior attacks, his right hand never leaving the wound across the side of his throat.  Once it left its flank open, Link thrust the dirk into its chest and twisted it violently in place.

At that time the other two bulblins jostled their way into the room, but Midna flew into action.  Link understood immediately that she was covering his escape.  He sheathed his dagger and raced toward his bow, grabbing and shouldering it as he leapt out of the second window and onto the ledge beyond.  He raced along its surface until he came to a drop-off.  Instead of turning back, however, Link leapt at the last possible moment, landing upon the open window pane of another house not far below.

The house was actually a small stable, the window dropping off into a room a level below what he had expected.  What was worse was that there was another bulblin standing guard on the inside.  Link leapt down onto the hay-covered floor, catching himself on his hands and knees, but attracting the attention of the bulblin.  Link picked himself back up and paid no mind to the straws of hay had stuck to his bloodied right palm.

And then the bulblin was upon him; though, he caught its club in both hands as it was cast toward him in a horizontal swipe.  He wrestled his enemy for control of the weapon, but the bulblin would not give ground.

A sudden aggravation swelled inside Link.  I am really getting tired of your kind.  And he released his right hand from the club, his bloodied fist landing a hard, bone-cracking punch across its mouth.

The bulblin was caught off guard from the pain pulsing through its jaw, and Link's hand was now justly covered in blood, for there were now rips across his knuckles.  Link easily stole his opponent's weapon, and with a powerful smash against its head, the bulblin collapsed onto the hay.

Link stood still in that moment, letting the breath and strength surge fully into his veins once more.  He took the opportunity to examine his neck wound to the best of his ability.  The arrow had not struck him deep, and the pain was more plentiful than the amount of blood spilling from it.  He tossed away the club and marched toward the entrance.

Midna rejoined him, entering the stable from the same window, and Link noted how silent the village now was.

As far as Link could recollect, they had killed nearly three-quarters of their number.  There were only a few of them left … and he knew exactly where they were.

He and Midna peered out the open doorway, finding that the last of them still guarded the house at the back end of the village--which was now quite close to their current location.  The house was in a ramshackle state, the windows boarded up from the inside and spots of the roof torn away.  Two of the bulblins stood on alert at opposing sides of the door, and the last was perched on the rooftop, bow already nocked with an arrow.

"So, what's the plan, hero?" smirked Midna as she ducked back into the stable.

Link tossed her a quick glance before resetting his gaze on the bulblins.  "I don't think they know we're this close."

"But," his companion added, "they know we're on this side at least."

He looked toward the archer and noticed it, too. It was sweeping the entire village with its gaze, but its bow remained positioned toward the right row of houses.  So, it was settled.  He had to take out the archer first since it was currently ignorant of their specific whereabouts.  He readied another arrow, trying his best to ignore the swelling pain in his knuckles.  Depending upon his memorization of the scene, Link closed his eyes and looked at a copy of the archer's position within his mind.  He envisioned the kill in preparation of the actual task.

Inhaling his next breath and holding it, he pivoted to the outside of the stable and launched his arrow, turning back in just as the guards spotted him.  A satisfying shriek signaled that he had at least hit his mark.  Link then chanced another look toward the rooftop to see that his prey had been punctured in the leg, and with this injury, it lost its balance and plummeted to the ground.

Called into motion by the death of their lookout, the two bulblins abandoned their posts and charged at Link just as he sprinted toward them.  He drew his blade at the last moments, ending one's life with the mortal draw that he had learned so long ago.  He ducked under the thrust of the other's complementing attack and cut its legs from under it, ending its misery with a plunge of his blade to the heart.

Though he knew that he had dispatched all of the bulblins, Link still remained on guard as he approached the house.  He knocked on the door, and the wobbly voice of an old woman greeted him.  "Leave me be, you savages!  I'm not opening up until every last one of you is gone!  You hear me?  So, get out of here!"

But in place of answering her with the affirmation that all of the guards were no longer within her village, Link screamed.

An arrow had pierced the back of his right shoulder, and with that, he realized that he had only slain nineteen of the twenty guards that he had counted, for there had been four guards at this house when he had initially scanned the area.

Midna had also been caught off guard, but she recovered much more quickly than the injured Link.  She spun about and cast a wicked spell of black magic toward it, knocking it dead the instant the energy came into contact with its body.

Midna then floated back over to Link.  He grimaced at the pain but held his lips tight to stay the cry of pain that so longed to burst free.  "Pull it out," he commanded.

