The portal appeared like a whirlpool underneath Link’s feet. It grabbed him by the ankles and dragged him down, through darkness and magic, spinning his head. Then, just as he was ready to throw up, it spat him out onto cold, hard ground.
Goddammit! What was it now?
He’d saved Termina not even a month ago, and already the gods were dragging him away on some other quest. Couldn’t they just leave him alone? Everyone else he loved left him. Why couldn’t the gods? Why did they have to be so demanding?
(why did they hate him so much?)
His bag was still on his shoulders, and a quick check showed that none of his masks or items had gone missing. He still had his sword. Now to find out what the problem was so he could fix it and go home.
(he tried not to think about how the word hurt. where was his home? did he even have one anymore?)
Where was he, anyway?
Link gazed at the land around him. It was as though the earth had been broken into chunks and scattered, the pieces ill-fitting, like the wrong parts of a puzzle forced together.
Is that the Water Temple? Why is Death Mountain literally right beside it? There’s no road or path or anything! Where is Lon Lon Ranch? And why the hell is there a island floating in the sky?
At least the portal had thrown him near people. Not far from where he stood was a green field, dozens of tents pitched into the ground. Banners fluttered beside them, showing off vivid colours and different symbols. Link recognized the eye of the Sheikah clan and the emblem of the Hyrule royal family. Maybe someone there could give him answers.
Let’s go get this over with.
The camp was packed with various races. Hyrulian soldiers, Goron merchants, and other strange folk that Link had never seen before all scurried around him. Weapons were everywhere, and the smell of hot soup made his stomach growl. A tiny blue fairy fluttered back and forth between people, passing along messages, and Link’s heart hurt at the sight of her. He walked faster, and would have marched straight into one of the tents if a soldier hadn’t stopped him.
“Woah there, kid! Where do you think you’re going?” The soldier’s gaze widened at Link’s sword. “Isn’t that a bit too big for someone your size?”
The condescending tone set Link’s teeth on edge. “A dark magic portal sent me here,” he said.
“Another one?” The soldier sighed. “Damn, you’re the fifth person this week. I’m sorry about this, kid. You must really miss your Momma, huh?”
Link rolled his eyes. Why couldn’t they just treat him like an actual person? “I want to know why I'm here and what I need to do to go home.”
"Well," said the soldier, “A bad woman named Cia and an even worse man named Ganondorf used their bad magic to mix up time.”
I will break your kneecaps if you don’t stop treating me like a baby, thought Link.
The soldier did not notice the death glare being sent his way and continued talking. “But you don’t need to worry about that, little boy. Queen Zelda has already begun searching for a way to defeat the evil, and with Captain Link at her side it’s only a matter of time before everything goes back to normal."
Captain Link? There was someone else with the same name as him? “Where are they?”
“The war tent down by the armoury, but - hey, wait! Where are you going?”
“To talk to someone who isn’t an idiot.”
“Wait! Kid! This is war! It’s not a place for someone your age! Stop!”
But Link was already running away, the man’s words immediately ignored. Nothing he hadn’t heard before.
Great. Another stupid adventure.
At least this one didn’t involve the moon.
They called him Mask.
“It’s too confusing to have you both called Link,” Queen Zelda had said, after he’d barged into their tent and introductions had been made. She stood much taller than his Zelda, wise and beautiful and more than a little terrifying. Everything a queen should be. “We could call you another name if there’s something else you’d rather use?”
“No,” he said. “That one’s fine.” Mask tried to sound like he didn’t care.
I’m not even allowed to have my own name, he thought. Everything gets taken from me.
At least he didn’t need to argue for hours about who he was and what he could do. Lana, some weird sorceress lady, backed him up. She seemed to know everything about the Triforce. “There are many incarnations of the hero,” she said. “This boy is one of them. He has the spirit of courage. We can trust him.”
Like the mark of the Triforce carved into his left hand isn’t proof enough. “I told you.”
“You can’t expect us to have believed you right away,” said the Captain. Mask refused to call him Link. That’s supposed to be my name. Everything about this other Link looked weird. Wrong. The polished armour, the long blue scarf that trailed behind him like some sort of victory banner. His hair is shiny, how is that even possible? The Master Sword was at his side and it took all of Mask’s willpower not to grab the damn thing and stomp on it until it broke.
Why the hell is he even wearing green, anyway? He’s too old to think he’s a Kokiri. Must be nice to get to grow up like a normal person. I bet he has a family and home and everything. I bet he’s never once felt lost or alone in his whole life.
(its not fair, its not fair, its not fair)
Impa, standing protectively at the Queen’s side, shrugged. “I suppose this does fit with all the strange allies that have been brought to us due to Cia’s meddling.”
Lana flinched at that. “The Goddess works in mysterious ways,” she mumbled.
Mask crossed his arms and glared up at the adults. “So?”
“So what?” said the Captain.
“So, now that you believe me, what do I need do? Who do I need to kill? Is there a certain temple or an item or something I need to get?” Let me get this adventure over and done with.
