Shadow's Mastery: Chapter 84

SOFIA hunted through her bag in the dark, searching by her sense of touch alone. It took far longer than it should have done to locate the tinder-box, and she was near panic when at last she felt the cool metal contours under her fingertips; it had been pushed to one side, and she'd been missing it over and over.

If there hadn't been that green glow in the distance, she thought she would have gone mad with fright. There was something about the darkness down here that felt unnatural--it was too black, too deep, too heavy. It made you disoriented, made you forget where and what you were. As it was, at least she had something out there to fix her eyes on, something to give her a sense of ground, even though she could see nothing at all close hand.

She struck sparks rapidly from the flint and steel, clumsily, relying on blind chance to guide her efforts. The scrap of oiled rag caught and smoldered on the fourth try. With haste she snatched up the taper that lay ready, touched it to the little flame before it failed, and slotted it into the spare holder. Light grew again, warm and yellow.

"Sofia?" Zelda said softly from behind her.

She turned, holding the candle. "I'm here. Are you all right?"

"Not really..." The Princess was crouching close by, her arms folded tightly against the Underworld chill; dark shadows ringed her eyes, and her hair hung lank and dirty around her ghost-white face. Something like life was in her look now, though, which was a thousand times better than what had been there before. "I'm sorry," she said. "I've been so useless..."

"It's all right," Sofia said, feeling a little uncomfortable. She turned away again and began to pick up her scattered possessions; she'd spilled half the candles out of the bag in the first flush of panic. "What happened to L-?"

"Don't!" There was a ferocious intensity in the Princess's voice; Sofia flinched away, shocked. "I'm sorry," Zelda said again after a moment, her voice trembling. "I just... I can keep on going, as long as we don't... we don't talk about it."

She nodded slowly, without turning, and busied herself with her things.

A few moments later Zelda gave a sharp, startled gasp; she had seen.

"Is that--?"

"Yes," Sofia said.

"What did you do?"



Kleox Dinolfos woke with a thumping headache, and a vague sense of indignation at the world's behaviour towards him recently. It wasn't playing by the rules.

He'd been lying on his stomach, sprawled on a rough splintery surface. Groaning, he raised himself on his elbows and twisted his head slowly from side to side; his neck muscles creaked. The pain in his head seemed to be coming from a single small area at the back of his skull. He reached back and explored the area gingerly; there was a clinging stickiness. He frowned, brought his hand back round and looked at the dark smear of half-dried blood.

"I hit you," the Gerudo said from behind him. "With a rock. You were going to go straight into the lake and I didn't know how else to stop you." She fidgeted uncomfortably under his stare. "...Sorry."

He sat up, winced, and tried to come up with some sort of appropriate response. "Well..." Nothing came to mind. "Just ...Don't do it again, all right?"

She nodded slowly, but it was an acknowledgement that she'd heard him, nothing more. There was a tenseness to the way she was sitting. "Are you... all right, now?"

"It's gone," he said gruffly. "Whatever it was." He turned away from her and sat staring towards the lake, towards that eerie green-blue glow.

It wasn't gone--he hadn't been quite honest with her there. He could still feel it tugging at him, trying gently to reel him in, but he was aware of it now and dug in his heels. Revulsion filled him now at the violation he'd experienced, and silent swelling rage. I am not a donkey to be led around on a rope--get the hell out of my head! Who do you think you are?

Sofia shifted. "If you're feeling better, we should probably go..."

"Go..." He echoed the word, then came back to himself with a start. "You're still going over there, then?" he said, glancing back over his shoulder. "You still want to try and rescue your shadow?"

"Yes," she said. "Of course."

"Thought about what you'll do if he doesn't want to be rescued?"

"No," the Princess broke in with simple honesty, pushing herself to her feet. They stood up together then, the two of them, side by side, and waited for him. Waited for him to get up and join them. He cursed under his breath as he stood.

Sofia led, carrying the candle and both bags: she picked her way cautiously along the line of the shore, kicking through the piles of splintery shards. It was a laborious trek, the distance they walked double what it should have been--the lake wound in and out through a thousand inlets, and the shifting slate fragments which littered the ground were treacherous underfoot. They wandered on together in the circle of the candle's glow, and the distant haze of green floated where it was, neither approaching nor retreating. Everywhere looked the same here--a featureless sharp-edged landscape of gray.

"How many candles do we have left?" Kleox said some time later, as Sofia was fumbling for a new one.

She hesitated for a long time, then said, "Not enough."