"But--"

"Please," Link interrupted, his breath wavering.  "Just do it."

Unsure that freeing it from his shoulder would help matters, Midna nonetheless did as he asked and clutched the shaft tightly.  Link held back a shriek, groaning loudly instead, as she--with the aid of her magic to minimize further damage--yanked it from his body.  He breathed deeply through his nostrils at the release of the arrow from his body.  He held his right arm close, his hand clutching his collar in order to keep it steady and out of the way.  It would be useless to try to employ the appendage now.

It was in the same moment that Link spotted the eyes of the old woman looking out into the village between the boards of a window.  He saw her eyes widen at the sight of him.  In the next instant, the door flung open and she peered outside.

"Oh, please, please forgive me for not opening the door," she begged as she motioned for him to enter her home.  He did so thankfully and sat down in the chair she offered him.  She also, contrary to what Midna expected, acknowledged the imp and gestured for her to come inside as well.  Midna hovered next to Link's right side, arms crossed but ready to defend her partner's vulnerable side.

The house was rather cluttered, everything fitting into a single room.  A kitchen and dining area to the left--where Link sat--and a bed to the right.  Several shelves and baskets also littered the walls and floors, and among the rugs that covered the dirty floor were at least more than ten cats and kittens.  Link suddenly felt more at home upon seeing their mewing faces and the little ones playing with balls of yarn.  Sera, Beth's mother, owned a cat, and Link could remember catching fish in the river back home and surrendering them to the animal, leaving Sera to believe that it had caught its meals all by itself.

"My name is Impaz," the very short, elderly woman introduced, and it snapped Link from his reverie.  Impaz wore the royal blue and golden colors that decorated the Hylian flags.  Wrinkles that spoke of many years lined her face, and her thin, white hair had been pulled into a bun at the top of her head.  "It comes from the great one who ordered the construction of this village so long ago.  I'm the last resident."  She crossed to sit in a chair at the dining table.  "This village was once the secret home of the proud tribe who served the royal family, but … it fell into decline and--"

Impaz cut herself off, inspecting the curves of her guest's face.  "Excuse me for asking, but is your name Link?"

"Yes," he confirmed, surprised.

"Ah!  So then, you saved that nice girl?" she asked with a pleased smile, already knowing the answer.

"Yes," Link repeated.

"Lovely," the woman nodded proudly.  "When she was here, she would often cheer me up by saying that you would come to help.  Such a sweet girl.  She worried about this old woman even as I helped her to escape."

"That's why I've come," he stated, and he explained Ilia's situation.

After Link had finished his tale, Impaz sat deep in thought.  "I don't know how I could be of any help."  Yet, within the same moment, she dug something out from a pocket in her robes.  It looked like a horseshoe, but it was strung to a cloth necklace and there were holes in its hollowed form.  "Would you return this to her for me?" she asked handing it out to Link.  "I think she always kept it close to her heart, but even so, she didn't hesitate to part with it in order to make me feel better."

Link took the charm and ran his thumb across its figure.

"I believe in my heart that it kept me safe all this time.  So, please, give it back to that girl."

"I will," vowed Link.

But Midna's voice then rang out to him.  "Link!  Don't you realize?"  He looked to her, but as Midna saw that he had not come to the same conclusion, she explained, "Just think.  You gave her that statue and it brought us this far.  What if you returned something she kept close at heart?"

The sparkle of a final hope dawned within his blue gaze.  "This could be exactly what will cure her…."

"Right, so let's get going!"

Link turned back to Impaz to thank her, but the old woman's gaze had shifted to his belt.  "Is that…?  Could it really be … the Dominion Rod…?"  Her eyes darted back to Link's.  "Are you the messenger to the heavens?"  Link could not answer; he did not even know what such a messenger was.  But Impaz's eyes glowed, a young twinkle restoring within them.  "Among the legends of my clan, there is a story from the time when the Oocca still maintained contact with the royal family.  It was said that a mysterious rod was handed down from the people of the sky, the Dominion Rod.  It was only to be carried by the messenger to the heavens when the royal family needed to communicate with the Oocca."  The old woman stood then and turned to one of her many shelves, rummaging through the items lined or piled across the tiers she could reach.

"From generation to generation," she continued, "my ancestors have guarded the book that, by royal decree, was to be given to the messenger to the heavens.  This" --she said, finally collecting an object from within the many items-- "is that book, written in the ancient language of Sky Writing."  She stepped over to Link again.  "Please, take it."

