Shadow's Mastery: Chapter 77

THE STINK of the crypt--of death--was over everything, choking like a fog. He blundered through it, blinded by terror and misery. At some point there happened a stair that turned; it was familiar, so he dragged himself up the long spiral, clinging tight to the carved wooden rail for fear it, like everything else, would become indistinct and fade.

At the top there was a door, low and rounded, cut of dark unpainted wood. It took him a minute or two to open it, for he could not at first remember how. At last the latch depressed and the thickness of wood swung open into a darkness that was less intense than before. The chamber beyond was small and round, and draped in shadow; the only light came from the moon that hung heavy and flame-red outside the arrowslit window.

I know this place, he thought, stumbling inside. I... I have been here before... but when..?

Everything was gray, and foggy, and a great distance away. He found a bed by groping with his hands, and fell down onto it. His body burned hot and cold with fever.

Rot and old blood--that smell! Ugh, it clung still!

An invisible hand brushed his brow, smoothed the sweat-slick hair--its touch gentle but cold, cold as stone.

"No..." he moaned. "No, no..."

He shrank from the phantom touch; retched suddenly, overcome with nausea, though his body was made only in imitation of the living and could do no more than convulse painfully.

"I won't--!"

A breeze blew sharp and chill from the open window, out of starless darkness; the black cloak of Kakariko wool stirred on its hook. He clutched at the soft stuff under him until it gave and tore, his fingers frozen into birds' talons. The night was pressing in, cold and hungry.


He shuddered, rolled over and stood--or tried to; his weakened limbs gave way and he fell to the floor in a heap. His reaching fingers dug into the fabric of a woven rug; he opened his eyes and in the dimness made out faintly a pattern of lighter threads on dark, glimmering faintly: a bird with wings and talons outstretched, worked in gold thread. It turned its proud disdainful face away.

He shivered again and pressed his face into the worn and scratchy fabric, dust musty in his mouth. His body trembled with a strange, half-forgotten sensation. He was weeping, though without tears. Dry aching sobs wracked his body, tearingly painful as they worked their way outwards from some deeply buried wound.

You must leave. Now.

"I cannot--"

You must, while there is still enough of you left! Spare them the pain of having to kill you! Go now, quietly and quickly!

His body twisted; he let out a low despairing animal cry. "Saria... Navi..."

Hurry, you fool! If you can't save yourself, save them from you!

His will broke. The terrible tension bled, all of a sudden, from his limbs, and for a long moment all he could do was lie sprawled on his front, gasping for breath like some hunted beast come at last to the end of its strength.

It was over. He had nothing left in him to fight.

Goodbye, my friends, he thought, and a tear burned as it slid down his cheek. I love you--goodbye. Goodbye.

He was so exhausted it was almost all he could do to stand; he lurched to the window and fell against the sill, then just leaned there for a while, letting his breathing become slow and steady again. His body responded eagerly, as it had done in the Temple, drinking in the darkness that had been denied to it for so long. With new purpose and new strength, the fog in his head faded and left the landscape of his mind clear again, clear and cold and barren, a blasted heath.

His clothes were ruined, and the Floormaster's stink was in them anyway. He shrugged them off, shirt and tunic and trousers, bundled them up and threw them into a corner of the room. The wardrobe door already stood open; he went to it and picked things at random--a white shirt, a dark blue tunic--

No. Not the Phoenix and Triforce.

He put the dark blue back carefully on its hanger, smoothing creases from the soft wool with his fingertips, and took instead a plain garment of similar hue. He left the cloak of Kakariko wool upon its hook, but kept the sword upon his belt that had been given to him by those same kindly folk. At least he would be able to know that he had taken no more than he needed.

The Ocarina of Time rested on the nightstand, gleaming bluesilver in a shaft of moonlight. He wept again as he folded the embroidered ribbon and laid it down, but only a little. He had not the strength to feel very much more tonight. Perhaps not ever.

Walking out of that room for the last time was the hardest thing he had ever done. Even at the last he lingered on the threshold, staring at the neat little chamber with all its remembered things--trying in desperation to impress it forever in his memory, though he knew that it was foolhardy and would only lead to pain.

Then he turned and went down the stairs, soundless as a ghost, trailing the fingertips of his left hand light upon the wall. His boots, by now well worn and fitting to his form, did not creak.

