This is just a quick note.
While I was hoping to get the next chapter up by the 15th, work has gotten such that I won't be able to get it ready by then. However, I'm not planning on letting things slip too far like, oh, four years again. The next chapter will be rescheduled for this Sunday evening, and after that updates will return to the regular schedule.
Oh, and on one other note: if you're wondering, I haven't forgotten about my FanFiction.net account. I will be posting the chapters there as well in the near future, about after I've finished the Water Temple segment of the story.
Tuesday, August 31, 2010
Rainbow clouds scuttled across the sky as fierce winds filled with sand scratched their way through the atmosphere. Just above the horizon of dunes constantly shifting with the waves of moving air, Din’s magnificent Eye stared down upon the world with a bright orange hue as heat shimmered around its massive frame. Despite the countless natural indications of dawn, the heat that blanketed the ever-changing landscape cried out that it might as well be early afternoon.
Across the vast Gerudo Desert landscape, there were very few landmarks to cast a shadow other than high rising dunes and the sparse cactus plant not choked by the slinking sands. But on this scorching day, there was one particular shadow that moved autonomously, a shadow belonging to a young figure of a muscular build. His movements were slow and calculated, his progress aiming for a small collection of rocks seated in the vast wasteland that was the sand sea.
Upon reaching that island of boulders, the figure carefully scaled its semi-steep walls, his footsteps softly yet inaudibly scraping the sandy walls. Eventually he reached a small plateau halfway up the hill’s height, and the figure peered over the edge of that plateau cautiously and silently.
There! Just as he had guessed, a large hawk lizard lay motionless upon the plateau, bathing in the morning sun. Such a prize, the figure thought. Capturing it would surely impress his teachers, who had scolded him earlier. The lizard looked lazy and sloth-like, but they were in truth very fast creatures, able to dart out of harm’s way in the blink of an eye. If the figure could just get in close enough, however…
Slowly and meticulously, he raised his hand to the height of the plateau. He needed his hand to get close enough for his plan to work, and moving too fast would catch the lizard’s attention. A smile drifted onto the figure’s face. This lizard was not going to get away, he thought. Not a chance.
Just then, the lizard raised its head. The creature’s eyes didn’t see the figure yet, but it had heard something amiss. A glance behind it, and the hawk lizard would see him. His hand had been raised enough, he figured. It was now or never. With cat-like speed, the figure’s hand darted from behind the plateau’s edge toward the lizard…
…and the dagger in that hand pierced the lizard’s skull in one clean blow, killing the creature instantly. A look of perverse glee lit up his young face as the animal’s blood trickled from its wound and pooled onto the plateau, creating a dark circle of crimson around the beast’s carcass. The hawk lizard was not an aggressive animal, and it hadn’t showed any signs of attacking the young lad. No, it had been killed for one reason, and that reason flashed vividly in the sneer of that child.
The youth kept the blade inside the dead beast’s flesh for about half a minute – far longer than necessary – before he finally removed its blood-soaked surface. Satisfied with the kill, he reached out with his free hand and picked up the carcass by the neck. Blood continued to drain from the body, but the boy did not care. He simply maintained his smile as he examined his prize. Surely this would impress his instructors, killing one of the desert’s most nimble creatures…
The boy nearly fell the short distance back to the ground when he heard that loud cry below. He looked down to see a furious young woman, dressed in Gerudo garb, glaring angrily up at him.
“What do you think you are doing?” the Gerudo demanded, her arms crossed firmly across her bosom as she awaited an answer.
The boy didn’t answer directly but inside smiled and held out his prize kill in the woman’s direction. “Look what I caught…a hawk lizard…”
“I know what that is,” the woman snapped impatiently. “I’m asking why you wandered off to kill it.”
The youth’s smile was replaced by an unsure frown. He wasn’t being rewarded for his feat like he had anticipated – in fact, it seemed he was on the brink of being punished for it. But why? Surely they could recognize the brilliance of his skill…
“But it’s a hawk lizard…” he tried to reiterate, but the Gerudo was having none of it.