"I knew that--I asked you how many--" He stopped dead, whirled. "What was that?"

"What was what?" she asked in alarm, straightening up; beside her the Princess jerked into wakefulness and laid a hand on the hilt of her little sword.

"I heard something..." He stared out into the darkness, his gaze flickering over... rock, and nothing more. There was nothing out there. "Sounded like someone knocked a pebble with their foot..."

They all froze, and listened.

"There's nothing there," Sofia said at last. Her voice became kindly. "It's easy to imagine things--"

"Oh, shut up," he snarled at her. "Give me the Din-cursed candle--"

"What? You dropped it last time--"

"Then just bring it over here!" He spun on his heel, dragged out his battered sword, and strode off back the way they had come. The girls ran to catch him up. His frustration sought a way out: he wanted to fight something, and right now he didn't particularly care what it was. But no likely target met his gaze. After a few more yards, he stopped, panting roughly and glaring about him in baffled rage. All around, the candlelight revealed only rocks, dust and desolation.

Wisely, neither of the girls said a word as he turned and went back again, snarling under his breath. He had never been so angry. If the Gerudo had made just one smart comment at that point, he would very likely have taken her head off at the neck.

They went on, but at a slower pace: he was listening intently now, just waiting for the merest hint of something following along their trail. Once more he was foiled--either there really had been nothing out there, or it was merely being more cautious now to avoid detection, since it knew he was onto it. In either case, Kleox was losing. The girls walked uneasily behind him and did not speak.

The shore turned abruptly and led them down a bleak dark channel lined with stalactites, out of sight of the building on the lake. Had they picked the wrong way back there? He couldn't tell: that sense of the place was still there at the back of his mind, still whispering, but no stronger than it had been before. Maybe it was an island: maybe there was no bridge. Or maybe the bridge was back in the other direction. Every yard they traveled in that case was another second of precious light wasted. Maybe they ought to turn back...

...But what if he was wrong about that? What if he made them turn back, and the crossing had been just beyond the next bend? What then?

They had paused for a few minutes--grudgingly on his part--to rest and drink a little of their saved water. Sofia was limping badly now, and her face was taut with pain; she sat down on the ground the instant he nodded permission to stop. He was just uncorking the water-bottle when he heard it, and this time there could be no mistake. The sound had come from ahead, not behind--a clinking of stone fragments. They were all back on their feet in the next moment, even the Gerudo.

Something slunk in and out of sight at the limits of the candlelight, threading through the maze of scattered boulders. It was long and low; it was not a Hylian or any kind of two-legged creature. Grimly he lifted his sword and found a two-handed grip on the worn hilt. "Stay back," he muttered over his shoulder.

"We can fight too, you know," Sofia said tartly.

The creature was quick and very stealthy; he crept forward, trying to keep it in sight as it flitted by. For a moment he had it, but lost it again in the deep shadows. He turned slowly, tense, struggling to master his secret and shameful fear. It would come at him from his blind side, he was convinced of it. They always did, always spotted his weakness--

--here it came!

He whirled, bringing his sword round with a roar of rage to strike the streaking thing--and the Princess cannoned into him out of nowhere, knocking him off balance so that he stumbled awkwardly against a boulder.


Snarling he turned on her, ready to kill or be killed. She gave ground before him, but did not draw her own little sword to defend herself, and that made him hesitate just long enough. "No!" she was screaming at him. "It's Prowl! Don't hurt her--it's Prowl!"

The red haze cleared, slowly. He blinked, stared at her, then past her.

"--That Din-cursed cat!"

Prowl shot him an insufferably satisfied look, purred, and pushed her head up under the Princess's hand. Stroke me, stroke me.



"If you'd hurt the cat," Sofia said, "I'd have killed you."

He sighed. "Could you maybe stop playing the big bad guy for five minutes?"

"Only if you go first."

Blast. She'd won that one. He settled for a snort of nonspecific disgust and turned away to slide his sword back into the scabbard. The Princess was kneeling on the splintery ground and sobbing incoherent words as she fussed over the cat.

"How did she find us? Where's she been? Oh, look at her, she's covered in dust..."

Irritated, he straightened up and moved away a little, intending to take a quick glance down the shoreline as far as their inadequate light would reach. A reconnaissance, as it were... The Hylians both seemed quite contented with the current state of affairs, which only served to irritate him further.

I know that's not what I heard. Someone kicked a stone by accident and it rolled away. The cat's footfalls are different.

