I'm sorry it took so long but I'm finally back with the second entry in the The Legend of Zelda: Stray Thoughts series: Curse of Hyrule. If you haven't read the first part of this series, Whispers of Darkness, then I suggest reading it here so that you can understand what's going on in this one. Now, on to the story: Spoiler: Chapter 1 Normally, Princess Zelda wouldn’t mind getting her feet wet. In fact, the sensation of walking barefoot through a puddle on a grassy field was something that she would enjoy under almost any other circumstances. However, wandering aimlessly around the flooded remains of Hyrule, the whole country torn asunder and left an almost unrecognizable ruin of its former state, was far from an enjoyable experience. The Crown Princess of Hyrule waded through the waist-deep floodwaters as she made her way across Hyrule Field in a desperate attempt to reach the castle on the horizon. Each step she took was heavier than the last and it wasn’t long before she couldn’t go any further. The water level continued to rise higher and higher up to her shoulders, while the fractured chunks of land shifted about violently. Eventually, the water passed over the girl’s head, while her feet remained anchored to the muddy ground. She held her breath for as long as she could while trying desperately to swim back up. A ground ruptured beneath her and Zelda fell into the endless depths below. Her eyes shut tightly as she reached the point where she could no longer hold her breath. It seemed to be the end until she felt a hand grab her firmly and begin to pull her back up, followed by another and another. Zelda could feel the air fill her lungs again as she was lifted out of the water. She couldn’t tell what was going on, however, as her eyes were still clamped tightly shut. She somehow knew that if she opened them, it would all be over, but she still needed to see who it was that had rescued her. She never did get to see who it was, however, because the moment she opened her eyes she was lying safely back in her bed staring at the familiar canopy overhead. Still shaken from the nightmare and surrounded by heavy curtains, Zelda felt alone, isolated from the world around her. She didn’t know for sure if what she had just seen was just a dream or a sign of what was to come. With a yawn, Zelda crawled out from under the sheets and pulled back one of the ornate curtains so that she could talk to the one person she knew would be able to help her sort things out. She then shut the curtains as quickly as she had opened them, her face turning bright red. The faithful yet aloof attendant that she had expected to have been there was nowhere to be seen. Instead, a familiar boy in a faded green tunic and cap was sitting quietly at a table tucked away in the far corner of the room, reading a book. The princess was quite flustered by this unexpected turn of events but relieved that the boy hadn’t looked up in time to catch a glimpse of her in nothing but her nightgown. Or at least, she hoped he hadn’t. She opened the curtains just a crack and looked out to see Link set the book down on the table. “W-where is Impa?” Zelda sputtered out the words, unable to keep her composure as well as she would have liked. “And what are you doing here? These are my private quarters, you know!” “I’m not sure,” Link replied with a shrug. “I was just told that she was going to be away for personal business and that I was supposed to guard you while she’s gone.” “Oh…” Zelda thought that it was strange that she hadn’t been told anything about this. “Alright, then. You… uh… didn’t see anything, did you?” “See what?” “Never mind…” Zelda let out a small sigh. “Just close your eyes for a few minutes while I get ready.” * * * On the outskirts of the Gerudo Desert, an ancient fortress had been carved into the base of a mountain. For countless generations, this fortress served as the primary line of defense from which the Gerudo could defend themselves against invasions from Hyrule. One of the largest military encampments that the nomadic desert-dwellers had ever built, the Gerudo’s Fortress served as a testament to the long history of bloodshed between the two nations. But that history was over. Four years had passed since the peace treaty between the people of Hyrule and the Gerudo had been signed. Four years without any major incident. For the first time since the Fortress had been built, there was no need for its defenses. The area had been almost completely demilitarized in that time, with the Fortress itself now serving as a checkpoint for merchants and travelers venturing in and out of the desert, while the nearby archery range was now open for anyone to train their skills. Only the ancient Gerudo Training Grounds the fortress had been built atop remained unchanged, though passing the challenges