She handed the ancient text to Link, and after pocketing Ilia's charm, he took the book.  He spread his fingers wide in order to let the book fall open and the pages were in themselves beautiful.  He could not read the old text, but there were also illustrations upon the pages, as if it contained stories as well as instructions.

"Meeting that girl must have been ordained by the gods, so that I could be here today to pass on this knowledge."  Impaz looked up at him with the softest of smiles, one that he expected mothers often gave their children.

Link took that as his cue to thank her and take his leave, and he did just that, taking care to step over the two kittens that sat at his feet.  They pawed at his boots, and he smiled down at them, kicking their ball gently away and watching them chase after it before he opened the door again.

"Please, take care of yourself," the last of the Sheikah called to him.

Link turned back to her one last time and nodded.

At last, he had obtained the final piece that was sure to break the terrible emptiness plaguing Ilia's mind.  In addition, he had acquired something that he had a gut instinct would lead him to the last of the Mirror Shards.

And he knew just who to ask to translate the text.  Of course … as long as he was able to convince Shad to remain still long enough to do so.  Already he could imagine the fidgeting excitement that would run through his acquaintance's bones.

===============

After having pushed Epona's endurance to its highest over the past days, Link decided-even in the face of his injuries and the important items he carried--that he would let the road back through the mountains and across the fields be taken at a slower canter.  Indeed, he needed to have his wounds treated most of all; however, he had been abusing his life-long companion for far too long.  He could feel the objection in Midna's presence, and it was either due to her growing concern for his wellbeing or her continued desire to reclaim the pieces missing from the Mirror of Twilight.

Link drifted into a half-sleep as a new night descended, the rocking motions of Epona's trot lulling him into a restless sleep.  He dreamed that a darkness, alien to that of just the night, was closing in upon him, but before the flitting dreams shifted into a more grounded state of rest, the sun pierced through his drooping eyelids, awakening him once more to the world.

They had left the northern mountains far behind, and now the walls of Castle Town loomed ahead.  He had considered swerving around the bustling town that was ever in motion to avoid any stares directed toward his wounds; however, any further delays or detours could prove unwise for his health.  He had wrapped his cloak anew around him, adjusting it so that his injuries were shielded from view.  He still held his right arm tightly up to his body, using his untouched arm to guide him into town.

He did not dismount Epona as he crossed into the streets, and the guards passed him suspicious looks.  Link did not meet their gaze in fear of endorsing conflict; instead, he merely looked out across the passersby nonchalantly, though, keeping watch of the guards' movements in his peripheral.  He shifted his arm uncomfortably underneath his cloak, praying that none of the townspeople would spare him their curiosity in that moment.

That was when he reached the square and came across young Soal and his puppy.  He acknowledged the boy with a slight nod, yet even that small movement made the tension in his shoulder swell once more.  He did his best in hiding the grimace that followed, but he was sure by the narrowing eyes of the child that he had taken notice of his pain.  To indicate to the boy that he did not wish his condition to be known, he simply produced a small smile and another nod and looked away.

He could feel Soal's eyes burning into his backside as he left town through the eastern streets.  Then he was once again riding toward Kakariko, and he pressed the image of the young boy from his mind.

By midday, Epona had brought him again to the village in the mountains.  He made sure to slide off her carefully so that his cloak did not shift to expose his wounds.  If the others knew of his pain, they would insist in yet another delay in returning the charm to Ilia … stealing her of precious moments in which she could--hopefully--finally relax in the comfort of remembering her life.

Before he entered the sanctuary, he adjusted the collar of his tunic and cloak around the cut on his throat so that it could not be seen.  He then turned the knob, and Renado was the first to greet him, asking if he had succeeded in finding the woman of whom Ilia had spoken.  Link nodded and looked past the shaman.  At some point over the course of the four days Link had been absent, the mighty Gorons had left the small shack, but the children still remained.  Malo was sharing jokes with them.  A noble attempt at lifting the tension within the room, for even as Malo tried to make them laugh, it seemed the children's giggles--even Malo's--were half-hearted.

When Colin caught sight of Link, he immediately leapt up and crossed over to him, the other children watching closely at what happened next.

"Link!  Did you find anything to help Ilia?" asked Colin, his words running together in his apprehension.

But even in Link's silence, Colin found his answer and, with it, comfort, for he had spent so much time with the quiet Hylian-of-Ordon that he could read the smallest hint of expression in Link's face.  Colin took a step back toward his friends, all looking on as Link approached Ilia.

