"Your assignment…your 'test', if you will – is to find the location of the tomb of an ancient hero. The coalition has reason to believe that the tomb contains an artefact of impressive power. The 'triforce of courage', which the hero is alleged to hold, was buried with him in an elaborate tomb. Until now the coalition has had no knowledge of the tomb's general location. However, an informant has contacted the coalition, claiming to have the map leading to this tomb. Apparently, the informant has requested a member of the league to rendezvous with him and collect the map. You two are to contact this informant and collect this map. Needless to say, do not make this assignment unnecessarily difficult."
"Niiiiiiice place." Casey commented airily as she and Link walked through Hyrule Castle Town.
Link didn't reply, but he understood what Casey meant. Castle Town was a charming little city beside grand Hyrule Castle. The buildings were simple and made of an ingenious mixture of stone and wood, built to last but not to look oppressive or intimidating. A far cry from Las Venturas and Rapture. People milled about cheerfully, going about their daily business with smiles on their faces. A cloudless blue sky hung overheard, giving Link, Casey and Jimi a welcome blast of the sun.
"Seriously, dude." Casey continued, taking Link's silence as an invitation to continue. "This is so different from my city. Not Rapture, though God knows this ain't our base. My city's buildings are all steel and way taller than that castle. It's cool and all, but can be pretty scary, specially at night. And the smell…the smell, take a deep breath, Jimi! Fresh air, good god, I never smelt it like this since I ran away from home! In fact…"
"Casey…" Link quieted the rambling girl. Her attitude and attire was starting to draw a few stares.
Casey was a bit angry about being cut off mid-sentence, but was glad that Link had finally spoken. The boy was the definition of silence, not saying a word ever since Arbiter had dropped them off on the outskirts of Hyrule. Arbiter had told them where to meet with this contact, behind the alley between two of the town's shops. They were heading there now.
Jimi was resting on Casey's shoulder, gulping in the freshest air he had breathed in years. If the Pikachu had relaxed any further, he would've fallen asleep. Casey felt the same way. For their first 'assignment', this was easy as pie.
Then Casey noticed a lot of the people in town were staring at her and Jimi. When they noticed she had noticed they were staring, they quickly looked away. Casey was used to attention, being a rock star. But she doubted that Hyrulians had even heard of her, and figured they were looking at her because she clearly wasn't a local. Now that Casey thought about it, all the women in Hyrule wore skirts or a funny sort of dress. They looked pretty nice, but very different from anything Casey would've considered fashionable. Still…
"Link, you got any money?" She asked her companion.
"Money?" Link's face scrunched up in confusion.
A blank look.
Casey sighed. "Whatever it is you use to buy something here."
Link blinked, understanding. "Oh, Rupees. What do you need?"
Casey gestured to one of the stores in the town square. There were a few Hylian dresses displayed in the window, simple and tasteful. "Just something so I don't stick out like a sore thumb."
Link was curious, but dug in his pocket for his wallet. He quickly produced two small purple gemstones. Casey took it in her hand, looking at it oddly.
Link answered the unspoken question. "That's worth 100. Should be enough."
Casey smiled slightly. "Thanks. Be right back." The girl quickly ran to the shop, a small building with a rather creepy baby face on the sign and lights strung around the doorway. The doorman greeted Casey rather…enthusiastically. The uneasy girl crept around the man and through the door.
Casey and Jimi's eyes went wide when they saw the inside of the store. It looked more like one of the dance clubs her cousin Valencia would drag them to whenever she was in town. Lights on the walls, ceiling and floor blinked in tune to loud, peppy music. Every man, woman and child in the store was 'dancing' to the addictive tune. The shopkeeper was a man in a clownlike suit, complete with a phonograph for a hat.
Casey groaned slightly. "Let's make this quick, Jimi."