Paranoia, he thought darkly, pacing. This place was creeping him out. After all the things that had happened lately, it was no surprise that he was on edge--jumping at shadows--

But paranoia had kept him alive on more than one occasion before now. He scowled as he strode.

No. To the Dark World with that--I know what I heard!

"Kleox? Where've you gone?" The Gerudo's voice. He glanced back, and growled softly in surprise at how far he had already come--the candlelight was a vague yellow glow. Rocks had moved across and hid the girls from his line of sight: when he raised his hand, he could only just make out the shape of it. Better go back...

He glanced out along the shore just one more time, not really expecting to see anything in the deep darkness--and paused. Was that his imagination? There was a pinprick of bluish light, the same eerie shade as that they had seen over the lake. He blinked, and passed his hand before his eye for a moment, but the little spark remained where it was.

"Kleox--are you all right? Where are you?"

"Stay where you are," he called back, distracted, and began to walk blindly towards the little speck. His feet tripped clumsily over small stones in the dark.

At first he thought the light was very far away, but then as he kept going it dwindled swiftly in size and drew near, until in a few more moments he stood over it. He bent down and picked it up, then weighed it in his hand in wonder--a tiny square lantern, cool to the touch. The sliding panel that masked the flame had fallen partly closed: when he lifted it curiously with a claw, blue-green light blazed out so that he squinted and turned his head away. It was then that he saw.

The boy looked dead--he was in that much of a mess, and the hue of the lantern's light made his skin look ghostly pale. He lay sprawled on his front with one filthy arm stretched out in front of him, as if he had reached out at the last for something only he could see. His matted hair hid his face. Kleox turned him over with a foot, and he rolled bonelessly. But he was breathing, and the touch of his skin was warm.

"More lives than that blasted cat..."

He bent down.



Zelda screamed when she saw what it was he carried: she fought him and bared her teeth, and nothing would do but that he handed the unconscious form down to her at once. She sat keening then, holding the boy in her lap and rocking, with the tears running freely down her face.

He took her bag and rummaged for the roll of bandage he had seen earlier, although in truth he thought the boy was beyond that sort of help. It would be more a question of looking for the spots that weren't wounds. He'd seen beatings often enough in the mines, but this looked to be one of the most brutal. It astonished him that the boy had survived it. He approached with the packet in his hand, held it out like a talisman, and the Princess let him come close.

"Do you know what you're doing?" Sofia asked as she knelt down opposite him.

He flicked his hand at her, intent on the task. "Better than either of you two, by the looks of it. Get me the water and I'll see what I can do with this." For once she did as he asked without commenting.

The boy mumbled something but did not wake as they laid him out on Zelda's cloak. Dried blood was crusted around his mouth and nose; there was a snuffling quality to his breathing. His heartbeat, though, was strong and steady. Kleox turned the boy's head and grunted in surprise at the grisly wound that stretched across his throat. When he examined it more closely, it was already mostly healed--the crust of blood and dirt cracked away as he touched it, revealing shiny pink skin.

"When did this happen? This doesn't look new."

The girls looked at each other, then back at him; they didn't know.

He moved on with his inspection, and paused again when he came to the right hand. The back of it was almost black, the tissue soft and puffy. He pressed his thumbs down harshly into the injured flesh, feeling at the fine bones and tendons; the boy flinched and moaned.

Sofia caught at his arm. "Don't--you're hurting him."

He shrugged her off and stared down at the boy's limp hand. "Bruising like that, it usually means a broken bone under there somewhere... but Dark World take it if I can find anything. And that neck wound's never been treated--if it went as deep as it looks, it ought to have killed him in minutes. What's happened here?"

It was the same all over. The cuts and grazes were closed, or at least scabbed well over, and there was no sign of poison starting to set in anywhere. He turned the boy over, took a quick look and decided not to interfere with the welted mess that was his back. No sense in pulling him about if it was all healing cleanly. He sat back eventually, and dropped the untouched roll of bandage back into the bag. "Leave it," he said.

The boy stirred, and his eyes cracked open, dazed and glassy. He stared for a moment without comprehension, then focused; he let out a hoarse, wordless shout of fright and scrabbled to get away. Zelda held on to him. "Link, it's all right, it's us, we're here, he's a friend..."

"I am?" Kleox said, highly amused.

She glanced at him; there was a new spark in her look now. "Well, at the moment you're not actively trying to kill us, so do you mind if I use the word?"