“You want to fight?” The Captain’s eyes widened. “Absolutely not. You’re going straight to a tent - Agatha’s probably, I don’t know who else would have the patience to deal with you - and you’re going to stay there until this mess has been solved.”
Like hell I will. Mask crossed his arms and glared. “You don’t think I can fight because I’m a kid.”
“It’s not a matter of if you can fight,” said the Captain. “It’s a matter of if you should. And I don’t think you should, because the idea of enlisting a literal child as a soldier freaks me out. It’s wrong. I forbid it.”
“Whatever. I’ll figure it out on my own.” Wasn’t that what he always had to do? He turned, ready to march out of the tent and track down Ganondorf alone.
“Wait,” said the Queen.
“We are not in a position to turn away fighters,” she said. “Especially ones who are experienced - more experienced - than we are in this war. If you would assist us in our struggle, I would name you a member of my army.”
Do you always believe in me? thought Mask. The Queen’s eyes seemed sad, but maybe that was just him imagining another Zelda, another princess who was also forced to grow up too fast. If what Lana says is true, and there are a bunch of different versions of me out there, then is there also always one of you? Do we always fight together? Do we always lose each other afterwards?
(was that his fault? did she hate him for it?)
But of course he couldn’t ask her all that, so just Mask shrugged. “Sure. I’ll fight. But I don’t want to be treated like another dumb soldier. I’ve fought more than all of them! I won’t let them boss me around!”
“Then I shall put you directly under the Captain,” said the Queen. “We have many Generals from other Hyrule’s in similar positions. They take orders only from Captain Link and myself. Would that suit you?”
“Fine,” said Mask. I can always ignore him anyway if he starts being too stupid.
The Captain did not look happy with the suggestion, running a hand through his perfect golden hair. “Your Majesty, with all due respect, must I?”
“I’m afraid so,” said the Queen. “Better to have him working with us than by himself. Show him to a tent he can use as his own. Preferably one close to yours, in case he has any further questions.”
“As you wish, my Queen,” said the Captain, sighing. “Come on, Sprite. Let’s get you set up for war.”
Mask rolled his eyes. “Whatever, Old Man.”
The Captain actually paused mid-step to turn and look back down at him. “What did you call me?”
“Old Man. What? Is your hearing going?”
“I’m not even twenty yet!”
Impa narrowed her eyes at their bickering. Lana clutched her book, unsure and scared. The Queen rubbed her chin thoughtfully.
“Well,” said the Queen, “This should, at the very least, be very interesting.”
It was not long before Mask discovered the other Generals who had been magically dragged into the war.
He hated them all.
Perhaps hate was not the best word for it. They scared him, especially the ones he already knew. Darunia and Ruto glanced down at him and saw not their friend, not a hero, but some ill-tempered kid. “You remind me of a boy I once knew,” said Ruto, and Mask had to run away to his tent so he could puke up his heart.
(this is why he hated people. they only hurt you in the end)
Safer to stay alone. Mask kept to himself, either in his tent or on the battlefield. Didn’t bother to learn their stories, their struggles, their reasons for being in the fight. What did it matter? He’ll leave them all behind soon enough. The weird Twilight imp, the pirate captain, the bunny-hooded coward. None of them were important.
(he stayed as far away as possible from the blue-crystal woman, her eyes blade sharp and cold. she glanced at him once and there was so much regret in her expression that it made him want to scream)
But he could not avoid the Captain. Every day, the other Link tracked Mask down and pestered him with question after nagging question.
“Did you eat breakfast?”
“You look tired. Did you get any sleep last night?”
“Are you actually only going to eat candy for lunch?”
Over and over. It didn’t matter if Mask plugged his ears or stuck out his tongue or swore in the Captain’s face, he always came back with the more questions. Why was he putting so much effort into pretending to care?
At least in my other adventures there wasn’t some stupid Old Man telling me what do to.
“I’m not a fucking baby,” Mask snapped at him one morning
“First of all, watch your language,” said the Captain. He’d been handing out mail to the other soldiers, letters from family they’d left far away. Nothing in his hand for Mask, of course, and nothing for the Captain either. “Second of all, Queen Zelda said that it was my job to look after you, so I will. And for the record, I don’t think you’re a baby. I think you’re a god-forsaken gremlin.”
Mask smirked. Gremlin, huh? I like that. “Do you always do what she tells you to?”
The Captain raised an eyebrow. “Yes. Didn’t you always do the same for yours?”
“Shut up,” Mask growled. “Mine didn’t boss me around like some dumb dog.”
The Captain gritted his teeth. “How does something as small as you hold so much spite in its heart?”
I was taller than you once, thought Mask. “Ask the gods. They sent me on all these quests. They dumped me on you.”
“Believe me, if I could have words with Hylia about this,” the Captain gestured at Mask and himself, “I would. I have enough problems with this war besides you. Now, I will see you at dinner and you will eat some actual vegetables, or I will ban every merchant and cook in this camp from ordering any kind of sugar for the next four months. Are we clear?"