"Hyrule's stuck in the past, and it wants to stay that way. It's unbelievable. People get around on horsedrawn carriages, they farm their farms without machines or even Pokemon, and the government is ruled by a QUEEN…who's a member of the coalition, at least. It's very backward. You would think these people would embrace progress, but every time I try to tell them about progress, they're completely uninterested. Claim that they're perfectly happy with how things are and they don't need to become identical to the places over the sea! What's wrong with this place?"
Link sat down on a convenient bench. The boy sighed slightly. He was excited to go on his first assignment, and he was even more pleased to find it was in his hometown. But why did they have to assign Casey to go with him? Link was more than capable of taking care of himself, and he preferred to be alone. It was easier to face down monsters and evil kings when there wasn't someone nearby that had to be considered.
Besides, Casey made him very…uncomfortable. He didn't know why. Maybe it was the way she had approached him a few days ago. Her forceful manner, her voice, the way she had touched him all made him very uneasy, and it was difficult forgetting that episode. He had no idea what Casey had wanted with him, and frankly he didn't care. Casey struck him as a person whose main focus was her own enjoyment. And he hadn't had much female companionship since…
It suddenly dawned on Link why Casey made him uneasy. She reminded him of Midna.
The boy was jarred from that realization by a familiar voice. But this voice wasn't Casey or Midna. It was someone he knew very well, however. He turned to look at a girl with curly blonde hair in a simple Ordonian dress. "Ilia?"
Link's childhood friend smiled. "It is you! What are you doing back in Hyrule? I thought you left with those two a few weeks ago."
It had been that long? Link was a little surprised. He quickly came up with an answer. "I did. They learned they needed something here and had me get it."
"Oh. Um, who are they exactly? All I heard was they were part of a group."
Link thought for a moment. Arbiter had warned him not to give away too many details about the League. The boy knew that Ilia was trustworthy, but he also knew Arbiter had good reason to keep things secret. "They're a group that tries to help the world."
"Really? Who's in it?"
"Um…nobody you know. Some soldiers, a few adventurers."
Ilia sat down beside Link. "Adventurers? You must be getting along famously."
"Yes, I guess…" Link replied.
Neither Link nor Ilia saw Casey step out of the clothing store, notice him talking with Ilia, and dart back inside.
"And what are they looking for in Hyrule?"
"I don't know. Supposed to meet with someone who knows." Link wasn't quite sure how much more he could not tell Ilia.
Luckily, Ilia changed the subject. "Anyway, how have you been? Must've been strange being away from Hyrule."
Link shrugged. "Yes, it's strange. But I've been okay."
"Yes…truth is I haven't done very much since I left. This is my first assignment for the group."
Ilia smiled. "And you're on it all by yourself? They must really have faith in you."
Link was interrupted by someone treading on his toe. The swordsman exclaimed aloud in pain, surprising Ilia.
"Oh man, I'm so sorry!"
Link and Ilia turned to look at the apologetic girl. She was wearing a cheap Hyrulian dress, with shoulder ruffles that were frankly unnecessary and a rather short hem with brightly coloured music notes stitched on. Link recognized her and her pet immediately.
Casey didn't let him finish. "So sorry, I didn't mean to do that. I'm kinda in a hurry."
"It's alright." Ilia reassured the stranger. "It happens all the time. I know I've stepped on a few toes."
"Figures." The girl extended her hand before a bewildered Link could say anything. "Name's Casey. I'm visiting here."
"Nice to meet you. I'm Ilia." Ilia shook Casey's hand, the two girl's fists almost in Link's face. The boy was puzzled and troubled by Casey's abrupt reappearance.
Casey suddenly turned to look at Link. "Who's this?" she asked quickly.
Link blinked in confusion. Casey knew who he was, what was she…?
"His name's Link." Ilia answered. Before Link could tell Ilia they knew each other already, Casey grabbed his hand and pumped it up and down.
"Hey, Link! Nice to meet you."
"But we…" Link was getting more puzzled by the moment. Then he noticed Jimi shushing him from Casey's shoulder, one of his claws on his mouth.