All the castle was abed in these long hours before dawn, and the guards nodded at their posts. He passed by and drew no more notice than the breeze which now and then lifted a tired fold of the pennants on their spears. Enough times now he had wandered these paths in the dark of night to know the swiftest and most silent way; and he slipped out into the Queen's Courtyard by a door that most people did not even remember existed.

He did not look back; he did not trust himself to do so.

When the gate was past, and his treacherous feet carrying him steadily down along the town road, he allowed himself to relax at least a little. He was calmer now, resigned, and every step was another small farewell.

The night had cooled somewhat, but it was not unpleasant to be out walking even without his cloak. A soft breeze lifted locks of his hair as he strode; the scents of the town came to him, stone and mortar, hay from a thatched roof. He passed an alehouse, illegally lit and open at this late hour, and heard low male laughter from within, tasted the stale bitter odor of old beer and rushes. A gray cat preening on a woodpile did not notice him as he glided by, though he passed close enough to have touched its tail if he had so desired.

As he approached the Temple, a darker note entered the quiet symphony of the town: the faintest trace now coming to his nose, of that stink of corruption. He shivered again with an instinctive revulsion and would have turned, if he could; but the thing that had him was too strong.

Sepultura had spoken of it. Her words came back to haunt him now, bringing a bitter taste of despair and defeat. Blood calls to blood... creatures of darkness do not willingly walk in the light...

In a dim, blind square, surrounded by silent black-windowed houses, the Temple grounds blazed with light. Torches burned throughout the long lawns, and the chained iron gate was attended now by two town guards--both alert, stern-faced. Firelight gleamed on their helms and chain-mail shirts--not glittering polished silver like those of the Royal Guard, but unadorned scuffed and battered iron: working equipment for working men. Dark was familiar with men like this, from the past; he knew how much more difficult it was to trick them. They had little imagination and an annoying habit of seeing things that were really there. He did not attempt to reach the gate that stood under those watchful eyes, but turned and prowled along the tall wrought-iron fence until he found a place where two railings had been bent apart. He slipped through, and stood once more upon the Temple's soil.

He had got this far without thinking much about what he was doing; but now, as he stood looking across at that dark spire silhouetted on the sky, the magnitude of his betrayal made itself clear to him. He was abandoning the only people who had ever cared for him--the first people for whom he had ever come to care.

I am ruined, he had said once to the young Hero, long ago. And, What will I be when all of you are gone?

"Ah-h-h..." He sank to his knees on the hard dry ground, dead grass crumbling beneath him. How can I do this?.. Why did you give this to me, Farore, if only to take it away? His eyes stung; he squeezed them shut.

They will understand... when they see that I have left the ribbon, they will know where I have gone, and why. A bitter comfort.

The darkness within the Temple called to him; his body yearned for it, yearned to obey. The stink of the Underworld was stronger now--if indeed it was real, and not just some phantom of his disordered mind. No--for Link had smelled it too.

I am as I was made...

He rose to his feet, reluctantly and with an immense weariness of spirit. The Temple waited, a black silent thing, impassive in the torches' feeble glow.

If I enter... I will be damned again, forever... The one chance of redemption that was offered me, I will have spurned...

There was no other choice. He began to walk, slowly, across the whispering lawn--not bothering to conceal himself, but, indeed, perversely hoping that he would be caught. But no guardsman looked in his direction, and in a scant few minutes he was standing beneath the deep shadow of the walls.

There was no point trying for the main door. Even he would have little chance to slip by the two men there, the space being brightly lit by flame and the door itself most likely locked and barred. He walked slowly around towards the back of the Temple, where all was in darkness, and wondered what he might do. The great stained-glass windows were well within his reach, but he could not bear to break one. How, then, to get in? A trick to make the guards leave their posts--? No; these men were not stupid.

Kill them, then.

It was possible. He had done it before: easy enough to slit one throat from behind, then turn on the unfortunate companion without giving him time to react. He could probably do it without making any sound loud enough for other guards to hear, even; he knew well the best places to slip a knife. But... no. He could not countenance it.

You cannot take morals where you are going, old shadow...

"I care not," he said softly to the night, and began to walk again. "I will not. I have no quarrel with these men..."

As he rounded the further corner of the building, he saw the door. It was low and small and very old, half hidden by an overgrowth of evergreen bushes, but a narrow beaten path led to it and the brass latch was new. No torches burned back here; the grounds behind the Temple were in near full darkness, lit only by the moon and a few house windows glimmering distant beyond the far fence.

He laid a hand on his belt to unbuckle it, meaning to use the clasp to pick the lock--but the door swung inward when he touched it.