Standing by her once more at the window, Link waited for her to look toward him before tossing a hand back to a pouch to retrieve her charm.  Without a word of explanation of what it was or who it came from, Link handed it to Ilia … wanting her to recall the event of gifting the charm to the old woman through her own ability.

There was a long moment in which Ilia stared at the object, questions in her eyes, but just as she held it in one palm, her other hand brushing gently over its surface, a ray of light danced within her eyes.  "I … I did know you once….  Yes."  She turned it over in her hands.  "This feels so familiar…."  Her eyes closed, as if her memories were crashing down over the black canvases of her eyelids.  "The scent of hay….  Long ago … when we were young, you and I….  You--you were always there…."

When her eyes opened once more, she was looking directly into Link's eyes, and he could see the emerald shine within their twin sparkle that had been missing for so long.  The Ilia he remembered….

"You were always beside me….  Link."

As she said his name, her tone was no longer hollow to the meaning behind the word.  Her voice had been renewed, her memories of spending all those days together--with him--expressed in just that one syllable.

She remembered him.

And in that moment, Ilia embraced him … just as tightly as she had in the spring before she had been taken.  Before any of this had happened.  Link could hear the children laughing, truly laughing.  It all sounded so beautiful to him.  He had not felt this happy since he had left his simple life in Ordon, and yet … that life--no matter how full it had once seemed--had been one lived in ignorance.  How could he have ever honestly seen his home, his possessions, his friends for what they were without having to fight for them?  All that time….  All the while he had lived in Ordon, he had been blind to the truth of the world, the real reasons there were to be happy, to take nothing for granted.

In the next moment, he heard Renado shuffling the children quietly out of the sanctuary, and Link's muscles stiffened.  Ilia's hold on him slackened, and she looked up into his eyes.  There was an awkward pause between them, but Link soon broke away from her stare.  He had imagined the day that Ilia would recover her memory, but now that he stood there, their arms surrounding each other … something in him seemed different.  He still cared deeply for her--as he always would--but….

Something inside Link had changed.  He had experienced so much since he had first been offered the honor of presenting Ordon's gifts to the royal family, and now his entire perspective on life and the world around him had changed.

Ilia stepped back from him, but their bodies remained close.  "This gift was meant for you," she said, holding the charm up to him.  "It was something I wanted to give you before you left on your journey."

Link took it within his grasp, staring down at it.  …I think she always kept it close to her heart… Impaz had said.  He smiled at first, but then his eyes clouded as he looked at it.  Something she kept close to her heart….  A gift for him.  But then that meant….

"It's a horse call," she smiled.  "For Epona."  But her smile faded then, and her eyes glistened with tears.

Link felt obligated that he should say something … but the right words seemed so far out of reach.  How could he tell her?  Tell her that for so long….

Yet, in that moment of quiet, her sobs ran freely once more.  "I just…" she tried through her gasping breaths.  "I am so sorry I ever forgot you … forgot everything….  Link…."  But her words were drowned by her cries.

Link remembered a time when he had wanted to cradle her injured face in the palm of his hand, at a time when she had feared his touch.  Now, the bruise across her forehead and temple was all but gone, the scratches along her ear the only remnants of her pain.  Link gently cupped her cheek in his hand and a quiet grin overcame him as a small tear trickled down the side of his nose.  Tears soaked her cheeks and chin, but when their eyes met her cries dissolved into a smile.  He wrapped his arm around her then, soothing her in a soft voice.  "It's all right, Ilia."  He looked out into the bright sky, leaning his head against hers.  But it's not over.  "I'm here.  I've always been here."

Midna, who had left his shadow secretly when he had entered the room, sat in the shadows cast by the firelight.  She looked on as Link and Ilia exchanged words and embraces, watched on as Malo had tried peeking into the room only to be quickly pulled away by another young hand.

A strange, sick feeling began to inflate within her.  She could not explain the feeling, for she could not recall a day of her life in which she had previously felt so…. betrayed?  Was that the word?  If so, it was a different kind of betrayal, for she had known treachery all her life.

Whatever the case, all she knew was that she was disgusted in seeing the scene before her eyes, and the sooner she and Link moved on from Kakariko … the better she would feel.
SECOND EDIT on September 11, 2012

Finally reached the last of the edits surrounding Ilia's revised injury (a blow to the head). This one harkens back to the edit I made in Ch.19 as well.

The edit is at the end of the chapter, and used to be only:

Yet, she embraced him again within that moment of quiet, sobbing into his shoulder. "I just…" she tried through her gasping breaths. "I am so sorry I ever forgot you … forgot everything…. Link…." But her words were drowned by her cries, as she held tightly to him.