Ilia noticed the raggedy yellow creature as well. Her eyes widened at the sight of the torn Pikachu. "And…um, what is that?"
"His name's Jimi. He's a Pikachu. Ever heard of 'em?"
"Actually, yes but…" Ilia kept staring at Jimi. The tattooed creature was unlike any of the descriptions she had been given by sailors. She reached out to touch him only for Jimi to let out a low hiss. The girl's hand retreated quickly.
Link kept staring at Casey, more puzzled than ever. Why were Casey and Jimi acting like they didn't know him? He was about to say something when Casey interjected.
"Anyway. I need a favour. Like I said, I'm new to Hyrule and I need to see someone." Casey quickly produced a piece of paper. Link recognized it as the note Arbiter had given them, stating the place where they would meet the contact. "But I have NO idea where the place is. You look like you know yer way around town…think you can help?"
Ilia answered. "Of course. We'd love to help."
Link, still a little confused about what was going on, nodded.
"Great! I need to get there now…can we get goin'?"
Jimi winked at Link from Casey's shoulder. Link sighed inwardly. Whatever Casey was doing, he would play along. For now.
"Ok, so Link's talking with a girl outside. Prob'ly some old friend, maybe even a…well, I don't know what they've got between them, but I know what people can think. Handsome kid like Link disappears for a while, not doing much, and then returns with a 'partner' like me? You can tell what the rumors would be like. I don't think Link needs that kinda stuff, especially with that girl. Looks like they're close…anyway, better not let on that we're 'partners', eh Jimi?"
Walking through Castle Town's charming stone architecture, Link kept his ear on the two girls chatting behind him. His childhood friend talking with the girl he had been partnered with, the one that reminded him of Midna. Link cared a great deal for Ilia, having known her since he was a child. Casey…Link was unsure about her, at best. What would Ilia think if she knew Casey had…the thought made his palms sweat, although he wasn't sure exactly why. Why did they have to run into each other? What was Ilia doing in town anyway?
Oblivious to Link's concerns, the two girls chatted calmly.
"What are those markings?" Ilia asked, pointing to Jimi.
"Tattoos." Casey answered.
"I know, I mean do they mean anything?"
"Oh. Well…" Casey pointed to the tattoo on Jimi's chest. JIMI. The 'I's were small lightning bolts. "That's his name, of course. Named him after a great rock….musician."
"Why didn't you use a collar or tag?"
"Tags get lost."
"Ah." Ilia remarked, a little confused. "And the one on his forehead?"
"I beg your pardon?!"
Casey made a fist with her right hand, her first finger and thumb sticking out. She then placed it on her forehead, the finger and thumb creating an 'L' shape. Jimi's tattoo was a small, stylized black version of that symbol. "L. For loser."
Ilia made a face. "You branded him a loser?"
Casey's hand went down quickly. "No, where I'm from the loser is whoever sees the 'L'."
Ilia face became more contorted. "So he basically insults everyone he makes eye contact with?"
Jimi smirked at the notion.
"Yeah." Casey acknowledged. "He'd probably be doing that if he could say anything." Casey pointed to the scar across the Pikachu's throat.
Ilia's eyes went wide. "Goddesses, what…" she gasped.
"Where I'm from, people send Pokemon against each other in fights. Used be friendly. Now, not so much." Casey stroked Jimi's yellow fur gently. "Found him in a dumpster a few years ago. Way I see it, this guy's trainer threw him through a lot of battles with no medical attention, then dumped him."
"That's horrible!" Ilia was shocked at the idea. Link listened intently.
"Yeah, he's pretty bitter. Took me a while to get him to trust me. But we're simpatico…life was tough for me, too."
"Yup." Casey promptly changed the subject. "He doesn't talk much either, does he?"
Casey subtly motioned to the very quiet swordsman walking in front of them.
"Oh, him. Yes, he doesn't speak very much."
Casey had a thought. "How long have ya known him?"