“I don’t care if it’s the head of Din herself! Get down from there now before I pull you down!”
Realizing his kill wasn’t going to impress her, the boy’s frown deepened. He looked at the dead lizard again for a brief moment before he suddenly tossed the carcass away in disgust, wanting to spit in its direction but fearing he would be chastised for doing even that.
“I’m waiting!” the Gerudo reminded him impatiently.
“I’m coming,” the boy muttered as he started his descent down the rock face. He reached the ground after a short minute, his footsteps no longer soft and cautious. All the while the heated glare from the Gerudo woman remained on him, refusing to lessen in pressure.
“How many times have we told you not to wander off without our permission?” the woman asked. When the boy didn’t answer, she snapped, “Answer me!”
“I don’t know,” the boy answered softly through gritted teeth.
“You’ve lost count? I’m sure you know why that is.” The Gerudo’s finger suddenly lifted and pointed in the direction from where the boy had approached the rocky hill. “Now march yourself back home. For your little stunt, you’re going to do extra reps with your sword in practice today. Do I make myself clear?”
The boy didn’t answer, causing the Gerudo to lean down and place her face near his ear. The anger in her voice was palpable through her veil.
“I said, ‘Do I make myself clear,’ Ganondorf?”
Finally the young boy responded, looking up at the woman with a blank expression on his face. “Crystal.”
Satisfied with his answer, the Gerudo looked away as she prepared to accompany him back home. It was her fortune that she turned away at that moment, for had she still looked down at the young Ganondorf, she would’ve seen eyes looking up at her with a hatred not seen in Hyrule for generations, a hatred long though impossible by a normal heart…
Link didn’t know how long he had been flying through that bizarre temple water tunnel or how far it had carried him so far, but he did know that he wanted the unexpected ride to stop immediately and let him off.
The strange system was obviously meant more for creatures of the water like the Zora, since he was surrounded by a raging torrent of water that carried him through wide stone pipes like a rubber ball without any control. He couldn’t see too clearly with the water rushing all around him, though he suspected Ruto was more than comfortable with the experience.
He, on the other hand, was miserable. He didn’t like being without control, and he could barely steady himself as the swirling water pushed him so easily from pipe to pipe. Several times he even started spinning around like a top, forcing him to close his eyes and hope he didn’t get dizzy. Even when he steadied himself he still felt nauseated. If he had to endure this ride for much longer, he feared he might retch…
Then, when he least expected it, the ride abruptly came to an end. Up ahead in the tunnel Link saw something that looked like a wall, and initially Link feared that he was being carried directly into a dead end. But up ahead he saw Ruto, and as she struck the wall it opened up like a trapdoor, letting her through without any harm. Link was suddenly reminded of the hinges he had seen inside the grated floor chamber, and he suddenly recognized their purpose as he passed the current grating. As he did, the water around him suddenly slowed, carrying him no farther and instead cradling him in the center of the tunnel. It was then that Link realized his head was pointing upward and the grating he had just passed was a floor.
Link hovered in the air for a few brief minutes surrounded by the gentle torrent of water when, without warning, the flow stopped. The hinged grating fell back into its floor position and Link followed soon after. He landed on the floor with a crack – the metallic mesh was surprisingly soft upon landing, but still hard enough to send a sting through his joints. He winced slightly as he grabbed his leg, though the pain didn’t last for that long.
Beside him, he saw Ruto, standing on her two feet without any noticeable trouble and looking like she had just gone for a morning swim.
Now Link knew that this place was designed more for people like the Zora. Even with his special water-breathing tunic, that experience was a bit of a nightmare. Shrugging, Link stood up and stretched out his back, pulling out some knots he had received during his journey.
“Are you all right, darling?” Ruto asked him as she tightly clutched his shield and the dagger in her hands.
“Yeah, I’m fine,” Link replied honestly. “Just a little dizzy, that’s all…”
The loud, snippy voice was so loud that Link’s ears nearly burst. By now he had noticed that they had stopped inside a chamber virtually identical to the one they had been in earlier, and from the dark roofless heights above flew a very peeved fairy, soaking wet from foot to wing.