Mask rolled his eyes. “Whatever, Old Man.”
A war, Mask learned, involved a lot of talking.
Mission debriefings, debates between the different Generals on the best strategies, making plans and re-making plans for hours. So many hours of talking that dragged, words blending together until it was impossible for Mask to understand what question they’d started with and what answer they’d end up agreeing on. Why did the adults insist on wasting time talking when there were monsters to fight? Mask could have finished the war by the time they’d actually come to some sort of decision. He avoided as many of them as he could. Stayed in his tent, or in the woods nearby it, waiting for Proxi to flutter over and tell him who to fight. She was the only one in the whole army who he liked.
(he could not, no matter how much it hurt, bring himself to be mean to fairies)
Boredom ate at his thoughts. He fiddled with his ocarina but didn’t dare play a note. All music sounded sour to him now.
The Captain continued to make a point of visiting him in-between meetings, bringing all his annoying questions with him.
“What are you up to, Sprite?”
“Do you need anything?”
“Agatha’s found some new bugs that glow-in-the-dark. Do you want to go visit her and check them out?”
“I want you to go away!” yelled Mask.
Fine, thought Mask. If the Old Man won’t leave me alone, then I’ll make him wish he had. I’ll show him exactly what a gremlin can do.
The next weeks were a blur of battles and pranks. When Mask wasn’t fighting, or healing his wounds, or dodging the Captain’s never-ending pretend concern, he did everything he could to make the other Link’s life miserable. Snuck frogs into his boots, swamp water into his fancy hair wash, buckets of cold muck strung up above his tent entrance. It became routine to hear the Captain shriek in horror each morning at whatever prank Mask had devised.
“Goddamn gremlin,” grumbled the Captain one morning, mud staining his normally perfect hair. “You have way too much time on your hands.”
Mask stuck out his tongue at him.
“Come on, Sprite.” The Captain grabbed Mask by the back of his shirt and dragged him away from the tents.
“Hey! Let go of me!”
“Queen Zelda kindly said I didn’t need to partake in today’s supply train meeting after I explained that you - “ he sent Mask a stern look - “need additional supervision.”
“She suggested that you could benefit from some recreational activity, and I know just what to do with you.”
They’d reached the edge of camp, the green field spread out before them. The Captain released Mask, turned and gave him a grin. “Here we are. Perfect.”
“Perfect for what?” Mask glared up at him What does the Old Man think he’s doing?
“For a duel, of course.”
“A duel,” said the Captain. Excitement lit up his eyes. “A practice fight. Let me see exactly how good you are with that sword. Unless you’re scared?”
“Scared of what? You? I could snap you in half.”
“You just want to try and beat me up,” said Mask. He had his sword out, ready to fight. “You want to give me bruises for getting your hair dirty.”
That shocked the Captain. His eyes dimmed. “No, no I’d never - ” He took in a deep breath. “You only fight. You don’t play games or talk to people or listen to stories. You just throw yourself into battle and eat way too much candy. I thought…I thought this could be something you’d want to do. A way for you to have some fun and be a little less alone.”
“I’m used to being alone,” said Mask.
“That doesn’t mean you should be,” said the Captain. He sighed, running a hand through his hair. “Goddess, I knew this was a dumb idea. I shouldn’t have said anything.” He turned, ready to march away back into the camp.
The words come out before Mask could stop them.
The Captain went still.
“I…” Mask tried to speak. "Because I..."
I don’t know why you’re trying to care so much. I don’t know what to do with all of your questions. I’m bored out of my mind and when I close my eyes I see the moon breaking the world in half and its driving me mad.
“Because if you do then…then I’ll tell everyone you were afraid you’d lose to me.”
The Captain’s eyes became bright again, wide smile stretched across his face. “There’s no way I’m scared of some smart-mouthed gremlin.”
Mask returned the Captain’s grin. “Prove it.”
The Water Temple was not a place Mask had ever wanted to visit again. Memories pricked at his heart as he ran through the halls, slashing at poes and stalfos. The Captain was behind him, yelling orders at soldiers. Mask ignored him and rushed forward, eager to get the whole battle done with.
Which was how he ended up in a corridor alone, cornered by some twisted mashup of knight and dragon.
“What are you supposed to be?” mocked Mask, sword ready.
(do not think about a little dragon you once knew who was your friend. do not think about how he grew up and you had to kill him)
“Insolent brat! I am Volga!” It roared, the sound shaking the temple walls. “I will devour you!”
Fire spewed from its mouth. Mask rolled. The flames licked his arm and he winced at where they burnt his skin. What do I do? Can I dodge around it? The worst of his masks beckoned him, promised a way out, but Mask hesitated to use it. What do I do?
The Captain rushed in before he had to make a decision. “Stay away from him!” The Master Sword glowed in his hand, slashing at Volga. The monster leapt back from the blade before disappearing.
“What did you do that for?” Mask snapped at him. “I was winning!”
