And here we go. God I am so sorry, it's been such a long time since I updated this one. I don't even know why beyond my usual excuse of it being difficult to write. No thought of wanting to abandon crossed my mind, yet here we are. When the updates get spaced out, it honestly becomes harder and harder to update because you start to forget things. It's hard to keep track of everything as is, not to mention the Zelda games aren't really fresh in my mind at the moment.
Hopefully, there's still some interest in this.
Chapter 29: Mask in Boy's Clothing
The sounds of celebration echoed throughout the ranch as the bonfire illuminated much of the area in its comforting orange glow. The people who had brought Naruto back were perfect for a celebration such as this, since doing such things was not only their career, but their lifestyle.
It was a cacophony of movement and entertainment all going on at the same time. The jugglers were out and about, somehow performing the perfect routine in very little lighting, while the dancers moved alongside the shadows in front of the fire.
Dice and card games were playing, competitions of chance between the revelers. Naruto himself had partaken in some of them along with dancing with the Rosa sisters by the fire. He was currently sitting down with Gorman, a bowl of stew that Cremia had made in his hand.
While he was conversing with Gorman, Link and Zelda wandered over to his location after finishing up entertaining Romani. Naruto downed the last of his stew, letting the warmth fill his body. No doubt those two were coming over to talk to him more about their apparent quest, likely to talk him out of it.
Naruto was sitting on a box, but Link and Zelda sat down in separate chairs beside him and the fire. A small smile was on his face, just for the sheer enjoyment of having never really been a part of a gathering like this, a testament to his lonely childhood.
"They're good people..." he broke the ice, but never specified who he was referring to. It was probably all of them. Link stretched his arms and Zelda twiddled her thumbs, having to be the one to bring up the topic of conversation.
"Listen, I am sorry about what happened to your village..." Zelda said genuinely, "But I'm not sure joining Link and myself is the answer. It will be very dangerous."
Naruto looked at them both, and folded his hands. He simply stared down the royal girl, not giving an inch but also not trying to make her wilt underneath his stare.
"Let's bring him along, Zelda..." Link said finally, swilling around a bottle of Chateau Romani that he had been drinking. Zelda looked at him in alarm, but Link appeared to be moved by the amount of resolve in Naruto's eyes.
"I'm sure we can made it a side objective to really look into these refugees. Termina is a big place; they really could be anywhere. Now that we've seen that the mask is back and as powerful as ever, I thank the goddesses above that we caught it in time. There aren't any giant moons hanging over our heads..."
Link extended his hand, and Naruto took it.
"Where do we go from here? I'm new to this place; where I come from things aren't as weird as they are here, and I'm still getting you to the law of the land..." Naruto said.
"In the morning... I have an idea on where we should go from here." Link said, "Just enjoy the night, and I want to talk to Cremia before we set off in the morning. Understandably, she may not be so keen on allowing someone who just came to work for her slip away..." Link chuckled to himself.
"To a safe journey..." the Hero of Time said, raising his glass. Naruto responded in kind, and went back to watching the jugglers add on more and more objects at once.
"Excuse me for a moment..." Link then said, seeing something else that caught his eye as he began walking over to it. He seemed to be walking in Cremia's direction.
Cremia herself seemed rather reserved by the whole celebration. She was sitting relatively close to the farmhouse with a drink in her hand, but she was watching from afar, clearly bothered by something.
"You must be happy he's safe..." Link broke the ice. Cremia smiled weakly, taking another sip of her drink as she regarded the young boy.
"You're going to take him, aren't you?" she asked, giving him a knowing look. She watched Naruto by the fire, clapping enthusiastically as the jugglers did some of their best.
"No, don't apologize. I know I brought him here to worker here on the ranch, but I guess what I really wanted to do was show that poor lost boy some hospitality. Even if I've only known him a few days, he's left an impression. Like you did. He listens to Romani, and he protected her... got kidnapped in her stead. I will always be grateful for that."