"Since we were children. We grew up in Ordon village, to the south. It's a nice place."
"Yeah, I've heard." In truth, Casey hadn't. "Anyway…how well do you know him?"
"Is he always quiet, or just with people he doesn't know?"
"He was always quiet. He gets along with a lot of people, but he always prefers to be by himself. That's why he moved his house outside our village."
"I see. Weird." Casey couldn't contain her curiousity. "Are you two…"
"Never mind." Casey brushed it off. A thought came to her. "You didn't seem too upset that he had left."
"He's gone before." Ilia sighed. "He's a restless soul, always seeking adventure. At least since…A few years ago Hyrule was attacked, and I got kidnapped. He left the village behind to find me. Once he was sure I was safe…he set off."
Ilia shrugged. "I don't know. He doesn't talk about what happened. All I know is that he was the vanguard in the castle liberation, and I got that from several comrades of his. He doesn't speak of what he's done, and I don't presume to ask."
"Why not? If you're friends…"
"We are, but…I prefer the simple life, and I don't think Link could ever settle down for long. He's too adventurous to…" Ilia gulped. Link gulped as well, listening to every word.
Casey patted her on the shoulder. "You're a good friend to be so understanding."
Casey quickly changed the subject again. "By the way, why are you in town? I hope I didn't derail you."
Ilia's eyes went wide, and she hit herself on the forehead. "Ah! No, no, I derailed myself. I have to make a delivery to a friend's sister. It was nice to meet you, Casey." Ilia strode up to Link, smiling. "It was good to see you again as well. I don't know what you're doing out in the world, but take care of yourself, ok?"
Link nodded. "I will."
Ilia smiled, and ran off to do her errand.
Link breathed a sigh of relief. Nothing bad had come out of that incident. Now he could finish their assignment and be done with it.
Casey walked up to Link, not bothering to pretend ignorance. "Nice girl."
"…yes." Link agreed.
"Crazy understanding. Most girls I know don't like their boyfriends running around away from 'em."
"We're not…never mind, the assignment?" Link was desperate to get out of talks about relationships. He was not one for personal matters…he felt a lot better when working. It was a lot simpler.
Casey shrugged. "Alright, let's go."
Arbiter sighed into thin air. He was inside the Master Chief, which had been docked on the other side of the Hylian mountains where no-one could see them. Commlinks on Link and Casey showed him their progress. Lara was beside him, testing her climbing equipment. Snake was snoring in another part of the ship.
"They seem to be taking their time." The Sangheili eventually remarked.
Lara shrugged. "It's a pickup assignment in a peaceful town, and we know that this 'tomb' won't be going anywhere. What's the rush?"
Arbiter gave the woman a look before turning back to the screen. At least they were moving towards the rendezvous, and that was a reasonable expectation for their first assignment. Besides, Lara had a point. This was hardly what he'd call an 'urgent' assignment. So why was the coalition insisting that they do it?
"Mom got me into music lessons the second she saw me tap my fingers on the piano. Took three jobs to get me the best teachers, so of course I went. Tried out every instrument in the world, till I could figure out how to make a friggin' UKELELE sound nice. She said it was my escape from a mediocre life, married to someone like Dad. Boy, was she right. I wish she could see me now."
The two shops that the contact's alleyway was between came in sight. One of them was some sort of flower stand, lovely bouquets on the shelves. A band consisting of a lute player, a flutist and a vocalist were playing a ditty in front of the stand to attract business. The other shop wasn't open, and had a large grinning face on the doorway. It creeped Casey out, and Link didn't particularly like the design either.
Casey quickly forgot about the mask when the band's lute player hit a sour note. The girl cringed at the noise, and then quickly turned to Link. "Contact's in there, right?" She pointed at the alleyway between the two houses. Despite it being a bright day, the alley was draped in shadows. But that was standard for alleyways, Casey knew.