Link stared from one of them to another, breathing raggedly. Little by little the reason seeped back into his face; he seemed to take up his identity and wrap himself back into it, as if he were putting on a cloak. But it was not until the cat came forward, placing her paws on the shingle with delicate care, and nosed at him, that he broke down. He flung his arms around the animal's neck and began to cry. Zelda touched his shoulder gingerly.

Kleox got to his feet, picked up the lantern, and walked away. He stood at the edge of the water, staring out into the dark. After a little while the Gerudo came up behind him.

"He's been tortured, hasn't he," she said, and the ugly word thudded down between them like a dropped stone. He shrugged and looked away. A minute passed.

"Was it Sepultura?" she asked.

It could have been, he thought. Oh yes. It could have been. Aloud he said, "Can't tell for sure." She shifted her feet--she was unsatisfied, impatient for more. He sighed and turned then to look at her: a small, disheveled, determined creature. "It could be," he said. "He's lost a few nails--you saw that, I assume. That would be her style all right, little cruelties here and there. But then, those are whip cuts on his back, and she's never been particularly energetic."

Sofia's eyes were wide and white-ringed, the pupils shrunk to tiny dots despite the gloom. "But you've seen her--?"

The conversation was taking them both into a dark place. He looked down at her for a moment, saw the strain and relented, bit back what he would have said. "I've seen a lot of things."

She turned her head and glanced back, then made a visible effort to collect herself. "Will he... will he be all right?"

"Depends..." He began to fiddle with the lantern, to avoid meeting her eyes.

"On what?"

"On whether he broke under it." He drew in a breath and held it for a moment, thinking about his next words. "People who've broken are never quite the same. If they've ever been brought to the point where they'll say anything, promise anything just to get it to stop... well, it changes people, that's all."

She was staring at him. "Have you ever done--?"

"If you keep on asking me questions," Kleox said quietly, "you're going to start getting answers."

Sofia looked at him for a long moment more, then swallowed and nodded. She turned and walked away without saying another word.



Link ate slowly, cautiously, like an old man; his hands trembled as he lifted a fragment of bread to his mouth. All his movements were careful. He finished the meager meal they gave him and did not speak to them once; when he was done he lay down and fell instantly asleep on the hard ground, wrapped in Zelda's cloak.

The candle burned down, and they let it go out, and sat together silently in the faery glow of his little lantern.

He woke screaming, and Zelda stroked his hair and held him close until he calmed. He clutched at her then with desperate strength. The cat paced anxiously, her wide yellow eyes mirroring the lantern's light at every turn. Link began to talk, a disjointed delirious narrative that jumped back and forth between times. They listened and asked no questions: they could sense how close to the edge he was, and let him tell his tale in his own way. Parts of it were very difficult to understand.

"So this Carock will have both the Amulets now," Zelda said at last, softly. "Forest and Shadow. But I don't understand all this about breaking the seals--or about the Hero of Time failing. It doesn't fit."

"Maybe he was lying," Sofia offered with a shrug.

"No..." Link was sitting crosslegged, shivering in the Princess's cloak; he raised his head wearily and looked at them. His eyes were clear, but there was a look in them that was terribly old and tired. "He was telling the truth. Why would he lie to me, when he was determined I wouldn't leave the room alive? Besides, you didn't see him--he was loving every moment of it. He was finally getting to show the world how clever he was, tell everyone all about his big triumph. He told me the truth."

"Or at least the truth as he saw it," Kleox said. Everyone turned to look at him; he shifted uncomfortably. "What?"

Zelda leaned forward. "Do you know something about this--Carock, or Kafei, whatever he's calling himself now? Or about the seals?"

"What do you want from me?" He spread his hands in disgust. "You think she ever tells me anything?"

"Where was she going?" Sofia asked. "To the Temple? You must have known that much."

He looked at her. She looked back, unafraid, resting her hands on her knees.

"Sooner or later," she said, "you're going to have to decide what side you're on."

"I'm on the same side I've always been," he said coldly. "Mine." He made to stand, and she jumped up and blocked his way with outspread arms.

"Tell us what Sepultura was doing here."

"Are you threatening me?"

"No--I'm asking you." She was quite calm. "Please."

His hand had crept to the hilt of his sword. He stared into the small, stubborn upturned face, then, slowly, brought his arm back down again.

"The witch never bothered to say. She had a map, she was following that."

"A map?" Zelda jumped to her feet, excited. "What was on it? What did it say? Did you catch a glimpse?"

He turned his head. "No," he snarled, biting the words off, "and it wouldn't have helped you if I had, because I can't read. All right?"

There was an awkward little silence.