A trap!

He froze, and ceased to breathe; his ears pricked forward, straining for sound. This door, most likely, was one used by the choir; it opened, he saw now, into the vestry. There was a distant glimmering from some inner passage, but the room was otherwise dark. He could just make out the shadowed shapes of stacked chairs, and the dry dusty scent of paper drifted out into the night air--along with a newly strong stink of corruption, mingled now with the sweetish coppery tang of old blood. No men: he heard no breathing from within, sensed no watching eyes.

A strangeness came over him now, a sense of inescapable destiny. The door had been opened for him. Din favoured this. One hand resting lightly on the hilt of his sword, he began to walk, graceful on silent feet, passing along the short corridor that led from the vestry out into the main body of the church. The echoing hall was now well lit--the torches had been refueled since they had been here earlier--but no soldiers waited within. Pews stood in silent rows, facing the shadow-shrouded altar. The Temple was empty and unguarded within. As, somehow, he had known it would be.

Are you doing this, my Master..?

He turned and went into the north transept. It was close now: he could feel it, exulting at his approach. The light was dimmer again here--only a single torch remained in a stand at the top of the stairs. Nobody had yet tried to clean up, and spatters of dark gore, dried or drying, shone here and there on the polished stone flags.

At the top of the steps he paused, looking down into darkness, and drew in a long slow breath: his final goodbye.

"You took your time," said a soft voice.

He turned, a slow sick terror rising in him. Link was leaning in an alcove between two pillars, with his hands stuffed in his pockets: though his hair was windblown, and sweat still glistened on his brow from some very recent exertion, he had been so quiet standing there that Dark had not even noticed him.

The young Hero nodded, casually, as one friend to another on a busy city street.

"I was starting to think you weren't coming..."

Dark fumbled for words. For a long moment he could not speak; there was a strange tightness in his chest. "You... how do you come to be here?"

The young man grinned as he stepped out of his hiding place. "The same way you did, I imagine. Except..." He took his hand out of his pocket and held it up; something shone with a dull-metal gleam in the torchlight. "I had the vestry key."



"Did you think we wouldn't know? When we've been watching you fall apart all spring?"


Link came forward and sat down on the top step. He motioned for Dark to do likewise. After a moment's hesitation the shadow sat beside him, very slowly.

"I don't know why you thought we'd just let you go off alone," Link said softly, looking down into the hole of blackness at the bottom of the steps. There was a long silence between them before he spoke again. "You're going to him, aren't you?"

"I..." Dark clutched suddenly at his head in agitation, fingers clawing through his hair. The words dragged themselves out of him with terrible agony. "I can't stop this..."

"I know," Link said.

"I... I cannot do this any more... I have no more strength... Link, I cannot fight it..."

"I'm not criticising you."

"Let me go!"

"I'm not stopping you either."

"I must go alone," Dark whispered.

"No." Link's voice was calm and matter-of-fact. "I'm going with you."

His head whipped round; he drew in a sharp, horrified breath. "Go back to the castle!"

"Not unless you go back with me."


Link stretched his legs out and crossed them comfortably. "Look, my mind is made up. I'm going with you and that's all there is to it."

"I am going where you cannot follow..."

For a moment steel showed in the boy's look--the steel he usually kept sheathed and hidden. His green eyes narrowed. "Watch me!... Look. Dark." A sigh, a softening. "I'm your friend. And I'm not letting you go down there on your own. I'm surprised you'd even think I could. Let me help."

"I..." Dark squeezed his own eyes closed, turned his head away. His hands were shaking uncontrollably; he wrapped his arms tight around himself, fighting the great swelling wave of emotion that threatened to overwhelm him. He could feel his resolve weakening, as if he hung from a cliff and the strength was bleeding slowly from his desperate grip. "I... please... just let me go... don't make me fight you..."

"It's all right," Link said softly. "We'll work it out together." His hand fell for a moment lightly on Dark's shoulder, and he flinched from it, a reflex action, but the gentle hand did not withdraw.



...She surfaced slowly from an evil dream where hands snatched at her hair and things like hot cobwebs brushed her skin. The bedroom was black and chilly, but her covers--thick Kakariko wool left from winter--were too hot. Her fire had gone out, and not even the faintest gleam of an ember came from the hearth. She stared up into the darkness, shifting her legs under the coverlet to find a cool spot, and wondered dazedly what had awoken her. Her head felt full of mud. For a moment, caught between sleeping and waking, she had been convinced that someone was in the room and had called her by name.