Link simply nodded. The lute hit another bad note, causing Casey to cringe again. Jimi cringed with her this time. Link heard the bad note as well, but didn't cringe himself. He wasn't that sensitive to music. The two people began walking into the alley…
When the lute hit another bad note, worse than the last two. Casey let a noise of pure frustration. "Go ahead, I'll catch up." She told Link before storming towards the surprised lute player and yanking the instrument out of his hand. Link watched her fiddle with the strings for a second before sighing and going on to meet the contact.
There was a person leaning on the wall at the back of the alley, draped in a dark coat with strange patterns in the fabric. He was expecting Link, and smiled broadly. In the limited light, all the boy could make out was that this was a skinny man with red hair.
"Ah yes. Hello, Link."
Link blinked in surprise. This 'contact' knew his name?
"You're here for the map, aren't you?" The man reached into his deep coat pocket as casually as if he was getting out a snack. He pulled out an ancient parchment, brown and weathered but still legible. He calmly held it out to Link.
Link brought out something Lara had given him. As a specialist in artefacts, she knew that old parchments could easily disintegrate if handled poorly. With Gordon's help, she had produced something that would keep the manuscript from being prematurely destroyed, whether by old age or external forces. It looked like a simple glass briefcase. Link carefully took the parchment out of the man's hands and placed it in the briefcase. The seal clicked shut with the map safely inside.
"Excellent." The contact smiled in a rather unnerving manner.
Casey had finished tuning the lute, and once it was back to working order she handed it back to the musician and walked into the alley. She could tell she had missed the transaction, but didn't seem too concerned. That is, until Jimi hissed and she saw the contact. Her teeth clenched and her hands balled into fists at the sight of the insulting salesman from before.
The salesman's expression never changed, but on seeing the girl he vanished through the back door in the alley. Casey chased after him, bumping past Link in her hurry to get the salesman. When she got to the door however, she found it locked. Not even a kick was able to jar the door open, much to the girl's fury. "GAH!"
Link nervously tapped Casey on the shoulder. The girl whirled around and saw Link holding the briefcase and motioning her to come with him back to the ship. Casey glanced at the shut door, groaned, and walked away. "Right, let's get back to boss. Mission accomplished." She remarked dryly.
Link shrugged in response, and the two began walking away…
Until a sudden jolt in the earth shook both of them. Everyone in the area teetered unsteadily for a second, puzzled by what had happened. By the time they figured it was nothing, it happened again. And again…several people fell onto the ground as the rattling earth intensified. Casey grabbed Link for support as the ground shook violently.
Then someone screamed "THE SHOP!"
Everyone turned to see one of the larger shops being swallowed by the earth. Very quickly. The house frame buckled and snapped as it was forcibly dragged into a huge hole in the ground. The band ran for cover, ditching their instruments in their hurry to get away. Casey recognized the place as the building that smiling salesman had ducked into.
She didn't have time to think about much more as a cloud of dust completely obscured her view of the building for a second. When the dust cleared, the shop was gone, nothing but a deep pit where it once stood.
Everything stood still for a minute. Nothing moved. Nobody talked. The stunned silence was overpowering. What had just happened? An entire building…gone…just like that. Casey wondered if that salesman had been killed or…if he had somehow used this to escape…but that was crazy…
Something erupted from the hole that made everyone forget about the building.
Roaring like a demon from hell, a colossal sand-colored worm rose from the pit. It's jaw was huge and fleshy, fragments of wood and stone hanging from it's teeth like spinach. It came halfway out of the ground, leaning out like a snake eager for it's next meal. Towering over the townspeople, it opened it's wide mouth and bellowed.
Everybody was sent scurrying in panic. Except for Link and Casey. Casey because she was too shocked to move, and was holding onto Link. Link himself whipped out the pistol Aven had given him and fired a shot into the monster's exposed mouth. The heated plasma burned into the creature's mouth, and the huge worm screamed.
Casey gulped as the creature stared down at them with baleful snake eyes. This assignment was not going to be as uneventful as she had thought.