"There's this look in his eyes..." Link said, "He's been smiling during this party, but his gaze has been elsewhere."
"I'm not surprised. He lost his entire home not too long ago, and he's lost. He's been looking for the refugees from his village, and I can tell that's all on his mind. This place isn't his home... if you can help him, he will want to go with you. He's shown me a lot in the short time I've known him, but perhaps the most important thing I've seen is that he doesn't belong here at the ranch..."
Link's green hat fluttered in the breeze.
"Alright, me and Zelda will take him along... but, what about Romani?" Link asked. He had been watching the younger of the ranch sisters for a few seconds now. The normally upbeat girl looked exhausted, even if she hasn't participated in any of the festivities all night. That was odd enough for the cheerful child, but she just sat there far away from the fire on a crate.
She didn't feel like celebrated, but Link noticed she seemed relieved regardless. The soft smile on Cremia's face wilted into a concerned frown over her sister.
"That's something I'm afraid of. Romani won't stop blaming herself; I have never seen her as scared as she was when Naruto was missing. Come tomorrow, she might not accept Naruto putting himself in more danger."
"Should I talk to her?" Link asked.
"No. I think it would be best for Naruto to break the news to her himself. She'll just have to come to accept it. I'll have him talk to her tomorrow morning, right before you leave. He's had enough on his plate recently, tonight he should revel and then rest..."
Cremia cast a motherly gaze at the foreign boy just like she did to Romani. The enjoyment on his face seemed so genuine, but he was starting to tire out and so was the Gorman Troupe.
Eventually, the fire died down and the party began to come to a halt. Naruto lay hunched over a log asleep, even his endless stamina reserves depleted from the celebration and the ordeals he had gone through.
Zelda and Link turned themselves in for the night hours ago, pitching a campsite on the ranch near the barn. Romani too had gone to bed by that point. The Gorman Troupe bid Cremia farewell when the celebration was over.
The tired young woman looked over the deserted area, signs of a fire and seating arrangements still there from the party. It was just something to clean up tomorrow.
Walking over to Naruto, she scooped the boy into her arms and carried his sleeping form back inside the farmhouse.
Naruto woke up in the farmhouse's guest bed after a long night of celebrating. It was funny, he didn't remember falling asleep or even heading back into the house.
He reached into his kunai pouch, withdrawing his hitai-ate. He hadn't worn it often since his arrival into Termina; with Konoha's status so far up in the air, it just didn't feel right.
He giggled to himself and sat down on the bed. Those two he had met were real nice, and he still heard the voices of the angels when he looked at Zelda. He had finally gotten them to take him along on their journey, too.
And yet, a dark cloud cast over his mind when he realized that he would once again have to leave behind Cremia and Romani. When he came back downstairs, he found that the mood he was in didn't transfer to his new Terminan friends.
As he came downstairs the next morning expecting to see both sisters, he saw only Cremia. She was seated at the kitchen table calmly, drinking what appeared to be a cup of tea to go along with her light breakfast.
Naruto grinned, but it was awkward.
"Uh... morning Cremia!" he called, relieved to notice that Cremia smiled at him and didn't seem to bear any resentment that he would be leaving the ranch so soon after being hired.
If anything, she was slightly worried. Though, about his safety or Romani's reaction, Naruto didn't know. The absence of the younger ranch girl was unnerving, but not surprising.
"Naruto, are you sure about this? I want you to find the answers you're looking for, but I'm wary about letting you go off like so. Romani is upset and worried, and this would no doubt get in the way of any work you could be doing around the ranch. I understand that if this is something you feel you need to do..." Cremia trailed off, but she was clearly not very comfortable.
Naruto smiled at her brightly, sitting down at the table beside her.
"That's what I was afraid of. Where is Romani, anyway? I really want to talk to her before I leave..." he said, drumming his fingers against the table while Cremia took a sip of her morning tea.