He wrapped his good arm around her, soothing her in a soft voice. "It's all right, Ilia." He looked out into the bright sky, leaning his head against hers. But it's not over. "I'm here. I've always been here."


Now the scene is a bit more extensive and references the previous chapter and her healing injury. Plus, this image should totally make Midna much more jealous! ^_^

END OF SECOND EDIT

EDIT on August 29, 2012

The beginning changed a lot. Originally, it was just Link falling asleep thinking about Epona and then waking to continue the search. Now it has depth with Link/Midna relationship and Midna's thoughts.

Also, the "if house was turned prison" line was added.

Below is the original opening of the chapter, for your comparison pleasure:

Link had sped back through Castle Town another countless time, crossing the western bridge to turn up into the northern lands. He had traveled through the evening and night to reach the border of the northern mountain range. Yet, with the night and the darkened sky, a heavy fog clouded over the mountain peaks, leaving Link blind as to which was the tallest among them. With his vision impaired, he decided to rest for the night, but even though the air was chill, he refrained from constructing a fire. If there were any guards nearby, his position would have been freely distributed to them.

Instead, he led Epona under an outcropping and settled down beside her as she lowered into a comfortable resting position. Link pulled his cloak tightly around him to combat the cold atmosphere. Nestled against his horse, he could hear and feel each of her breaths. He reached out a hand to comb through her mane.

Feeling rather lonely despite the fact that Midna was with him, and in disregard of knowing that he traveled to regain Ilia's memory … he smiled. Epona had been the only one throughout his entire life that had remained at his side through every ordeal.

No matter what happens, you'll always be with me.

It was that thought that comforted him in the dark cold of the night, and he soon found a restful sleep.

===============

Link awoke and peeked through the fold of his cloak as the rays of sun began lighting the skies over the mountaintops. He petted Epona's head and she gently shifted from her dreams to see the coming day. She rose and fidgeted about to stretch her muscular legs. Link pulled himself into the saddle and urged her onward.

The renewing brightness did little in warming Link as they passed through the trails of the mountains, and the fog had not completely lifted. Link searched the pathways above him that traveled along the mountains, and, finding a route that would lead him upward, he pivoted Epona toward it. "Come, girl. Let's get to higher ground."


END OF EDIT

Here is the next chapter!! For those that know the game, you'll find that this chapter covers the hidden village sequence, which was definitely one of my all-time favourite sections of the game. I loved "sniping" and sneaking around this place so much. I think you'll enjoy the action sequences I've written for it. Also, we see the one and only sheikah of the story, and then Link rides back to Ilia to.... perhaps finally enable her to regain her memory. The scene at the end I loved writing, not for the Link and Ilia moment, but for writing it from Midna's perspective which we never saw in the game. I hope you like how I did that part!! Next week stay tuned for a revised version of the chapters 5/6 (now ch.3)!

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Comments18
anonymous's avatar
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x-VivaerethAlonia-x's avatar
Oh, that's too funny; Midna's <
x-VivaerethAlonia-x's avatar
(Ha, fail!)

Midna's jealous?! Didn't know she had it in her. So she is fairly human after all...

This was such a beautiful ending to such a great chapter! But...

It's crystal clear that Ilia loves Link. She practically said it to his face. And after everything, now Link doesn't know if that's what he wants?! SNAP OUT OF IT, DUDE! You only find someone like that once in your life. I just want to slap him, make him see the light.

Yet... I get it, I think. He's changed so much, learned so much about himself and all the while she was in limbo. I can understand his uncertainty... He isn't sure if she would like what he's become. BUT HE'S SUCH A HYPOCRITE! Wasn't it just a chapter or two ago that he found out that she injured/killed some bulbins? And that hasn't changed his feelings for her, now, has it? No, it's his own life that makes him second-guess himself being worthy of her.

I feel like he missed a perfect opportunity for a kiss, or would that have been taking advantage of her emotional state? I don't care! Well, at least he got a hug out of it...

But still, LINK, YOU IDIOT! You're going to screw up the deepest relationship in your life! She freaking loves you, dude!

I need to stop shouting... I need some kitten therapy. Oh wait! I already had some in this chapter! ^_^
Eternal-Apprentice's avatar
Haha, someone's a little jealous... 

Oh, this was touching. I always loved returning to when Ilia found her memory. 