“You were not winning! You were two seconds away from becoming charcoal. Are you okay?”
Mask tried to hide his arms behind his back. “I'm fine.”
The Captain noticed, gently holding the injured one out to inspect the burn. “You’re hurt.”
“It’s not a big deal.” Not worth wasting a red potion over. “I’ve had worse.”
That only made the Captain’s eyes darker. Mask didn’t understand what he was angry at. “You’ll go straight to a Zora healer when we get back to camp.”
“Don’t baby me!”
“You’ll see a healer,” the Captain repeated, “and you will never do something so terrifying again.”
Terrifying? “I wasn’t scared.”
“I was,” said the Captain. It wasn’t a lie. Mask could see that his hands were shaking, his face so pale that Mask wondered if he was going to faint.
“You can’t be scared of dragons if you’re going to be a hero,” said Mask.
“It wasn’t the damn dragon that I was scared of,” the Captain snapped back. “Do you know how many soldiers I had to cut through to get here? I didn’t think I was going to make it in time! I thought I was going to get here and only find half of you, you - ” He cut off the rest of his words.
Mask didn’t know what to say. Being rescued - being worried over - was not something he was familiar with. “I can fight dragons.”
“That doesn’t mean you should have to face them alone.”
“If this is ‘cause I’m a kid - ”
“It's because you are a member of my army and I don’t want you to end up dead. It would be the same for Midna, or Agatha, or Queen Zelda, or hell, even Impa. You do not face dragons, or enemy Generals, or the goddamn Lord of Darkness by yourself, understand?”
But he always had to do it by himself! In dungeons, in twisted castles, inside the moon. It was always just him (a fairy at his side, a tiny voice not able to do much at all against evil) with his sword and his speed and whatever dumb luck he was born with that kept him alive.
There had never been an adult who’d looked at the danger Mask was expected to fight and said ‘no’.
(he almost wished there had been)
But he couldn’t say any of that. Couldn’t explain it at all without getting it muddled, or worse, crying like some stupid baby. So he faked indifference, hid behind his heart and rolled his eyes. “Is that an order?”
“Yes, Sprite,” said the Captain. “That’s an order. And don’t you ever forget it.”
Death Mountain burned through the soles of Mask’s boots. Goddess, he wished he had his red tunic. The air stunk of torched skin, of sulphur and soot. All around him were soldiers, Impa and Sheik (I know who you really are, he thought smugly) cutting through the hordes of enemies like they were nothing but long grass.
There was no sign of the Captain.
“Mask!” Proxi flew towards him, “Help! Help!”
“What’s wrong?” He didn't see any monsters near her. Most of them looked like they were retreating, the battle almost won. "Are you hurt?"
“It’s Captain Link! He’s surrounded and cut off from the other soldiers! Please, you have to help him!”
Stupid Old Man! What happened to the 'not taking on major enemies by yourself' rule? “Show me where he is!”
Mask followed Proxi up the rocky ground. She lead him around the fighting, up to a hidden area. From his vantage point, Mask could see the Captain, trying to fight off a horde of stalfos and the spells a cackling Wizrobe slung at him.
Proxi shook at Mask’s shoulder. “Oh no! What do we do? What do we do?”
Mask looked at the rocky ground, at the rapidly closing distance between the Captain and the monsters. “I have an idea.”
He reached into his bag and pulled out not a mask, but bombs.
The Wizrobe stopped the spell it was weaving, turning to look up to look at Mask.
So did the Captain, exhausted and horrified.
Mask gave them all a big grin. “Eat shit!”
Then, with as the strength that would make a Goron proud, he chucked the bomb straight at its face.
It exploded on impact.
There was a loud BOOM as the earth shuddered, fire bursting and gobbling up any monster nearby. The Wizrobe didn't even get a chance to scream.
The Captain did not waste his chance to escape. He leapt over the stalfos, scrambling up the rocks to join Mask as they ran back to where the rest of the soldiers were.
“You gremlin,” said the Captain, but he was grinning. He ruffled Mask’s hair. “You absolute, Hylia-have-mercy-on-me, brilliant gremlin.” The pride in his voice filled up Mask’s heart with warmth.
“Bet I can kill more monsters than you can!”
“You’re on, Sprite.”
But not all battles were won so easily.
They were fighting in the Palace of Twilight. An eerie place, made of shadows and dark magic, swarmed by Zant’s minions, drowning in monsters thirsting for their blood. They were fighting as hard as they could and still they were going to lose.
Mask could not let that happen.
When the other Generals were distracted and the Captain far enough away not to see, he pulled a mask out of his bag. One he promised himself he would only use if absolutely necessary.
It gleamed up at him, craving to be put on. Eager to be used.
Mask could not stop himself from screaming as its power took over.
The world went black for a long, long time.
When Mask regained control of himself, there was nothing but wreckage around him. The enemy was defeated, either dead at his feet or fleeing into a distance portal. The soldiers around him had also retreated, probably more out of fear of whatever Mask had turned into than anything Ganon had thrown at them.
