Hols and the others were delighted to see Link and Zelda back safely and their mission accomplished.
"Thank you for taking out those demons in our territory," Anne-Marie said. "I know that has been a great source of vexation for Lord Long Fang and, especially, Growder. It's Growder's job to make sure our borders remain secure, and the fact that he couldn't get rid of those bat-things bothered him greatly. I think he saw it as a personal failing."
"It was no failing," Link said. "They were immune to everything except the Master Sword."
"I'm just glad you made it back safely," Hols said. "And not a scratch on you!"
"I wouldn't say that," Link said, reaching up to touch his cheek where the demon-man's whip had cut him.
Hols looked at him in confusion. "You… had those claw marks before, didn't you?"
Hols continued to look confused. Link turned to Zelda. "Do I not have a scar or anything where I was hit?"
She looked at his face. "No, none—just the old scars."
Link turned back to Hols. "Well, we did take some lumps, but the Great Fairy healed us."
They had a very long dinner and everyone—even the other tigers—were eager to hear the details of their battle with the demon. It wasn't until after dinner, when Anne-Marie shooed away her people, that Link pulled out his map and showed it to the others.
"So, the fairy thinks you need to go here first?" Hols asked, pointing to the X on the map in the woods on Hyrule's northern border.
"I don't look forward to it," Link admitted. "We traveled past those woods on our way to Erenrue from the coast," he said, tracing the route with his finger. "There was something evil about them then."
Hols looked up at him. "And you said the demon in the mountain warned you that he was the weakest of all of them?"
Hols frowned, then shook his head.
"Luckily, though," Link added, "Her Highness has the Light Arrows now, so that will be a great help. She was wonderful at keeping things off of me in the cave, but now, instead of just stunning the demons, she will be able to kill them, too. That will make things faster and easier for both of us."
"I sure would like to see how those arrows work," Hols said, eyeing the seemingly-empty quiver on the table.
"I would, too," Link said. He looked at Zelda. "Care to try them out?"
"Not at all; I need to practice with them."
Hols and Lia, Anne-Marie and Kara, and the Abbot all trooped outside with Link and Zelda to watch the demonstration. Night had fallen, but there was a nearly-full moon that illuminated the white-gray rocks so well, it was easy to see.
Zelda took off her regular quiver and put on the new one. Just as the Master Sword lit up when it was touched, so too did the quiver.
"Are there arrows in it?" Zelda asked, trying to look back over her shoulder.
"No, but it's full of light," Link said.
Zelda reached over her shoulder, as if she was grabbing an arrow, and pulled out a beam of light the length of an arrow. Everyone stared in open-mouthed astonishment.
Zelda, however, only seemed mildly surprised, and a moment later, she nocked the beam of light and shot it at the face of the mountain about thirty yards away. It hit the rock and shattered into a thousand flying sparks of white light.
"Amazing," Hols said breathlessly.
Zelda reached back and withdrew another arrow. She shot it at a more distant peak, some one hundred yards away. Everyone watched as it shattered in the distance, like fireworks exploding on the rock.
"How do they shoot?" Link asked, turning to Zelda.
"Wonderfully," she said, sounding delighted. "The arrows weigh nothing—I wouldn't know I was even holding them if I couldn't see them and feel their warmth—and they fly perfectly straight. I put each one exactly where I was aiming with no trouble at all. I didn't even have to compensate for drop when I shot the longer distance; the arrow went straight with no drop at all."
Zelda shot another two dozen times, growing more and more happy as she hit everything she was aiming at effortlessly.
"There are no flaws in them at all," she declared. "They don't lose speed or drop over distances or wobble or deviate in their flight. They are perfect in every way."
"And they seem to be endless," Link said, looking at the quiver which still glowed with light.
She handed her old quiver of arrows to Hols. "Would you keep that for me for a while? I don't need it."
"You don't want to keep even a few regular arrows?" he asked.
"Nope. There's no need to keep something inferior when I have the best," she said with relish.
As they walked back, their conversation turned again to the next demon target.
"The thing that concerns me most," Link said, "is getting from here to Hyrule. That's a long distance to travel, and while Nagadii appears to be in Shi-Ha, that doesn't mean he doesn't have spies along the way."
Abbot Winfield, who was walking beside Link, nodded gravely. "Not only that, but it's exposed territory; there are few places where you can hide."
"That occurred to me as well."
"Do you have no one you can teleport to?" Hols asked. "No one at least a little bit closer?"
"No. The only people that we're connected to are you and Kara."
"That's hardly helpful—both of us being in the same place."
"But we're glad to have you," Zelda said.
"Yes, having Kara's medical expertise—or, failing that—the fairy's, takes a big worry off my mind," Link agreed. "We always know that if things get too bad, one or both of us can come back here and get medical attention, food, and rest."
"You will always have that," Anne-Marie swore. "I know that Lord Long Fang has long watched this coming doom and he wanted to aid you in any way he could. Even if the demons can't change us, as they do humans, it would still be very bad for us if they were to take over; it would only be a matter of time before they wiped out our people as well."