"Some place called the Sixth Cavern's what she was looking for. We found it all right, but what she was going to do there, I don't know. That's all you'll get from me, so don't bother asking me any more." He sat down again, facing the other way, and crossed his arms over his chest.

Zelda began, "There's no shame in--"

"Shut up," he said evenly.

After a little while the three of them began to talk again amongst themselves, in quiet murmurs. They weren't sure what to do. The medallions, currently, were of no interest to them; they wanted to go to the temple, to find Dark--if the shadow was still to be found there--but they had no idea how to go about it. They discussed and dismissed the idea of going in by any sort of front gate. Perhaps they could find the door by which Link had escaped...

He listened, and sighed to himself in wry amusement. It was astonishing. He'd pointed out as clearly as he could, on more than one occasion, that the shadow was unlikely to want to return with them--by Link's own account now he'd seen their parting on the shore as a final farewell. And the children looked at Kleox politely, heard him out, and then went right on talking about it anyway, as if he'd never spoken at all. How in His Majesty's name had this misguided, woolly-headed band of shiftless hatchlings ever posed any threat? By Din, just listening to them now he wanted to march over and beat some sense of reality into their thick heads...

Oh no you don't, he thought. Don't even think of getting any more involved. The witch thinks you're dead, and it's best that way. No more magic, no more secrets, no more damned creepy things in your head. Take the lantern and run. Now, for Din's sake! Run for the mountains, get your head down, keep out of sight until this thing blows over. You don't owe them anything. They've got enough candles left between them to get them back in sight of that place, if they're careful.

He cast a stealthy glance back over his shoulder. They were engrossed in their discussion--the lantern stood unwatched beside their piled bags. The Gerudo's sword was sheathed at her side. He could do it. One quick leap: grab and run. Leave them behind...

His resolve wavered for a moment, then firmed again. This wasn't his affair any more. He'd look after himself, as he always had...

He gripped his sword hilt, and shifted his weight, preparing to stand--

--and saw it, crouched before him in the dark at the edge of the circle. It was only a couple of yards away. He froze in the act of standing, dimly aware that the chatter of voices behind him had also stopped. The monster was like a giant spider, or a monstrous misshapen hand; it scraped at the stony ground with a horn-hard claw, stirring the clinking fragments. There was a peculiar thinkingness about the gesture--the idle fidgeting of a man's fingers, writ large.

He'd seen them before, although not this clearly--they were the things that had attacked Sepultura's party, on the causeway. It hadn't quite pinpointed him yet, but it knew he was there somewhere, and it was within distance for the spring. If he moved, it would have him. If he didn't, in a few more heartbeats it would have him anyway.

The thing tensed, and in the lightning instant before the leap, something small buzzed over his left shoulder and thudded deep into the leathery flesh, with a hollow thump. The monster flinched back onto its hinder limbs from the force of the blow, scrabbling in confusion, then seemed to recover itself. It took a step--then, without any warning, burst into an incandescence of white flame. The light was as brilliant as a magnesium flare, and as short-lived. A wave of vicious heat rolled out over them all, and a foul stench like burning hair, then the fire was dying down again and there was nothing left but a smoldering heap, crumbling inward as he watched.

He stood up shakily, blinked away the afterimages, and turned. The three Hylians had risen together to their feet; they stared back with shocked, still faces. The bolt that had zipped past his shoulder... but the Princess's bow still lay by the bags, unstrung.

Seeking explanation for the impossible thing that had just happened, he looked at them, then past them, into the dark. In another breath the Princess, and then the Gerudo, turned to follow his suddenly glowering stare.

At the edge of the lantern's light, just where the stalactites began to rise tall in the deeper gloom, there stood a boy.

He could not have been more than eight years of age--though by the color of his hair, in that first instant, they might almost have mistaken him for an old man. It was a weird shade of grayish silver, combed straight and reaching to below his chin; under the shadow of a lopsided fringe his eyes gleamed in the lantern light like garnets, a rich red tinted with magenta. His skin was so pale as to be almost white, with a blue tint to the shadows; delicate black tracery of leaves and vines painted below his eyes accentuated his ethereal paleness.

His clothes were foreign and yet oddly familiar in their cut: faded wrappings of smoky blues and purples, with a Kokiri-style long cap pulled down on his forehead. The strange recurring symbol, an eye weeping a single tear, was emblazoned in rust-red on the breast of his tunic. A small dark crossbow, ready loaded, hung at his side; though he held it now with casual looseness they could not doubt that he could raise it swiftly enough if challenged.