At least I still came back, thought Mask. And I won. It's worth all the pain if I win, isn’t it? Isn’t that what heroes are supposed to do? Sacrifice themselves?
Still, it wasn't a power he was in a hurry to use again. It was very easy to remember Majora, to picture Skull Kid’s body twisted and possessed by too much ancient power. It was very easy to imagine the same thing happening to himself.
Mask could hear the Captain calling for him, running towards him. He hid the mask in his bag before it could be spotted, not in the mood for a lecture about using overly-powerful items, or worse, for the Captain to try and take it away from him.
(deep down, he half wished that someone would so he wouldn’t be forced to carry it anymore)
“Are you okay, Sprite?” the Captain asked. He picked Mask up, and for once Mask didn’t argue against it.
“Just sleepy,” he admitted. Using that mask always drained him. The Captain’s scarf was soft and warm against his cheek, and it was…nice not to have to walk all the way back to camp. “I’m tired.”
“Me too, Sprite,” sighed the Captain. “Me too."
Something was wrong.
Mask knew it from the way the soldiers staggered back from their battle. From Impa’s frown that twitched as if holding back a scream. From the guilt that flooded Lana’s eyes, spilling out into tears. From how the Queen refused to speak, and how the Captain’s tent was kept shut. Silent.
Something was wrong and Mask hated not knowing what it was.
Luckily, he knew exactly who’d tell him.
He found the tiny fairy hovering outside the Captain’s tent, worriedly spinning and mumbling to herself.
Mask caught her in his hands and pressed his face close to her. “Proxi,” he whispered “What happened?”
“Another soldier turned on Link,” said the fairy.
Another? There had been more than one? When did that start happening? Why hadn’t Mask noticed? “What do you mean? Were they possessed?”
The fairy shook her head. “No. That’s the worst part! They chose to join Cia’s side. They tried to poison the Captain.” Her light dimmed. “Poor Link. They’d known each other for years. Both of them had trained together at Hyrule Castle. I don’t understand how anyone could turn on a friend this way.”
Neither did Mask. “What happened to the traitor?”
“He was executed.”
“No,” she said, and her eyes slid to the Captain’s tent.
Oh. “I’m gonna talk to him.”
“Mask, wait - ”
Mask didn't wait.
It was dark inside the tent, no candles lit. The Captain was at the back, his knees drawn up to his chin, head buried in his arms. His scarf was wrapped around his shoulders like a child hiding beneath a favourite blanket.
The Captain didn’t even bother to look up. “If you’re here to kill me, may I suggest that you come back a different night? I’m not in the mood to entertain another assassin.”
“Its just me,” said Mask.
“Sprite?” Now the Captain raised his head, eyes red and puffy. “What are you doing up? You okay?”
“Did you have a nightmare?”
“No, I’m fine. Are you okay?”
“I…” The Captain shook his head. “I’ve had better days.” The Captain didn’t say anything for a minute, then spoke up again. “You know what the hardest part about being a hero is, Sprite?”
What the hell was Mask supposed to say to that? What was he supposed to say at all? Maybe Proxi was right. Maybe I should have stayed outside. But he was here now, and he needed to fill the air with something other than silence and sharp-toothed memories. “Can you play an instrument?” Mask asked. His ocarina was in his pocket, and for once it didn’t feel like a weight in his hand.
(it had been silent since Termina, because as long as it was silent, then that meant the world wasn’t about to fall apart)
The Captain shook his head.
“I can. I know a lot of songs.”
“Could you play one for me?” asked the Captain, his voice wobbling.
“Okay,” said Mask, and he brought his ocarina to his lips.
How long did the war last?
Mask didn’t know.
He should have. Time was something he was more aware of than most, even if he did have a muddled-up relationship with it. But the days blended together, weeks turning into months. It must have been close to a year. It wasn’t like his other adventures, with set temples to investigate and items to collect. A war was a tapestry of battles, skirmishes, plots against plots within plots. It made Mask’s head spin, all the petty politics that circle around the actual fighting. He left that to this world’s Zelda and kept to the war tents and battlefields.
But there were quiet moments when no battle needed to be fought, no strategy to be planned. Moments when the Captain found him, sparred with him or chased him down because of another prank. A pattern formed around it all. A routine. An almost home. Against his better judgement, Mask slipped into it. Against the walls he tried to put up in his heart, he started to feel happy.
“What will you do when the war is done, Sprite?” the Captain asked him one day. The two of them had finished another duel and were laying in the grass, watching the clouds roll by. A rare bit of breathing space where neither of them had to be heroes and could instead just be themselves.
Mask shrugged. “Go back to my world, obviously.”
“Find more monsters to fight? Travel around? I dunno.” He hadn’t really thought about it. Knowing his luck, Hylia would drag him into another quest, and then another, and then another, and then another. On and on, until he finally screwed up and died. “What about you?”