“Navi…” Link started when the fey cut him off.
“Don’t you ever do anything like that again, do you hear me?” she snapped, waving her finger angrily in front of Link’s face. “The next time you even think about shooting me through a water pipe like a fish, I’m going to pop you one across the face so hard your grandchildren will feel it, got it?”
A soft giggling sound was heard by Link as Navi finished her brusque threat, prompting Link to look over at Ruto, who was holding her hand over her mouth as she tried to stifle a laugh. Was she finding amusement in Link being berated by his fairy? Or did her blush mean that she was more interested in a specific word that Navi had blurted out?
“Sorry, sorry,” Link uttered as sincerely as he could, trying to assure Navi that he didn’t do it intentionally. “Really, I’m sorry. I won’t do it again, I promise.” At least without warning her beforehand. “Now can we please let it go and move on? I don’t want to risk losing our chance to get the jump on whatever Ganondorf has hidden in here.”
Navi’s pink light flickered wildly as she seethed continuously for a few moments before finally she let herself calm down into a more stable glow. “Fine, fine, fine,” she sighed. “You know where to find me if you need me.” She disappeared under Link’s hat without another word.
Link shook his head gently and turned to Ruto. “You ready?” he asked.
The Zora held up the shield and the Kokiri blade that Link had given her. “Ready as I’ll ever be.”
“Good,” Link said, doing a quick check on his own person to make sure his little journey hadn’t loosened anything. Despite a few items being noticeably soggy, everything seemed to be securely in place. He double-checked on the Master Sword, though, just in case. Despite his ambivalence toward the blade, he’d rather have it right now than be without it. His abilities to manipulate energies within him, including the temple energies, would prove very useful should they run into Ganondorf’s minions on the way to finding this Morpha.
“Follow me,” Link said, motioning for Ruto to do just that. His footsteps upon the thin metal grating generated a soft squeak with each step, all the way up to the door that led outside the chamber. Beside the door was the room list he had seen earlier, and this time the “Sacred Pool” listing was bolded. This was the place, all right.
And if Link’s hunch was correct, they will find what they were looking for in here.
“Here we go…” Link said with a soft gulp in his voice. He felt Ruto nervously touch his arm as he put a hand on the door, and could tell that she was incredibly nervous. He would’ve said something to assure her, except they had already had their big talk earlier, so there was no use repeating everything he had already said.
Instead, he assured her with a gesture by placing a hand upon hers, looking up at her and smiling softly. Ruto was a bit caught off guard by the motion, but she seemed to appreciate it and smiled back, her shivering dying down a bit. Feeling a bit more confident, Link took a deep breath.
He then pushed the door open.
The door swung open slowly with the loudest groan that Link had ever seen. So much for any element of surprise, he sighed. He shrugged and hastened his pushing of the door a little more, moving it open enough for both him and Ruto to step through easily. The change in lighting meant they had to get used to the difference, but Link made sure he kept the Master Sword within reach, just in case. After what he had been through in the previous temples, he expected an army of Ganondorf’s vile creations to be nearby and try to stop him from reaching this Sacred Pool area.
So it was quite a surprise when Link and Ruto found themselves on a massive veranda that surrounded the temple’s water tunnel, inside an enormous chamber filled with crystal clear water…and nothing else.
“Eh?” Link uttered as he loosened the grip on his sword’s hilt, using his energy to look around the chamber. Outside of the familiar intricate carvings in the walls, the only thing notable about the chamber were several small square stone islands dotted around the chamber in a recognizable pattern. Looking a bit more closely, Link thought he saw some items lying on a few of the islands, like discarded blankets and abandoned bowls and the like. Beyond that…nothing. No monsters, no Ganondorf, no Morpha…absolutely nothing.
“…Is this the Sacred Pool?” Link blurted out, still surveying the area for something out of the ordinary.
“I…think so,” Ruto replied as she ventured away from the safety of Link to get a good look herself.