(oh, and I think you meant "Talo" when he was peeking into the room and telling jokes. Malo's the younger one, but with the Malo Mart chain) 
Stephonika-W-Kaye's avatar
Yeah. I liked the Ilia arc. 

....Hmm... Reread it. You miiiight be riiight. Hmm. ^_^ Thanks for pointing it out. It does seem out of character for Malo, and I was constantly mixing up their names.
TheGuiltyBystander's avatar
Hm. Perhaps my musings are best left to myself, but... this reminds me of so many other romances I have read. And as I began to wonder, I may have done some... background research on the fandoms you are loyal too. I was quite surprised to find that you do indeed have some connections to the Midna and Link romancers. While that was not the only type I found, it was indeed the most interesting as I began to notice some seemingly innocuous acts that could be taken that way. This does create some interesting mysteries for me to interpret as now I have to guess where Link's loyalties will fall. While tragedy has never been my forte, I do find such conflicts entertaining at the very least. Only time will tell I suppose.

Sincerely and with my Intrigued Respects,
-The Guilty Bystander
Stephonika-W-Kaye's avatar
I rather enjoy your musings, so I hope you continue to share! It's been interesting to create some drama with the friendships/relationships, and it's quite a thrill to read people's response to it. I was a hardcore MiLinker before I started writing, but through the course of writing I've come to respect the other shippings of fans, and I can see how those romances could flourish, so it's been interesting tip-toeing all the lines.

Thanks for another comment!
Cheers, ^_^
Zutara-Zukolover's avatar
Amazing once again!

love your writing! ^.^

Love the feelings you put into the story on the last part!
Stephonika-W-Kaye's avatar
Thanks! I'm glad you liked it and especially the ending!!

I'm revising "Midna's desperate hour" stuff right now, so it's so cool looking back to the point where they first started really caring for each other compared to this. ^_^
Zutara-Zukolover's avatar
yeah, it's really cool how you can see that their feelings for each other grow, and that they're caring about each other.
You write about emotions very well! :D
Stephonika-W-Kaye's avatar
Oh, thank you so much!! ^_^
silverheartlugia2000's avatar
yeah that town was fun, link makes a pretty good assasin.:ninja: i also love the western showdown music in that town. cool refrence to the "get the cat to come home" sidequest. also midnas jealooous:XD:
Stephonika-W-Kaye's avatar
^_^ Haha, yeah. I'm glad you noticed the reference! Yup, I think wee wittle Midna is totes jealous.
nasanerd09's avatar
that was one of my favorite "missions" in the game. i have way too much fun with the bow and arrow 8D <---- crazy wide eyed grin. And Midna...it's called jealousy. sigh i love how you're developing link's and midna's relationship!
Stephonika-W-Kaye's avatar
Hahahaha. "Midna it's called jealousy" Love it!! hahaha.

Yeah, I loved this part so much. I always had this crazy love relationship with my bow. ^_^

Thanks a lot for the comment. I think the relationship is going in a great direction to build up for the end to make that scene its most effective. ^_^_^
nasanerd09's avatar
i actually wanted my...er...Link's bow today in class. There's this very loud, very off tempo, and very annoying clock in one of my classrooms, and it started ticking loudly and randomly and it was driving the entire class nuts, and i quite literally almost pulled out a bow, grabbed an arrow from the quiver on my back, turned around and shot the damn thing. except i didn't have a bow and quiver full of arrows so i would have looked quite ridiculous.

also, while reading chapters I occasionally notice a few spelling/grammar mistakes or typos. Do you have someone to proofread for you? Proofreading yourself usually catches most of them, but some still slip by because you know what it's supposed to say and don't notice. I proofread another writer's stories before he posts them, i'd be happy to do yours. i'm not the best at offering advice on how to progress the story, but you seem to have a very good handle on that :)
Stephonika-W-Kaye's avatar
Thank you for the offer on proofreading. I don't mind it at all. I have a friend or two who said they'd help me out with that, but they've yet to hand me any notes. While I revise the chapters I very usually read out loud to myself, and if I change anything, I always reread it again once or twice before moving on. That helps a lot, but I know I'm probably missing some errors.

And thank you. I sure hope the story is progressing well!! lols ^_^_^_^
Ninja-Jaiden's avatar
I loved how you illustrated the sniping and such--and that little surprise at the doorway got me good! Midna's perspective was great too. Loving it as always!
Stephonika-W-Kaye's avatar
Haha, oh yeah, the arrow in his shoulder? Yeah. I reread that and I'm like, "oh, damn, Link!" ^_^ Glad you liked it!
anonymous's avatar
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