“I’ll still be an army captain. Can’t run away from those responsibilities, even when the main war is done.” He sighed. “I wish…you sure you don’t have any other dreams? Something else you’d rather be if you didn’t have to fight again?”
Mask couldn’t think of a life without monsters or evil forces or wandering. “What else is there?”
“That’s a sad way of thinking, Sprite. You can’t just swing a sword at bad guys your whole life.”
“Why not? That’s what you’ll do.”
The Captain’s smile was sad, and Mask could not understand why. “Yeah, I guess that’s true. I just…life shouldn’t be one never-ending war. You can want other things. You can be something else that makes you happy.”
“I don't think I'm allowed,” Mask admitted.
(the gods hated him after all)
“You are.” The Captain’s voice was fierce, “You deserve happiness, Sprite. Never doubt it.”
Lying on the grass, with the sky an endless blue and wildflowers blooming around them, Mask could almost bring himself to believe it.
It was a clear night, the whole camp celebrating a recent victory. Soldiers had whispered that the end was in sight, that it would only be a few more battles before the whole war was over. The Captain was carrying Mask on his back, grumbling. There were no other soldiers or Generals around, no one to make Mask feel embarrassed or feel like a baby. His stomach ached.
“How much candy did you eat, Sprite?”
“I have no regrets.”
“That doesn’t answer my question.”
“Just get me back to my tent or I’ll throw up on your scarf.”
“You better not, you gremlin.”
A girl (Linkle, that was her name, some cucco-loving girl from a nearby village) raced passed them. “He stole my compass!” she yelled, vanishing into the dark.
Mask looked up to where she’d run off.
In the distance, two eyes, yellow like poison, stared back at him.
Mask couldn’t say a word. Couldn’t scream. All he could do is stare up at the sky.
The moon? Where’s the moon? He slid off the Captain’s back, tumbling to the ground, limbs locked and shaking.
“Sprite? What’s wrong?” Hands grabbed him, held him close.
What was wrong?
(Because the moon is going to fall, the moon is smiling down at him with its wide, merciless grin and its going to kill everyone and he just wanted a friend back, he just wanted to go home not this not this he can’t fix this where is his ocarina oh god oh god oh god -)
He couldn’t breathe.
The Captain wrapped his scarf around Mask’s shaking shoulders. “Breathe,” he ordered, his voice steady. “In for three, out for three. Follow me.”
Mask did. He tried, anyway. Inhaled when the Captain did, exhaled three seconds later. Again and again, slowly, until his heart started to settle and the world felt solid beneath his hands.
“Better?” said the Captain.
“Yes,” Mask lied. (it will not be better. not ever again) “I thought I saw…something bad.” He won’t say anymore. It wasn’t the Captain’s business, it wasn’t anyone’s business what happened (the moon came crashing down, over and over and over again) in Termina.
“It’s okay,” said the Captain, picking Mask back up. “You’re safe now.”
Safe for now, Mask corrected in his head. He pushed the nightmare-memory to the back of his mind. It didn’t matter right now. Majora was gone and there was another enemy he needed to focus on.
But it served as a reminder: this will not last. One day, Mask would lose everything he’d gained in this other Hyrule.
No point in getting attached. Not if he wanted to keep his heart from being hurt again.
When the war was over and Ganon was gone, Mask felt no joy at the victory. Only emptiness.
Another adventure done. Another temporary home to leave behind.
No reason to stay once the evil was slain.
He packed his bag while everyone is out celebrating. Not that he had much to pack. His masks, some cool rocks, rupees that he stole from Tingle, bombs. He didn’t expect anyone to look for him. No one will miss him once he’s gone. Hell, in three days probably no one would remember him.
Better to leave than be left behind.
The portals were reopening. Lana was doing her best to control the flow of time again. She’d shown Mask which one lead to his world shortly after the darkness had been sealed away for good. “Time flows differently now. Once you step through there, you’ll be returned to the day you left. Our Hyrule will continue down its own path, while you grow up in yours.”
It wasn’t far. A short walk from the camp, the same place where Mask had been spat out all those months ago. Rain began to drip down from the sky, turning the ground beneath his feet into mud.
So long, Old Man.
“Where are you going, Sprite?”
Mask stopped but didn’t look back. Even now, the Captain refused to leave him alone. “War’s done, Old Man,” he said. The words hurt to say. “I’m going back to my world.”
“You don’t have to.”
There was something in the Captain’s voice that made him turn around. An openness, a vulnerability. Rain had plastered his golden hair against face, drenching his blue scarf. He looked like a tired old man and a scared little kid at the same time.
He looked like he wanted to cry.
Mask did too. He could feel the tears in his heart and lungs, rising and rising, threatening to spill out. He mustered up all the anger he could to block them. “What the hell does that mean? I fought to go home, remember? Wasn’t that the whole point of this war? For everything to go back to the way it used to be?”
“Maybe some of the changes were good. Maybe not everyone has to leave.”
“And what? I stay here? With who?”
“With me,” said the Captain.
“I don’t want your pity.”