“I’m…a little confused,” the Hero of Time admitted, shrugging his shoulders for no reason. “I thought this would be where we’d find this Morpha creature…or at least something waiting for us. But all I see are these random islands and a lot of water.” Granted, the water was much more radiant and cleaner than the water he had been swimming in through the other parts of the Water Temple. Perhaps the water’s clarity was why this place was called the Sacred Pool?
“Maybe we’re in the wrong room?” Ruto offered, but Link shook his head.
“I don’t think so. This is the room that requires the Song of Time to enter. In the other temples, I found a key mechanism and the Megaton Hammer, so there must be something special about this room. Maybe it’s those islands…there’s some stuff lying on them. Maybe there’s something useful or important lying on them?”
Link wasn’t confident in his own question. None of the discarded items looked at all useful. Perhaps this place was once a pool where Zoras could rest and pray in a sacred place…it sounded like the most likely explanation. Still, that didn’t explain what was so special about this place, other than the clarity of the water. Frowning, he took another look around the room, this time seeing if the walls of the chamber might hold an answer.
It was then that he saw something familiar…
It could feel someone’s presence. There was more than one…yes, there was two, definitely two. And it had a feeling that one of them was the individual that had gotten away from it not too long ago. After obeying its master’s orders and extracting the dark essence within the boy, the essence had overpowered it and broke free, prompting a retreat back into the bowels of the Water Temple. Its masters had been very angry at this cowardice, and he had reprimanded it fiercely for its failure to contain the essence.
It had never felt so ashamed before.
It will make up this failure by killing the boy. The foolish boy who had dared enter this holy sanctuary now under the control of its master.
Slowly and carefully, it pulsed its way from the depths of the water toward the surface. Through the radiant clarity of the pool it could see the two individuals standing near the edge of the veranda. Just as it had suspected, one of the persons was the boy. Another was a Zora. Hadn’t the Zoras all been frozen? Why was one here?
It didn’t matter. The Zora will die as well.
Die by the very precious waters that sustained her people.
“What do you see, darling?” Ruto asked when Link made a soft yet noticeable sound of discovery.
“I see holes,” Link answered, pointing to the far wall across the pond. “See them? They’re incredibly small, but they’re there.”
Ruto peered over the pool for a few moments before she finally saw them, scattered across the chamber walls like irregular grime dots. “Yes, I see them, Link. What are they?”
“I think they’re tiny passages,” Link answered. “When I first came to the Water Temple to resc…to scout it out, I was attacked by one of Ganondorf’s tricks. Some gel monster called Morpha that appeared from tiny holes in the floor and wall. If those holes are indeed tunnels, then those tunnels must be connected to somewhere. I’m guessing this is where they’re connected.”
“That would make sense,” Ruto agreed, “but then where is this Morpha, Link?”
“That’s the big question,” admitted the Hero of Time, rubbing his hand over his mouth in frustration. “I was sure it would be here somewhere, but maybe it moved after it failed to kill me. If we can’t find anything here, then we might need to try another room.”
Link and Ruto were so focused on discussing their options that neither of them noticed the soft sound of something claw its way onto the veranda and slink across the floor. It inched its way toward the pair like a serpent, taking care not to move too quickly lest it give its position away. Eventually, it found its way to Link’s feet, and sensing the time was right to strike, it suddenly lashed out…
“Darling! Look out!”
Before Link could turn around and respond to Ruto’s warning, the Zora abruptly charged forward and pushed against him hard with the shield he had given her. The Hero of Time staggered backwards and fell to the floor on his back as Ruto struggled to regain her balance…moments before something thick and firm whipped around her leg like a whip, gripping her ankle as tightly as an iron shackle.
It was a blue tentacle…the same kind of tentacle that had ensnared Link during his first visit to the temple.
And it was dragging Ruto to the water’s edge.
“Link!” Ruto screamed, her eyes wide with terror as she tried to crab something to hold onto. She had dropped the shield and Kokiri blade, and all she could do was claw desperately at the stone floor of the platform. “Link! Help me!”