"You have to understand why she's acting this way," Cremia started calmly, staring over her shoulder at the staircase sadly, "You're leaving mere days after you returned. And you disappeared underneath some very terrifying circumstances. Romani wouldn't stop crying when you disappeared; I have rarely ever seen her so scared. She blamed herself, too. Regardless of what happened out there with the "ghosts", she roped you into it and you paid the price for it. Now that you're going out on your own again, she's afraid that something like that will happen again..."
"That's ridiculous. What happened out there isn't Romani's fault. If I didn't go, Romani would've tried to defend the ranch all by herself and would've been captured just like I was!"
Cremia stared at him strangely, and Naruto could see the facade crack. From all accounts, she seemed to be coming around to the idea that something had been happening around the ranch.
"Romani's grown attached to you, Naruto. I know it seems like we haven't known each other for long, but we don't get much company down here at the ranch. She grew attached to that boy you're going to be traveling with too."
"I'll go talk to her..." Naruto said.
Cremia kept her eyes trained on him as he made his way upstairs slowly. It was uncomfortable the way she looked at him, like he was walking along the green mile.
The floorboards creaked as he reached the top step, heading in the opposite direction from his guest room. At the end of the hall was Romani's bedroom; morning sunlight peeked through the slightly cracked door.
He should have noticed something was off when Romani hadn't already finished her breakfast and was outside playing or doing her chores. When he opened the door, he thought it was empty for a moment after seeing the unmade bed with no one in end. But, as he entered the room he noticed the chair positioned off to the right, directly in front of the window.
Romani was sitting in it, completely silent with her hand on her chin, staring out the window as if those creatures from before would come back at any given moment. She didn't seem to be looking at anything
"Romani?" Naruto ventured an ask.
Romani ignored him, but it was more equivalent to a child ignoring an adult while they were throwing their own version of a silent tantrum. She fidgeted in her seat a little, before she resumed staring out the window.
"Romani! Speak to me! I don't want to leave like this!"
"Why do you have to leave at all?"
The question cut Naruto deeper than he thought it would. He had grown attached to the sisters in his short time at the ranch, even though when he agreed to work here, all he was looking for was some shelter and a temporary source of income.
He sat down beside Romani by the windowsill.
"I wasn't here long, but this place made me happy. I felt like I could really belong here even if I'm not exactly from here originally. I'm grateful to both you and your sister for taking me in and showing me so much kindness. It's may be the most anyone has ever done for me."
"Then why leave? You can stay here, and you don't have to go out there anymore..." Romani whispered, not at all like the energetic girl he had come to know.
"Is this about what happened on... y'know," Naruto struggled to find the words without it sounding awkward. Romani clutched the windowsill a bit tighter in her hand, until her knuckles were white.
"My sister went out to look for you the night you disappeared. When it happened, and the ghosts took you away in their floating ball of light, I was so terrified. I rushed into the house screaming bloody murder and crying my eyes out. She wouldn't let me go out to help look for you. I tried to go to sleep that night, but my mind kept wandering to places. Bad places."
That's when it hit Naruto. The amount of relief that Romani must've felt when he arrived safely at the ranch must've been extreme. This wasn't just some self-motivated and childish desire to see someone she had befriended stick around.
For him to announce that he was going to leave again after disappearing under such concerning circumstances...
"And the worst part about it was... I kept feeling that it was my fault. I'm the one that roped you into it, and I'm the one that got you taken away because I couldn't protect the barn."
Romani got up from her perch, head downcast. She looked about ready to burst into tears once again, but instead she approached Naruto and wrapped her arms around him tightly.
"I know we haven't known each other long, but you and your sister have made me feel welcome in such a foreign land. I don't know what I would've done if you two hadn't taken me in. I'd probably be sleeping on the streets in Clock Town. So, I'd like to say thank you for all you've done. I don't have a place to return to; you have no idea how much that meant to me. But... I need to find my comrades..."
Romani pushed his away lightly, holding him at arm's length with her hands on his shoulders. She moved her right arm and socked him lightly in the shoulder.