“Its not…” Mask watched him struggle to find the words. “I know what it’s like to be all alone. To give your entire life over to nothing but fighting because you can’t see any other path but violence. I understand - ”
“No, you don’t! The war’s over, so stop pretending like you actually care!” A few tears escaped, trickling down Mask's face, mixing with the rain. “I hate you! I hate everybody!”
“Oh, Sprite.” There was nothing but kindness in the Captain’s voice. “I’m sorry the gods did all this to you. They shouldn’t have. No one should have gone through what you did, especially not as young as you were.”
The Captain kept talking. “You’re the closest thing I’ve ever had to a little brother. To any…You could stay, Sprite. You could have a home and a family here. You could have a life where you do more than just fight.”
Mask was nearly overcome by the desperate need to say yes, to rush at the Captain and hug him. To say ‘fuck you, Hylia’ and put down his sword and masks and just be happy.
But fear twisted around his heart like ivy, choking any belief or hope. You know better, it seemed to hiss. You know how any promise of home turns out.
(I had a mother once but she died. I had a Kokiri family, but they cast me out. I had a fairy but she abandoned me once my quest was done. If I say yes, it will only be a matter of time before I lose this too.)
(this time I will leave before anyone else can)
“Why the hell would I want to be your brother?” he spat. It was the worst, most hurtful thing Mask could think to say.
It worked. The Captain turned to stone, pain burning in his eyes.
He ran through the portal and refused to look back.
He ran through the portal, crying as his heart broke into pieces.
Now he was Link again, the only Link in his world. He was alone and that was fine. That was the way he wanted it to be. There wasn’t anyone out there who cared about him anyway.
It would be an easier lie to believe if the Captain didn’t keep writing to him.
Kaepora delivered the letters. Lana discovered it, the Captain wrote. His handwriting was like his hair, styled and ridiculously fancy. There’s a crack or something in-between the Hyrules. We’re connected now. I don’t know if I can actually see you again, but I can write to you.
I miss you, Sprite.
I hope you’re doing well.
I hope you’re happy.
Link could not stop himself from reading the letters, and couldn't bring himself to write back. If he wrote back, then that mean he missed him. If he wrote back, then he lost against all the walls he’d built up in his heart. There was too much pride and fear on the line for him to give up a piece of himself that way. Like cutting out a chunk of his heart and putting it in the mail.
(especially after what he said. he didn't understand why the Captain was still bothering to care about some nothing kid)
At first, the letters were about nothing. Rebuilding after the war, how Queen Zelda was doing, what portal-time magic Lana was investigating. Link devoured them all. But slowly, they began to change. Rumours about more portals. Strange monsters infected with dark, tainted blood. Another adventure for the Captain.
I met all these other people. Other Links. Can you believe it? I thought we were the only ones. I told one about you. I think you’d like him. He’s got markings on his face similar to that weird mask I always had to pretend I didn’t know about. You should join us, Sprite.
Link crumpled the letter in his hand. He thought, for a brief moment, about joining. Tracking down one of those dark portals, showing the Old Man what he could do without relying on the borrowed mask power.
Time flows differently now, he thought, remembering Lana’s words. I could be taller than him.
But Link was tired, so tired, of meeting and losing people. He didn’t want to pick up the masks again. (He didn't want to be tempted by a certain, ferocious power) He wanted to leave his sword in its scabbard, to ride Epona without answering to anyone.
He refused to read another word.
No more. No more of any of that. He was done with Hylia and adventures and portals and dark magic. He was finished with all of that. He was not going to open his heart up to caring again.
More letters came, one a month. Each with his name written in the Captain’s perfect, cursive handwriting.
Link burnt them all, unopened.
It was only after Link proposed to Malon that he thought of the letters again.
Link had not received one in years. He assumed that the Captain had given up on writing them. He pictured the other Link with his blue scarf, arm around that world’s Zelda, maybe with a bunch of rambunctious children (“Gremlins, all of you,” he could hear the Old Man say). He looked around the ranch, at the peace he had now gained, and thought about how much of that he owed to a man who showed him more kindness than a bratty kid like him had deserved.
And so, in shaky penmanship, he wrote a letter. Tried to fit as much as he could into the small page. Tried to tell his big brother (because that's what the Captain had been, even if Link had never been brave enough to admit it out loud) about Malon, about the future.
I did what you said. I looked for more than fighting. I gained happiness. Come to my wedding, if you can.
He sent it off with Kaepora, letting it travel through the weird crack in the universe that only the owl knew.
Then, he waited
The waiting was hard. Will the Old Man be mad that I’ve only written to him now? Does he even remember me? The thoughts chased Link as he tended to Epona, fixed up the ranch, helped Malon prepare for their wedding.
A month later, Kaepora knocked on Link's window in the middle of the night, a letter in his beak and a package secure in his talons.
Link rushed for the letter, taking it and the package downstairs. By candlelight, he tore open the envelope and began to read.