that lied within were considered more ceremonial than practical. Deep within the old stone fortress, in a room lit only by torchlight, Ganondorf took a seat at the end of a long wooden table with a map of the desert covering most of its surface. For as long as Ganondorf had commanded his people as their king, he had used this room to strategize with his troops in the war against Hyrule. Now it generally served as a meeting hall to discuss diplomacy, and Ganondorf was loathe to see it return to its original purpose. But these were dire times for the Gerudo and something had to be done. Ganondorf stroked the red stubble of a beard he had recently begun to grow out as he examined the map before him. Figures representing his troops were positioned around it, representing the positions of his troops as they were stationed around the Gerudo Desert. His golden gaze laid transfixed on a lone piece placed in the center of the map; the piece which represented the King of Hyrule. Though Ganondorf was relieved that, at the very least, that was not who his current enemy was. He was merely reusing the old figure for the sake of convenience. In fact, the Kingdom of Hyrule would be aiding his forces in the coming battle. A knock at the door drew Ganondorf’s attention away from the map. “Enter.” The door opened and his second-in-command, Nabooru, was the first to enter, garbed in her usual white Gerudo clothing and her hair tied back in a large ponytail. She was followed by a pale, white-haired woman with piercing red eyes that marked her as a member of the Sheikah tribe, and a large, rotund but solidly-built Goron with a wild mane of hair. After the trio had each taken their places around the table, a second Gerudo woman entered the room and closed the door behind her. The general-turned-diplomat who was Nabooru had personally placed in charge of the fortress’ day-to-day operations took her seat at the opposite end of the table from Ganondorf, signaling that it was time to begin the meeting. “It is good to see you both again, Impa, Darunia,” Ganondorf nodded to the Sheikah and the Goron. “Though I do wish that this meeting could have been under better circumstances.” “Hey, any chance to fight side-by-side with all of you again sounds like a good time to me,” Darunia laughed jovially. “What is the occasion, anyway? Your messenger was pretty vague.” “I too would like to know more about the enemy that we will be facing,” Impa added. “I find it suspicious that you would send for us, specifically, rather than request Hyrule’s military aide through more formal means.” “Yes, I suppose that would seem odd,” Ganondorf agreed. “But with luck that won’t be necessary. You see, the monsters that dwell within our desert have been more active lately. At first, we didn’t think too much of it as they’ve mostly been staying away from populated areas, but then our scouts finally discovered what’s been causing them to be so restless lately.” “Let me guess, a bigger monster’s shown up and started controlling the small ones, so it's up to us to smash ‘em?” Darunia asked, slamming a fist into his open hand. “To put it simply, yes,” Ganondorf confirmed. “Normally we would just gather the strongest Gerudo warriors together to slay the beast ourselves but I fear that the monster may be too powerful for us to face alone. The reports that our scouts have sent in are a match for an ancient demon that appears in our old legends and I believe we all remember the last time we had to fight a demon.” A cold silence filled the air as memories of the battle against Vaati resurfaced, until Ganondorf continued. “I see why you wanted our help,” Darunia's jovial tone faded quickly. “But it wasn’t just the four of us last time. What about the others?” “I felt that it would be inappropriate to ask the children to risk their lives in another battle like this, and I don't know how to get in contact with the owl sage,” Ganondorf turned to Impa. “I was hoping that you would be able to help with that.” “I can summon Rauru if need be,” Impa nodded. “However, you still have not answered why you did not request military aid for this battle. Taking down a demon will be no easy task, especially when we do not have a weapon to fight it. The Master Sword remains sealed in the Sacred Realm, the Four Sword has not been seen since Vaati’s escape and even the Moon Pearl went missing in the aftermath of our battle. With the odds stacked again us, we should gather all the forces we can to fight the demon. I am sure that all the people of Hyrule would be willing to lend you their aide if they were to hear of this threat.” “I know, and that is exactly why I do not want word of this to spread,” Ganondorf replied. “I do not want word of this to spread. We don’t need to put more lives in danger than necessary. We made do with just a small