Link was thoughtful as they walked back to the door into the mountain. "I think the best way for us to get back to Hyrule is to travel as animals," he said at last.
"Does Nagadii not know that you can take those forms?" Hols asked, holding open the door for Link and Zelda.
"Link transformed in front of Nagadii, so he definitely knows he can be a bird," Zelda replied. "And I transformed in front of some of Nagadii's soldiers when we were leaving the monastery, so I'm sure that information got back to him, too.
"But at the same time, how many horses are there? And how many birds?" Link said. "Most people will not automatically assume that a random horse or bird is really a person in disguise. We'll attract less attention as animals than as people."
"Especially since you both look rather distinctive in your human forms," Hols said, looking rather pointedly at their ears.
Link didn't want to stay with Anne-Marie and the others very long, and Zelda agreed. Flush with their first success, they were both eager to move on to their next goal, feeling the end of the ordeal was within sight. So they made plans to leave early the next morning.
"Aren't you going to take more food than that?" Lia asked anxiously the next morning as she watched Link put some hardtack and dried meat into a canvas knapsack which was slung over his shoulder. Other than a coil of rope, one waterskin, and their cloaks, they were taking no other supplies.
"No," Link replied. "The hunting is good right now and there are plenty of wild things to eat; we can feed ourselves as we go. I only want this as a backup. If we get desperate, one of us can always come back here and get something."
"Well, that's true," Lia said reluctantly. "But I still worry about you not having enough. I don't want you to get into trouble because you don't have the things you need."
"Sometimes having too much can get you in trouble—weigh you down—get in your way. The less we have to carry, the easier it will be for us to travel. And I want to make it to Hyrule as quickly as possible. The less time we're out in the open, the less likely we are to be seen."
"Link is doing the right thing," Hols agreed. "They can forage on their way there. There's plenty to eat this time of year, if you know where to look."
They said goodbye to everyone again and Anne-Marie and another tiger took Link and Zelda down the mountain as far as the hot springs.
"Thank you for all your help," Link said, as he got off Anne-Marie's back.
She stood up and offered him her paw. "Thank you for helping us defend our territory. Come back anytime you need help—day or night."
"We'll be back, don't worry. We have a lot more fighting to do, so I know we'll need patching up."
She nodded. "Take care of yourselves."
"You, too. Stay on the lookout for Nagadii; he may try to come back."
Once Anne-Marie and the other tiger were gone, Link looked at Zelda. "Do you want to stop by the spring? It may be a long time before we get to take a bath again."
"I think we better stay away," Zelda said.
Link couldn't help but grin at her. Despite the fact that he had been the one to back away from too much physical contact, he couldn't help but feel pleased that she was attracted to him.
Her cheeks turned pink and she looked away.
They transformed into their animal forms and headed down the mountain. With only one brief stop for a rest, they made it to the crossroads by noon.
I'm hungry, Zelda said, as they stopped to take a break.
Link fluttered down onto a signpost and looked around. I am, too, but I worry about walking around as a human in the open and so near a road—especially as we know Nagadii passed through here not long ago.
I know. She sighed. Shall we move on?
I don't know. …Think you can eat grass?
What? she asked in disbelief.
Can you eat grass? Have you tried it?
I most certainly have not, she said, sounding offended.
Try some and see if you like it. Maybe it will taste good to you.
You try some first!
Eagles don't eat grass.
What do they eat, then?
Fish, rodents—any sort of small animal.
Then let's see you eat one.
Alright, he said, sounding more confident than he felt. At least grass was similar to other green, edible plants; that wouldn't be too much of a hardship for Zelda. He, on the other hand, would have to eat whatever he caught raw.
He launched himself into the sky and began to circle the sky, his eyes searching the ground. Even from very high up, he could see individual blades of grass just as easily as if he was on his hands and knees looking at them.
It didn't take him long to spot a rabbit in the grass not far from the road. It was high noon, so he didn't cast a shadow as he dove to the ground like a lead weight. His talons were around the rabbit before it knew what had hit it. A moment later, he bit into the back of its neck, severing its spinal cord and killing it instantly.
He had to admit, the more time he spent in his animal form the easier—and more natural—it became. So would it be the same if he ate the rabbit?
He tore the skin back and snapped off a hunk of still-warm meat. It was a little hard to get down—he was accustomed to having teeth for chewing—but once he gulped it down, he had to admit it tasted pretty good.
Zelda had wandered over and was watching him with as much disgust as a horse could show on its face.
Well? she asked.
Eat the grass.
She looked skeptical, then closed her eyes and ripped up a mouthful of grass. She chewed it slowly.
I guess it won't kill me, she admitted.
They ate their respective lunches in silence. When Link had reduced his rabbit to bones and gristle, he looked up at Zelda. Ready to get back on the road?
They turned back to the west and continued their trek towards Hyrule.