The Hero of Time didn’t stay down on the floor for long. He hastily unsheathed the Master Sword and rushed to his feet, pushing himself quickly over to the hapless Ruto. Just before the tentacle dragged the Zora into the water, Link aimed and swung at the tentacle with a powerful strike. The sickening sound it made as the blade cut through it was oddly satisfying.
A loud and angry yet strangely muffled roar of pain was heard from somewhere as the still-functioning part of the tentacle hastily retreated into the water, leaving its severed limb on the platform. Link made sure that Ruto was okay before he hurried to the veranda’s edge and peered into the water. He hoped to catch a glimpse of the creature – Morpha…it had to be Morpha – inside the water, but peculiarly enough he couldn’t see anything. Was Morpha invisible? Was it using some kind of camouflage…?
Ruto’s voice cut through Link’s mind as he turned around rapidly, wondering if the monster was trying to attack them from the rear. To his amazement, though, Ruto was pointing not at the pool but at the severed tentacle. Or what was left of it.
It had melted…or rather, it had liquefied into nothing but water. The same water that filled the sacred pool all around them. So that’s why Link couldn’t find this Morpha. It wasn’t hiding inside the pool.
It was the pool.
But then…that meant…
Just then, the room started to shake.
Link’s silent expletive inside his mind was hardly enough to do justice to the gravity of the situation they were in. A series of loud bursts echoed throughout the massive chamber as a series of tentacles burst from the pool in several locations, each one flailing about wildly and angrily. And these tentacles were thicker and appeared more aggressive than the ones that Link had severed only a few moments ago. In other words…Morpha was not pleased. At all.
“Ruto! Get back inside the tunnel!” He shouldn’t have brought her out here. There was no way he could protect her against so many tentacles, and there was no way she could defend herself, even with the shield and small sword. Hopefully she could get to the tunnel quickly so Link could deal with this menace and not have to worry about her.
But Ruto was slow to get up, and Link quickly saw why: the tentacle had twisted her ankle and she was struggled to even get to her feet.
“Shit!” this expletive was loud and clear, and Link said it again for good measure when one of the many tentacles that had popped up across the room started to swing downward, aimed straight at the injured Zora.
“Argh!” Link growled as he zipped over to Ruto’s side and swung his blade at the attacking tentacle. The Master Sword cut cleaning through the tip of Morpha’s appendage, generating a loud hiss as the water in the tentacle burst apart like a small bomb flower had exploded inside it. That same loud yet muted roar was heard again, and Link reflexively looked around for its source, but he couldn’t find anything except Morpha’s tentacles. What exactly was making that noise…?
“Darling!” Ruto cried, looking up at her husband-to-be. “Don’t worry about me! You have to defend yourself! I…”
“Damn it Ruto, don’t say stupid things right now!” Link snapped, not in the mood to play “my life isn’t worth defending” at the moment. “Just get back and try to crawl your way to the door. I’ll watch you and protect you.”
“Just do it!”
Ruto didn’t have time to be silenced by Link’s assertiveness or respond with another personal plea before Morpha again attacked, this time with two tentacles simultaneously. Annoying, Link raised his right hand and released a stream of Din’s Fire in one tentacle’s direction while swinging his blade with his left at the other. The limb touched by Link’s blade exploded as before, while the one touched by the magic of the goddesses sizzled into vapor.
That roar again…and another pair of tentacles burst from the surprisingly calm waters of the sacred pool.
Morpha didn’t wait for very long to try attacking again, this time sending three tentacles Link’s way. The Hero of Time couldn’t even be bothered to raise the Master Sword this time: a well-aimed blast of Din’s Fire evaporated all three of them instantly. Of course, it only annoyed Link that several fresh tentacles appeared to take their place.
What next, Link thought as he tightly gripped the hilt of his sword. Four tentacles? This Morpha wasn’t exactly very smart if it was just going to send tentacles his way, adding one each tie. Then again, Link didn’t know his limit, and unless he figured out how to actually damage this creature, he was in a world of trouble…
“No! Link, behind…!”