group last time and I believe that we can do so again. That is why it will just be the four of us and a small band of hand-picked Gerudo warriors led by General Aviel.” “And here I was starting to think that I wasn’t a part of this conversation,” the green-clad woman joked. “But yeah, my girls and I are more than ready to back you up.” “What, you think I’m going to let you take all the fun?” Darunia returned to his cheerful disposition. “I’m going to round up some of my toughest Gorons to fight with us, too. We’re more than durable enough to stand up to whatever this so-called demon can throw at us.” “I insist on bringing some of the Sheikah under my command, as well,” Impa added. “They may not be trained to take on a foe like this but they will be able to fend off the smaller monsters that will no doubt try to come to the demon’s aide.” “Fine, but I still want to keep our numbers small,” Ganondorf relented. “No more than a dozen, each.” “Deal!” Darunia chuckled again. “Now tell us more about this demon.” “Of course,” Ganondorf returned his gaze to the map. “I will tell you everything we know about it so far, as well as what we can only speculate about based on the old stories. First, according to legend the legends, the ancient demon is known by the name Skeldritch.” * * * Life in Hyrule had changed for many over the past four years. The new era of Hyrule meant not only an end to the war but a new era of cultural exchange and integration between the races of Hyrule. The trade of both goods and ideas spread between the Hylians, Sheikah, Gorons, Zora and Gerudo like never before, with Kakariko Village being the center of it all. The Sheikah settlement that had only just opened itself up to outsiders quickly became a cultural melting pot as members of all races settled into the area as a convenient waypoint between their different domains. As a result, the small town had seen an unprecedented level of expansion into an industrial metropolis that would likely rival Castle Town itself before long. Hyrule Castle, on the other hand, had not changed much despite the cultural revolution spreading around it. Few members of the kingdom’s aristocracy and nobility had much interest in what the outside world had to offer, while the knights, guards and other servants that made up the bulk of the castle’s population had lives outside the castle that they knew not to get mixed up with their duties. This would have made things boring for Princess Zelda if it weren’t for the few major changes that did affect her life. The biggest of those shakeups, as far as most in the castle were concerned, was the construction of the Royal Aviary atop the castle’s roof, designed to facilitate the reintroduction of an ancient species of bird to Hyrule. Specifically, the flock of giant birds that had saved Zelda and the others after the battle against Vaati, now known to have been called Loftwings in the era before the Kingdom’s founding, which had chosen to relocate to the castle grounds. Zelda herself had grown quite fond of the great birds and spent much of her free time caring for them. She had never felt as free as she did while soaring through the sky on the back of her faithful companion, the indigo-winged Loftwing she had taken to calling Zeffa, a name that appeared in old legends to describe a wind deity said to have taken the form of a blue bird. The other major change to Zelda’s life was that she was now blessed with the companionship of friends that she could have only dreamed of having when she was younger, both figuratively and literally. The adventures that had brought them together may have been short-lived but the connections they had formed back then had stuck with them. While Zelda hadn’t spent as much time with the older members of their old group, such as King Ganondorf or Chief Darunia, she was more interested in hanging out with those closer to her own age. In particular, she would often sneak out to Lon Lon Ranch to visit Link and Malon, who both called the ranch home. She had even convinced the ranch’s owner, Malon’s father Talon, to let her help with chores and taking care of the animals on occasion so that she could get a better understanding of what life was like for the working class. There were also rare days when Zelda had been able to convince her bodyguard Impa to let the princess and her friends visit Kakariko Village, taking in sights and sounds in the growing city that she couldn’t experience even wandering the streets of Castle Town. She had been hoping that this would be one such day but things did not go as she would have liked. With Impa away on some mysterious business that the princess was not privy to, Zelda was confined to the castle for the time being. She didn’t let that get her down, however, and instead decided to take advantage of the situation