The boy looked at them gravely, his deep jewel-colored eyes flicking from one face to another. He seemed to be waiting for something, some sign.

"Hello," Sofia said into the silence, when it became apparent that nobody else would speak. She stepped forward once and held out her open hands in greeting. "Are you lost?"

The boy's cool red gaze turned to encompass her. He ran a pink tongue over his pale lips.

"You make so much noise, I'm surprised that the whole Under hasn't come down on you yet." His voice was high and sweet, pure as a choirboy's. There was a precocious dignity to his speech.

"What's your name?" she asked.

The boy's silver-white brows drew together suspiciously; he found a tighter grip on his little crossbow. "What's yours?"

She moved forward a few more paces, until a warning shake of the bow told her she was close enough. She stood still then, and smiled.

"My name is Sofia; this is Zelda, the man is Link, and our other... companion is... Kleox Dinolfos." There was a little hesitation there, a slight awkwardness, but she managed it, and then looked across the width of the open space into that small solemn face. She waited.

The boy scowled at them all for a few moments more, but the ritual of naming had taken the wind out of his sails. He knew it was his turn. Defiantly he lifted his chin before speaking.

"I'm Vaati."

An odd name, with an odd sound, slightly alien. Hylian vowels didn't stretch out like that. Kafei Dotour... A few paces away, Zelda was watching intently; her attention was fixed on the weeping eye symbol, deep red on smoky blue. "You're Sheikah, aren't you?" she said suddenly.

The boy glowered. "What if I am?"

"He's the one who was following us," Kleox said, in a sudden mixture of rage and elation: he'd been right. "I knew it. Didn't I tell you?" He moved forward a step, and the little crossbow jerked up suddenly; he stopped where he was.

"Don't," Sofia said sharply, and it was not entirely apparent who she was talking to.

Vaati looked at them all for a long time, cool, unafraid. Finally he said neutrally, "You killed the Old Man." Their expressions must have spoken their confusion, for he went on, "In the pit. Back there. I saw you."

"That thing, you mean? The Dead Hand?" Sofia's face twisted for a moment with remembered revulsion. "You call that the Old Man?"

"We'd been wanting to kill him for a long time," he said, again with that peculiar solemnity, the precise placing of words. He spoke like a little priest. "But we didn't dare. You must be very strong."

"We were lucky," Kleox said gruffly. The boy glanced towards him for a moment, then returned his gaze to the girls.

"You might be dangerous."

There was a momentary pause, then Sofia said, "We're only dangerous when we're attacked."

He mulled that one over for a while, then, ceremoniously, tilted his bow and flipped the safety-catch on. "It's a bad place, over there. Why do you want to go there?"

"Don't talk to him," Kleox growled.

Sofia glanced back, sighed, then said, "We're looking for our friend. He's over there somewhere, maybe in trouble. We have to help him." Vaati shifted from foot to foot, plainly wanting to be gone. "Vaati?" she said quickly, before he could slip away. "Can I be honest with you? We... we're lost ourselves, and we're going to run out of supplies. We need help. Can you... can you take us to someone who might help us?"

He was wary again. "Maybe," he said with some reluctance, watching her closely. His gaze slipped past her. "Him, too?"

"Yes," she said, glancing towards Kleox. "Him too."

Vaati was plainly unsure--trying to think of a way, now, to leave without losing face. It was only his boy's pride that kept him facing them. They needed something... something to prove that they were trustworthy. Something to gain his trust.

Link had been doing something, rummaging through the bags; he stood up now and made his way back towards the two girls, walking gingerly on the sharp stones. The Gerudo half-turned in surprise as he pushed something into her hand: a small wrapped packet. In the next instant her fingers told her what it was, and she smiled back at him secretly.

Vaati tried to keep his expression neutral, but could not contain his curiosity. "What's that?" he said in his clear, piping voice.

Sofia shrugged. "Oh, nothing," she said. "Just a few honey-cakes." She handed one each to Link and Zelda and then bit into another herself. They nibbled together at the candies, facing away from the boy. Dinolfos fingered his sword hilt but said nothing.

She took her time over it, clewing slowly to savour the taste, until her own cake was two thirds gone. Then she turned back to where the boy still stood, watching them. Link had guessed right: Vaati's eyes were wide.

"Do you want one?" she said.

Vaati swallowed, fidgeted for a moment. In that, he looked like a real child at last.

"Yeah," he said graciously. "All right."

And he began to pick his way through the piles of shingle, towards them.



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