Her eyes opened wide in the gloom. ...Link? She reached out, a little tentatively, along their bond, and found it thin, frayed with disuse. Her heart sank at the feel of it: she had not known they had drifted so far apart. They had never so much as argued, but something, some wedge had come between them recently.

Are you there? He couldn't feel her, she realised; she had closed herself up instinctively at the thought. Was it her fault then, this distance? The cold air of the bedroom was biting at her exposed cheeks. She rolled over uncomfortably and lay on her side, pulling the too-heavy winter covers up around her ears.

Link? I'm here. Where are you? You sound so strange.

I'm with Dark right now. He was being very careful, even guarded; not the slightest sense of his emotions came through with the sending. We're in the Temple of Time.

"What?" In her shock, she spoke aloud; she threw the covers off and sat bolt upright in her thin nightgown, suddenly careless of the chill. You're back there? Link, what's going on?

Listen; I don't have much time. It's all happening, and faster than I expected. I hoped I'd be able to stop him, but I can't. I'm going to go with him.

A horrible understanding dawned. "Link, no, don't you dare--"

I have to. I can't stop him - he'll go through me if he has to. And I doubt you can reach us in time.

Her mind whirled desperately, clutching at half-formed solutions and discarding them the next instant. She was shivering, the sheets slick and cold now on her bare skin. "Link, listen, you have to wait. Wait for us. I'm getting up now, I'm coming." She was already making good on the promise: struggling out of bed, kicking at the tangled sheets when they caught at her foot. "Five minutes, that's all I need--"

I don't have even one minute. We're starting down now.

"Link, no!"

I made him a promise. I can't let him face this alone. Listen, I'll try to get us both back safe, all right? Don't follow us--

"Don't follow you?" She grabbed the first pair of breeches that found its way under her hand. "You're out of your mind! Link, we're coming--do whatever you can to slow him down, all right?"

There was an oddness in the feel of his response: she could not be sure whether it was resignation, amusement or gratitude. Perhaps it was all three of them at once. I thought you'd say that. I'll do my best, but I can't push it. Get candles from the closet off the tower stair. There's a gap in the Temple fence... He showed her, and the route across the dark lawns, and the little old door standing ajar in the night. Hurry, all right?

She was already moving for her bedroom door, a cloak crumpled hastily under one arm.



Sofia was sleeping so soundly that she had to be shaken awake, and when she was finally sitting up and listening, Zelda had to explain everything twice, struggling with her own impatience, before the other woman could be made to understand.

"He's going to Ganon then?" she said at last. "He's going back to his master."

Zelda drew in a breath through her teeth, then turned and crossed to the armoire which stood at the other end of the room. She flung the doors open and grabbed indiscriminately at the assorted clothes hanging within. "There's no time--we have to get after them--"

"I agree." Sofia swung her legs out of bed and picked up a ribbon that lay ready on the night-table. Carefully, methodically, she began to finger-comb her hair, pulling it back into the usual tight ponytail.

There was no urgency in her voice. Startled and angry, Zelda turned back with an armful of miscellaneous garments clutched to her chest. "Sofia--we have to hurry!"

"Do we?"

She stood, speechless. Sofia, sitting on the edge of the bed in a sleeveless nightgown, looked back at her calmly, and the embers of the dying fire put a strange spark in her golden eyes.

"Zelda, slow down," she said.

"He asked us to hurry--"

"And we'll go with all due speed, of course." She stood up. "But we have to stay calm, we have to make sure we're prepared for this. We're going into the Underworld, aren't we? I doubt Link managed to get much in the way of supplies; if he had to leave that quickly, he'll be relying on us to bring whatever's necessary."

A sarcastic response rose into Zelda's mouth; she considered it seriously for a moment, then swallowed it again. It left a bitter taste. She sat down slowly on the end of the bed, letting the bundle of clothes fall from her lap.

"Candles. He told me to get candles. And I nearly rushed off in my night-dress." She closed her eyes. "You're right. How could I be so stupid?"

"Be fair--if I'd been woken up like that, I think I would have reacted the same." Sofia ducked down and picked up a pair of discarded woollen trousers; she began to pull them on under her gown. "We have a little time. Should we go to your father?"

"He'd stop us going," Zelda said.

"Are you sure?"