Ruto’s abrupt warning came too late as Link felt a thick and powerful grip wrap around his waist. He looked down to see one of the tentacles tightening around his waist, moments before it suddenly lifted him into the air with the greatest of ease. This seemed Morpha wasn’t stupid, after all, not when it could distract Link so easily like that…
“Darling!” Ruto shrieked, trying to reach for her beloved with her outstretched hand. A futile gesture as Link was tossed about into the air by the flailing limb of Morpha, whipping him back and forth like a rattle. To his credit, Link did manage to keep a firm grip on the Master Sword while being thrown back and forth by Morpha’s ferocity. Was the beast trying to tear his body apart with such violent throws? Right now it was only making Link sick, but any more of this and he might as well be nothing more than a rag doll…
Suddenly, the creature’s tentacle retracted, dragging the hapless Hero of Time into the Sacred Pool’s waters. The icy cold liquid almost instantly surrounded his body as he was pulled beneath the surface, sinking at a rate that suggested the beast’s grip was still around him despite him being surrounded by the waters. The first thought that entered his mind was that Morpha was trying to drown him, but he then remembered his special clothing and held his breath. It didn’t take long for his blue tunic to cling to his skin and start the process of breathing for him.
If this was Morpha’s attempt at drowning him, it was not going to work…
The sensation hit Link like a powerful blow to the head; the rich, refreshing oxygen being pumped into his bloodstream by the blue tunic suddenly stopped, as if his entire body had been wrapped in thick hide. The cold waters around his body started to burn as his lungs swelled with stale air, unable to release his breath for fear of filling themselves with water. It took him a moment to realize that Morpha had surrounded him with the gel-like substance that had formed the tentacles, and his suit was unable to breath in any more water.
And what’s more…he was being crushed.
He felt the pinch a few moments into the drowning sensation, but it was painful enough to catch his attention. The feeling of his skin being squeezed by outside pressure, like being beaten repeatedly all over, was draped all over him inside that cold and cruel prison. Morpha wasn’t just trying to drown him…it was trying to crush him. Link was unable to breathe, and he could no longer struggle.
The life inside him was slowly being forced out of him.
No…dear gods, no…
It was then, during that hapless moment, that Link’s wide-eyed gaze saw something other than the tranquil scene of blue death before his eyes. It drifted painfully slowly into view, like a massive insect without wings. It had no definite shape, looking like a speck of blood floating aimlessly inside a pool of water. But this “speck” was far uglier than blood: it was a twisted mass of raw flesh and unspeakable magic, a formless lump that floated in the sacred pool without worry or a care. It reminded Link of the Flare Dancer cores he had seen in the Fire Temple, and the way it flexed its disgusting form in the waters told him that this “core” was exactly what he had been looking for.
Link didn’t know why the core had decided to show itself now, since it clearly could control the pool’s waters from afar. Maybe it had come to gloat, to witness its hated enemy die with triumph. How a hideous mass like this could possibly do something like that was left up to Link’s imagination…if he could spare the energy for that, of course.
He still had to get out of this watery grave. If he didn’t do something, Morpha was going to suffocate him…or crush him…depending on which succeeded first…and by the feel of things, he would likely be flattened before he blacked out…
Oh, no…Navi…she was still under Link’s hat…
“Link, what’s going on? Something’s wrong, I know it! Something’s pressing against me! Something’s pressing me!”
The tiny sound waves of Navi’s horrified cry somehow managed to reach Link’s ears through the thick gelatin that surrounded him, and he could hear every tiny tremble of horror that the fey released as Morpha’s compression was crushing her as well.
“Link! Link! It hurts! It hurts! Link! Help me! Please! Link! Liiiiiiink!”
The fairy’s painful cries somehow gave Link a bit of extra strength, a bit of clarity that he needed to focus on the task of getting out of this mess. He wasn’t going to die like this…not to a damned ugly blob like Morpha. And he was certainly not going to let it kill Navi…like Hael he would!