"Stupid..." she sniffled, "You could just stay here."
They fell silent for a moment.
"Did you know that when I was little I would bring grasshoppers home as pets? It drove my big sister crazy, but I would keep them in jars and put them on my windowsill. But within a couple days, they would usually all die. I guess I didn't really know how to take care of them. The fourth time I caught one in a jar I just let it go in the grass past the cow fields. If you care about something, sometimes you just have to let them go..."
"Romani, I'm not going to die staying here with you." Naruto said.
"That's not what I meant. I haven't learned from the grasshoppers as much as I thought. I'm going to have to let you go, aren't I?"
The two of them just stood there awkwardly, neither of them feeling the need to hug again as a silent acceptance seemed to come over Romani. At a slow, deliberate pace, Naruto nodded.
Romani broke the hug and sat down on her bed.
It was at the front entrance to Romani Ranch that Naruto saw Link and Zelda once again. The sun was rising ever higher into the sky, casting the ranch in its life-giving glow. The horse foal that he had learned was named Epona whinnied, the Princess of Hyrule perched upon her back.
"How'd it go?" Link asked, as Naruto approached them, frown marred upon his face.
"About as well as it could. Romani's not really happy with me for leaving, but I talked to her and she accepted it well enough. She's just still sore about some... stuff that happened. So, what are we going to be doing?" Naruto asked, quickly changing the subject.
Zelda seemed to accept it fine, not really knowing Romani in any capacity from before. Link however stared at Naruto a little while longer; he had seen Romani at the party the previous night and she looked a bit different than how he remembered.
"We're going to first head back to Clock Town. I know the Great Fairy who lives in the northern part of town, and she should know of any goings-on in this land recently.
"What's a Great Fairy?" Naruto asked. Link and Zelda looked at him oddly, before their eyes lit up with understanding as they remembered Naruto's origins.
"Oh! That's right! I find it strange that there are no Great Fairies where you come from! There are fairies in Hyrule, and there are fairies in Termina. Regardless, we need to find her. She was split apart last year by the Skull Kid, but she is a powerful being who will be more than capable of helping us if the mask hasn't gotten to her again."
Naruto perked up upon that.
"Speaking of that, there's something I've been meaning to ask you about that. We can talk as we're making our way into town. It's about that mask you told me about."
"Majora's Mask." Link replied.
"I've seen it before, or at least... something like it."
Zelda looked at him in concern.
"Does that have something to do with where you come from, and the moon that apparently dropped on your village?"
"Yeah. This place is such a new experience for me. I come from... well the best I could call it is I'm from another realm or dimension or whatever you wanna call it. We have a festival every year around my birthday; I don't really like it, but this year this really weird guy showed up around the time of the festival. He was there to sell masks; I kind of liked the guy and I spent some time around his stall while he was in town. He had this creepy looking mask that looked just like the one you described; I got a weird vibe from it. And then, not even two weeks later the moon grew a face and plummeted down on my village. Me and some of the other ninjas and civilians managed to evacuate to Termina before our village was destroyed, but I was separated from my friends in the process."
The three kids began to travel down Milk Road, Zelda of course riding sidesaddle on Epona and the two boys walking on either side of the horse. Naruto turned his gaze to the path that lead to the Gorman Ranch; it was good that Cremia would no longer have to worry about that.
They entered into Termina Field not long after that. The sun was slowly peaking over the horizon but it wasn't even close to being noon yet. The Chu Jellies would be out and about for any wary traveler, but the peahats shouldn't have even made their way out of the underground yet.
"Last time, Majora's Mask possessed the body of a Skull Kid, one of the forest dwellers from where I came. It preyed on his loneliness and propensity to cause mischief, turning him twisted and evil. The Skull Kid was just the mask's puppet, though. I managed to make friends with him, and I know his old friends came back to him after all."
"The salesman said that the evil vanished from the mask. I don't know where he is or what he's doing, but we saw the mask just before we met you, and it had a new vessel."