It had been an instinctive reaction. She thought about it, and had to hesitate. "I..." A vision of her father rose into her mind then, as she had known him from childhood: a tall, powerful, distant man, white-haired, with a stern face that rarely smiled. Always in armor or courtly robes, always on the way to somewhere else--a dispenser of justice from afar. No time for little girls or their games. Things had changed between them of late, but she was not sure how far that change had really gone. "I'm not sure," she said more softly, "but all the same, I don't think we have time to argue with him about it."

Sofia turned her back, pulled off the nightgown in one smooth movement, and wriggled into a light linen shirt.

"You don't seem surprised about any of this," Zelda ventured after a while.

"Surprised?" She was pulling on a tunic now, yesterday's belt still hanging loose in the loops. Her voice came muffled by fabric. "I didn't expect it to happen now, if that means anything. But if you recall, I always thought he'd turn on us sooner or later."

"It's not like that--" Zelda began angrily.

"It is like that." Sofia straightened the tunic at her waist, then turned calmly to face her. There was a great sadness in her eyes. "I didn't say he'd do it willingly, did I?"

"Are you off then?" The new voice made them both jump, and whirl round. A young blond man with tousled hair stood in the open doorway, resting one hand lightly on the frame. It was gloomy in the room with just the fire's light, and his face was cloaked in shadows; even so they could see that his fine clothes were crumpled and slightly askew: he had thrown them on in a hurry. He still had on a nightcap, and a pair of blue felt slippers.

"Harper?" Zelda said after a moment. She did not know the man well; he had only been resident at the castle for a couple of years--in fact, she thought he might have arrived just a few weeks before everything had started with Link, and the Quest. In her mind, the bard was still not a castle person.

"Your Highness." Harper made a slight bow, aimed midway between the both of them, and then came a few steps into the room. "Please forgive my intrusion on your private chambers, your Highness, m'Lady, especially given this most indiscreet hour--but I think I have a message for you."

"You know something about this? How long were you listening there?" That was the old familiar Sofia, that tone of rising rage.

Harper held out both his hands in a calming gesture, a gesture of surrender. "Not as much as you think, Lady, I swear. We have a mutual friend."

"What do you want?" Zelda said.

He dropped gracelessly into the hearth chair, and stretched his legs out to the remains of the fire. "Take the cat with you."

For a moment, she was unsure whether she had heard correctly; a glance towards Sofia showed her that the other woman was just as puzzled by his words. "Link's cat?" Zelda said at last. "You mean Prowl? Why?"

"If you don't take the cat with you," Harper said quietly, "you will fail. You'll lose your friend, and a lot more besides. Take the cat--and take this with you too." He held up a thing that had been concealed in his hand, and the flickering hearth-light flashed on blue crystal.

"That's Dark's ocarina," Sofia said. She crossed over and took it from him, then turned it over slowly in her hands. In a moment more her expression hardened and she looked back at him quickly. "And how do you know all this?"

The man sighed, slumped in the hearth chair in his crumpled clothes and ridiculous slippers. His fine-fingered hands rubbed together as if they were cold--a gesture that was oddly reminiscent of Dark. There were shadows like bruises under his eyes. "You want the truth?" he said quietly. "I dreamed it. That's the truth."

Zelda, still perched uneasily on the end of the bed, glanced toward Sofia again and was shocked to see the look of frozen horror on her friend's face. She was clutching the ocarina so tightly it seemed as if it must break. "A dream?" she said in a very small voice.

Harper shrugged, the movement angry and defensive. "I don't care if you believe me or not. You can lock me up as a madman if you like--just as long as you take the cat with you."

"I believe you," Sofia said, sounding half-choked.

Zelda had been looking from one to the other as if watching a tennis match. "Excuse me?" she said, when it became apparent that the exchange was over. "Am I the only one here who doesn't understand this?"

"You're not the only one, Highness," Harper said with a tired smile. "If it comes down to it, I'm not used to being woken by premonitions of death and destruction myself. Looks like we may have another Year of Darkness lying ahead of us, out of season though it is. Go by the Queen's Courtyard when you go; that gate's not watched tonight."

"My father--"

"I'll explain things to him in the morning." He placed his hands on his knees in preparation for standing. "You'll take the cat?"

She gave in. "All right. If you think it's that important."

"It is," the man said simply. He went to the door, then paused and looked back. "Good luck with your friend," he said softly. "If you can, bring him home safely. I've heard him play. The world shouldn't lose a musician of that quality."

"Do you have any other ominous hints that might help us?" Zelda asked him as she got up, and she realized in the saying of it that she was only half joking.

He shook his head. "Sorry, your Highness. That's all I have."