But what could he do? He was unable to move at all, and it wouldn’t belong before he would either break or suffocate. Even his Master Sword was useless…
Wait…the Master Sword…
If Morpha was like all of other Ganondorf’s monsters, then they might be susceptible to the temple energies. And through some miracle, Link had managed to keep a grip on his sword this entire time. It was a long shot, but better than no shot at all.
Hold on, Navi…just a little longer…
Using his remaining focus, Link called forth the energies of the Temple of Light, Forest, and Fire, ordering them to surge throughout his body and into the blade of the legendary weapon. The desperate gamble was not without its consequences, as Link could feel his strength drain from his body more quickly than before thanks to calling forth these energies. For all he knew, he was giving Morpha an enjoyable display of futility before he drew his last breath and passed away…
That scream again…the same scream Link had heard on the veranda a few times…this time Link heard it loud and clear as the blob-like core floating in front of Link’s eyes started to quiver angrily. Around him, the gel that firmly held Link in place began to boil, as if a boiling hot piece of molten metal had been thrust into the pool. The sound was especially prominent around the Master Sword, which glowed with a fierce light with mixtures of white, green, and red radiance. Morpha was apparently struggling to maintain its grip on the Hero of Time, but it was unable to keep the painful pinching taut…
Suddenly, the thick gel that surrounded Link shattered, breaking into a thousand pieces and allowing icy cold water to flow around the Hylian’s skin once more. Almost immediately Link’s tunic latched into his skin, and refreshing air flowed into his blood. Link’s consciousness snapped awake, his drained strength returned, and he found himself able to move again, the gelatin no longer thick enough to hinder his movements.
And Navi was safe as well, it seemed, if she could scream like that.
The first thing Link tried to do was swim over to Morpha, who was still roaring in pain from Link’s unexpected move. But Link’s swimming was too slow, and the core hastily retreated from the Hero of Time by darting away from the reach of the Master Sword. Angry but unable to do anything about it, Link pointed himself up and started swimming for the surface. He obviously wasn’t going to catch Morpha like this…he needed to formulate a new strategy before the creature went after him and Ruto again…
Oh, gods, Ruto…was Ruto still all right…?
Link broke the surface a few moments later and he quickly gulped in the fresh air as soon as it was safe to do so. He hurriedly looked around and saw that he had been taken quite a distance away from the veranda, but nearby one of those small stone islands was within reach. Realizing it would be safer out of the water, Link hurriedly swam over to the island and pulled himself onto it. He accidentally knocked off what appeared to be a decayed bowl and a rotten feathered quill pen, but he paid no attention to them as he stood up, the Master Sword still glowing hotly with the energies of the temple sages.
“Ruto!” he called out to the veranda, hoping she hadn’t been dragged down as well to be crushed and suffocated. “Ruto, are you there? Are you all right…?”
“Darling!” came the princess’s familiar voice. “I’m okay!” A blue hand waved from the veranda showing Link that Ruto was still very much on dry land, albeit still incapacitated with her sore ankle. The Hero of Time breathed a sigh of relief.
“Ruto! You need to get into that tunnel!” he called out. “I can’t reach you from here! If Morpha attacks you, there’s nothing I can do!”
“What happened?” Ruto asked, ignoring Link’s plea for her to take shelter inside the tunnel chamber. “I saw you pulled under and…I thought you had been killed…”
“Morpha controls this entire pond!” Link yelled back hastily, hoping a quick answer might prompt the Zora to hide. “It’s a giant blob-like mass that can somehow control the water as if it were its own body! That means it can reach anywhere…both you and me at the same time! Now get moving, before Morpha tries something else…!”
Link suddenly felt something firm grasp at his feet, and when he looked down he was startled to see that Morpha had already made his move. A hill-like collection of water from the pond had swelled around the small island, engulfing the square stone and Link’s feet and lower legs. Now it had hardened into the same gelatin that had encased him underwater moments earlier, essentially trapping him where he stood.