and turn it into an even rarer event. She believed the common folk would refer to it as a ‘sleepover’. And thanks to the power of Farore’s Wind granted to Link by a Great Fairy back during their old adventures, it did not take long for the boy to bring both Malon and Princess Ruto of the Zora to the castle. With parental consent, of course. And that is how the four kids found themselves lying down in the royal gardens, staring up at the clouds. “That one looks like an octorok,” Ruto said, pointing up at the sky. “I don’t see it,” Malon remarked. “Do you even know what an octorok is?” Malon paused before answering “…no.” “It reminds me of the Great Deku Tree.” Link said wistfully, his thoughts straying to the ancient forest guardian that had raised him. But his thoughts turned bittersweet as he recalled the Deku Tree’s death and how he had attempted to prevent it only to fail in saving the old tree’s life. Everyone was silent for a few minutes. Link didn’t talk much about his past, but they all knew what the Great Deku Tree had meant to him and how, even though he usually didn’t show it, Link still hadn’t fully gotten over what had happened. “Have you been back to the forest since then?” Zelda eventually asked, trying to break up the sudden silence. “No,” Link admitted. “We haven’t seen Sara or that fairy since they returned to the forest, have we?” Ruto pointed out. “Saria.” Zelda corrected her. “Yeah.” Ruto sat up. “Perhaps it might be good to pay them a visit?” “Without a fairy to guide us, we’d get lost in the woods and slowly become monsters,” Link reminder her gravely as he and the others sat up as well. “Not if you use Farore’s Wind,” Malon pointed out. “That is, if you feel up to it.” Link looked at his friends silently, before nodding his head. “If you guys want to go, then I could probably take us straight to my old house in the Kokiri Forest. It’s… been too long.” “Then I guess that settles it,” Zelda smiled. “I’m sure no one will notice we even left as long as we get back before sunset. Let’s go.” All four nodded to each other and the three girls grabbed Link’s outstretched hand. A green light emerged from it and swallowed them up before rising into the sky. The next thing they knew, the children were now standing inside of an old treehouse. Link’s old home had been left exactly as he remembered it, apart from the thick layer of dust that now blanketed everything. His mind wandered to the food he had stored away so many years ago and made a mental note not to open the drawer it had been left in. “Spacey,” Malon noted, looking around. “You could fit a cow in here, easily.” “I don’t… want to know… how your mind works,” Princess Ruto replied slowly. “Something seems… wrong, here.” Everyone’s attention was drawn to Zelda as she cautiously walked through the open doorway leading outside, and they followed. Kokiri Forest was a small, open area amid the otherwise dense and maze-like Lost Woods. Where the rest of the woods were dangerous and infested with monsters and the undead, the area that the Kokiri called home had always remained safe and peaceful thanks to the protection of the Great Deku Tree. But the Great Deku Tree had been gone for four years and the once tame forest had grown wild without him. There was not a single Kokiri in sight but the village was far from empty. Mad Shrubs danced about wildly between the trees as Deku Baba’s snapped their powerful jaws at anything that got too close. Even a couple of octoroks could be seen swimming through the small river that flowed through the forest. But the most immediate concern for the four children was the lone wolfos that had spotted them as they emerged from Link’s old treehouse and was now barreling towards them on all fours. Before they had a chance to brace themselves, however, a hooded figure draped in a cloak of dark leaves leapt down from the raised section of ground running beside Link’s house, plunging a long wooden spear into the monster’s hide. The beast collapsed as the cloaked figure stood up and turned to the kids. “I was wondering when you would finally return.” The mysterious stranger whipped around to deflect a stray seed fired by a nearby Mad Scrub before turning its attention back to them. “But this isn’t the place to talk. Follow me, quickly!” It feels so good to have finally finished this chapter and started this new entry in the series. Unfortunately, I can't make any promises in regards to an update schedule as I rarely get any motivation to write these days. It pains me just as much as you that I don't update these stories more often than I do but I can't really get anything done when I'm not in the mood to actually write. Still, I will try to update this story when I can and someday I hope to finish at least the first trilogy of the eight story saga that I have planned.