Zelda was not sure how they were to persuade Prowl to come with them; the days were long gone when either of them could have carried her. She was a large and powerful animal who generally went where she chose. Link did have a stout leash and harness for her, but she had rarely been placed in it. As they approached his door, the Princess prepared herself mentally for a battle of wills. But the sand cat greeted them with a soft yowl, and then fell in with them quietly as if she knew perfectly well the gravity of the situation. She trotted freely at their heels as they headed down towards the kitchens, satchels slung across their backs.

The box was where Link had said it would be, and it was full to the top with the long white slow-burning tapers that were used in the castle lanterns. They stuffed handfuls into their bags, and took a couple of brass candle-holders for good measure. The sleeping kitchens yielded bread, dried fruit, a few honey-cakes left over from the banquet, and two good water-bottles.

Link? Zelda sent as they were starting down the town road. Link, are you there?

Zelda? He was foggy and a long way away.

We're coming. Where are you?

He didn't know. It was cold, pitch-black, his chest hurt, and the torch he had taken from the church had long since burned out. He was trusting Dark's acute senses to guide them both.

Is Dark all right? I can't reach him at all.

A long period of nothing. Not all right. Bad, very bad. Hurry.

"We'll try," she said aloud, and nearly walked into the back of Sofia, who had stopped at the sound of her voice.

"Was that Link?" she said. "You can talk to him? Now?"

Zelda nodded, biting her lip. "He's all right, but he couldn't tell me where he was. He can't see."

"At least he's alive," Sofia said after a moment's silence. "What about Dark?"

She avoided the question. "Link just said to hurry."

They moved on, jogging down into Silver Square for the second time that night. The city was dark and silent, seeming to wait for something--there was a sense as if the world was holding its breath for dawn. Above, thin streams of cloud scudded over the face of the three quarter moon. There was an unpleasant reddish cast to the light that fell on the Square.

The gap in the fence was easy to find. They slipped through, Prowl ranging ahead of them, and hurried around the back of the Temple to the vestry door. As they entered, Zelda reached out again:


As an echo from a great distance, Zelda..?

We're in the Temple now. We're coming. Are you all right?


Link! she sent again, desperately, throwing everything she had into the sending.

...I can't... Suddenly he blurred back into focus, bright and powerful. Zel, I don't have the strength for this. I have to concentrate now. And as if setting aside a bothersome child, he detached himself from her with great gentleness, and was gone.

She gasped in air and opened her eyes to see Sofia's concerned face only a few inches from her own. Her head throbbed with pain. They were standing together at the top of the crypt steps, Prowl sitting nearby. An unpleasant smell, like mildew, hung in the air here; it was wafting up from the shattered doorway, from the crypt.

"Link again?" Sofia asked softly.

Zelda nodded, but could not trust herself, at that moment, to speak.

"What happened? What did he say?"

She drew in a breath, held it for a moment while she gathered her confused wits. "He told me to go away," she said at last, and felt a silly, foolish smile threatening to spread over her face at the ridiculousness of it.

Sofia blinked. "He told you what?"

"To stop calling him. He can't concentrate... there's something else he's doing, or trying to do. I don't know what." That little swell of desperate humor was gone now; she was afraid, terribly so. She rubbed her arms slowly through the fabric of her tunic, and stared at the floor. "I'd hoped he'd show us which way to go..."

Sofia looked at her for a moment more, frowning slightly, then went over to one of the guttering torches. She touched the wick of a white candle to the flame, then slipped it into the brass holder. Cupping it carefully she turned back.

"Maybe that's why we had to bring the cat, then. She might be able to track him."

"Prowl?" Zelda said, surprised at the idea. The sand cat was sniffing around the top of the steps; she raised her head at the sound of her name, and fixed them both with her curious yellow stare. "I know about using dogs to track, but a cat?"

Sofia shrugged. "She's Link's pet..."

Zelda stared at the cat for a little while, then went over and knelt down beside her. Prowl rumbled a purr and permitted herself to be petted. There was a wild, lionish smell to her, not unpleasant. "Find Link, Prowl," the Princess said softly, stroking the sand cat's forehead. "Can you do that? Find Link?" She drew back a little and patted her pockets, looking for something she might offer the cat, some scent--but she had nothing of Link's on her.

Prowl watched her, ears twitching, then grew bored and turned away. A single lithe, soundless leap took her down to the bottom of the steps. She sniffed for a moment around the shattered doorway, sneezed, then glided through, out of sight, into the crypt.



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