"He was using this strange magic that I've never seen before," Zelda chimed in, "What do you think, Link? Was the magic he was using a product of the mask?"
"Probably. When I last faced it, it never used anything quite like that. Though, I don't know where the person it was possessing would have that power on their own. That is why we are going to see the Great Fairy. If anyone knows anything about new evil that has appeared in this land, it would be her..."
It didn't take long for the trio of children to reach Clock Town, Link leading the way to the northern part of town where the Great Fairy's Fountain rested in a cave not too far from the main plaza.
The moment Naruto entered the fountain, his troubles were practically put at ease. There was somewhat of a healing atmosphere to this place, even in the dark and slightly humid cave in North Clock Town.
There was a marble fountain in the center of it all, lit up by strangely colored flames on torches on the side. He felt the presence of Link taking up the rear; Zelda had elected to remain outside.
Link's boot met the marble floor, cobbling as the hero walked closer and closer to the fountain. As he approached, Naruto heard the distinct cackle of a woman come from essentially nowhere.
He jumped back when a strange woman burst out of the pool of water and floated in mid-air above the fountain as if by magic. Naruto stared at her with mouth agape and a mild blush when he realized that the woman was barely wearing anything and what she was left very little to the imagination.
He looked to the side to find that Link was treating this as if it were an everyday occurrence. Naruto sputtered something unintelligibly as his eyes moved back and forth between the Great Fairy and the unflappable Link. How could he possibly be so aloof with what was happening before their eyes?
"Oh, kind young one! You have returned to this land of Termina!"
Much like Link was wont to do, he didn't speak to the Great Fairy. And since Naruto's mouth was still hanging open at the sight, the pair of them just stood there sort of dumbly.
"What do you wish?" the Great Fairy asked.
"I seek your wisdom..." answered Link.
"Ah, I see you have sensed it as well. The evil that has plagued this land a mere year ago has returned. Although the people are blissfully unaware of it as of right now, a sense a trouble power brewing. Though where it is located, even I cannot say."
The Great Fairy then locked eyes with Naruto, but didn't give him a look that was any different than what she gave Link. She said nothing about Link's traveling companion, or why he was traveling with them.
The three children stayed in the Stock Pot Inn that night, planning to set off first thing in the morning. As he spent more time with new traveling companions, Naruto began to wonder about his situation.
The whole thing was just... bizarre. Just two months ago he wouldn't have dreamed some of things he had experienced were even possible. Different realms, strange masks and moons, and a magical power totally different from chakra.
For his situation, he was taking all of this in remarkably well.
Anju had been surprised to see him return so soon, after she sent him off to assist Cremia at the ranch. She was also surprised to see Link return, having apparently known him from before.
Nevertheless, she rented out rooms for the three of them, he and Link bunking in one while Zelda received her own room. Link was apparently a real heavy sleeper, as he was conked out on the bottom bunk in their room as Naruto stared out the window.
There was light snoring coming from the next room over, and Naruto remarked on what an unladylike thing for a princess to be doing, but apparently Zelda was a snorer and also a heavy sleeper.
The moon hung in the sky, at a reasonable distance and faceless. It was full tonight, and that made Naruto restless. That would happen, all in due time. Majora didn't just jump into the end of the world last time, after all. Under the guise of the Skull Kid, it pulled many pranks and cursed many areas in its pursuit to ruin lives.
Naruto got to his feet, the bed making a creak as he climbed off it. His mind was becoming less numb, and the image of the mask filled his mind as his body entered into the second split personality that Majora had cultivated.
He grabbed his weapons pouch that he had left on the nightstand, and pulled out all one of the scrolls he had packed, the one that contained the essence of Majora's Mask.
Silently, he crept out of the room to get started on his dark work.
And we're done here.
Getting back on the proverbial horse with this one was very difficult, but I wanted to get something done as quick as I could. I know it's short, but hopefully updates to this won't take an eternity from this point on.
The God of Pikmin