(the letter began in Lana’s handwriting and even before he had read the first sentence Link’s heart was already shaking)
I am sorry to be the one writing this to you now. I thought you had already received word. Please forgive me for not checking. With everything that had happened, I assumed you did not want any further involvement in our timeline. But you have written for Link, and so I must regretfully inform you that he is no longer with us.
(there are tear marks on the letter. A blotch of ink where the writer nearly lost control)
He died in battle, as he always assumed he would. Valiantly, of course. A true hero to the end.
I have seen many incarnations of the Hero’s Spirit throughout time. Few achieve an ending of happiness. I wish
my this world’s Link could have been given such peace. I hope, Mask, that you do.
As the Captain had no other family
that he was on speaking terms with, Queen Zelda has asked that I give this to you. He would wish it to be given to someone who cared.
Live long, and live in happiness, hero.
Inside the box was a scarf, decorated with tears and holes, the blue so faded it could be mistaken for grey.
He died in battle. That was all he got, wasn’t it? Battle after battle, and then, as a final reward, a casket. Alone, just as lonely as Link had been all those years ago. No family or home, just fight after fight.
“You’re the closest thing I’ve ever had to a little brother."
"You deserve happiness, Sprite."
Gods, why did he wait so long? Why did he say nothing?
(I never got to say thank you.)
Malon found Link still there in the morning, curled up on the floor, sobbing. She said nothing, just wrapped her arms around him and held him tight.
His hands reached out for hers and did not let go.
Years and years later, a wolf came to Link's door. A wolf and a terribly scarred teen and a twelve year old boy with a bright, sunshine grin. They stared up at him in awe, with swords on their backs and an adventure forced upon their curious and courageous souls.
They asked him to join, stumbling over their explanation. Portals, multiple incarnations of the Hero’s Spirit, a new quest.
Link thought of a faded scarf, dozens of burnt letters. It was easy to believe what he already knew to be true.
He already knew who else he was going to meet.
The boys gave him a new name: Time. “Too many Links,” the twelve year old said. “It’s kind of confusing. Unless you’ve got a different name you want to use?”
Time smiled down at him. “This one is fine.”
Together, they travelled through worlds. Battled hordes of monsters and shared stories. Slowly, they found more incarnations of the Hero's Spirit. More young men who’d seen great evil and spat in its eye.
At last, they found him.
The others called him Warriors.
He looks so young, was all Time could think. Had he always been that young?
Oh sure, he was dressed in shining armour, vibrant blue scarf trailing in the wind like a battle flag. The grin on his face was full of confidence and charm, but all Time saw was a boy too young to have been put in charge of a goddamn army, never mind in charge of saving countless worlds. Not even twenty…Gods, and I thought he was so old.
(how old was he when he died, then? it’s a thought which tears Time apart, one that costs him many a night’s sleep)
He must have gotten lost in his thoughts, because when the others call for him they’ve already started to walk away.
“Hey!” yelled Warriors, “You coming, Old Man?”
Time could not help it. He laughed. “Lead the way, Captain.”
Later, much later, when most of them are asleep and the campfire is burning low, Time caught Warriors writing a letter.
“What are you doing?” he asked, even though he already knew the answer.
“A little correspondence,” said Warriors. “You aren’t the only one with someone back home to worry about.”
“And does this poor woman know about your frequent flirting?”
“It’s not a woman. Unlike some of us, I have the good sense not to throw my life away by getting hitched.” Warriors softened, his face wistful. “It’s for my…my little brother.”
Somehow, Time remained calm. “You must miss him a lot.”
“Goddess, I do. So much.” Warriors ran a hand through his hair. “I haven't seen him in years. I…I’m a terrible big brother.”
“No, you’re not.”
Warriors shook his head. “You don’t understand. I let him go. He had no one, and I…I let him go back through the damn portals to his own world. Back to a land where he had no one. Lana says he’s still alive - thank Hylia - but there’s a world of difference between alive and okay. I just…I should have made him stay. Given him a home. Helped him more.”
“Was he the type to have stayed, even if you had tied him up?”
“Mask?” Warriors scoffed. “Of course not. He would have slipped out of anything I tried. Kid was a goddamn gremlin.” His voice glowed with pride.
“Then you had to let him go.”
“Maybe. I don’t know.” He held up the letter he was writing. “I don’t know if he’s even getting any of these. He’s never responded. I’d give anything to hear from him again.”
Time did not think it was possible to carry more guilt than he already was. It hurt to be wrong. “I’m sorry.”
“Not your fault, Old Man.” Warriors shrugged, hiding his worry and sorrow behind one of his charming grins. “But, since you’re up, you can take the rest of my watch.”
“Trying to get more beauty sleep?” Time waved him off. “Fine. Go rest.”
“Thanks.” Warriors clapped Time on the shoulder, leaving his spot by the fire to collapse on his bedroll. “Goodnight, Old Man.”
Time smiled, watching him go. “Goodnight,” he whispered, once Warriors could no longer hear him. “And thank you, big brother.”