Enraged, Link swung his sword at the hill, cutting through the water with all of the power of the temple sages. The gel instantly shattered again, but Morpha was apparently more resilient this time around. As soon as the gel broke, another swell of water arouse around the island and froze again, returning Link to his captive state. A second attempt at breaking the entrapment resulted in Morpha once again restoring the gel-like shackles.
But that wasn’t all that Morpha was doing. As Link desperately hacked at the swell, several tentacles burst from the waters around him, even thicker and deadlier-looking than the ones from earlier. And out of the corner of his eye, Link saw in horror as the tips of each tentacle solidified into a series of sharp daggers and spikes, much like the one that Morpha had tried to use to kill Link after extracting the Dark Link essence.
Morpha was not playing around anymore.
In a panic Link again started hacking away at the shackles of water around his legs, hearing Morpha’s pained scream with each slice, but the monster was enduring the pain to ensure that the Hero of Time was going nowhere. Realizing he couldn’t escape, Link looked up in an attempt to face the tentacles themselves, but he quickly figured out he couldn’t stop so many tentacles at once, not with his sword or with Din’s Fire. The spiked-tipped limbs were beginning to encircle the trapped Hero of Time, ready to simultaneously cut him down with one coordinated attack.
And nearby, floating a short distance away from the island, the Morpha core floated mockingly in the pool, ready to witness the demise of its hated enemy.
The color in Link’s face drained as he watched in horror while the tentacles readied their strike. He couldn’t die like this…he mustn’t die like this…but there was nothing he could do…nothing he could…
Link’s gaze quickly darted from Morpha’s tentacles over to the veranda. His heart filled with fear when he suspected what had happened, but his eyes matched that shock when he confirmed what was going on. It was Ruto.
She had jumped into the sacred pool.
Link somehow managed to forget the sea of deadly tentacles surrounding him as he tried to call out to the Zora princess, begging her to stop. But either she couldn’t hear him or she was ignoring him. Despite her sprained ankle, she was swimming through the water with a surprising amount of speed, and in her hand Link could make out the dulled glint of his Kokiri blade. And it didn’t take a genius to realize where she was heading.
“No! Ruto! Don’t! Get away! Morpha will kill you! Ruto! Ruto! No!”
Regardless whether Ruto could hear him or not, it no longer mattered.
Morpha had noticed the Zora heading towards it.
Sheik hated expecting the worst, because often the worst would be waiting for him once it crossed his mind. But he couldn’t help but expect the worst as he headed over the hill along the path that led to Kakariko Village’s enormous graveyard. And sure enough, the moment he could get a good look at the cemetery from atop that hill, he saw exactly what he expected.
The Sheikah first noticed Dampé’s shack lying as a pile of rubble near the graveyard’s closest border. He immediately thought of the gravedigger and wondered whether he had escaped, but something told Sheik that that wasn’t possible. Dampé was a very peculiar character who took immense pride in his upkeep of the cemetery, and Sheik suspected the little man would rather defend the graves than run. Worry crept into Sheik’s mind as he hoped nothing had happened to the gravedigger, but he quickly remembered he had other things to worry about.
By the looks of things, the necromancers had already claimed the graveyard as their own. Shrill screams erupted all over the corpse-filled meadow from various points, and the air smelled of a thick, spiritual miasma that tasted like poison. But the biggest indicator that made Sheik wince with concern was the sight of dozens of bonfires that glowed even in the daylight with a creepy radiance.
That could only mean one thing…
“They’re almost ready for the ceremony. I have to stop them…”
A sense of urgency rising inside, Sheik started down the hill towards the graveyard. He only hoped his plan to stop these creatures would work…
“Link! What’s going on out there? Let me out of here right now! What’s going on?”
Shut up Navi, Link wanted to scream to his friend trapped underneath his cap, but he decided against it, his focus fixed on the approaching Tektites. Their lone, almost blind eyes seemed to pulse with anticipation as they clawed their way across the floor at an increasingly frantic pace toward the Hero of Time and the Zora princess. Instinctively Link took a step back, but the force of the water against his body reminded him of the futility of running away or fighting these creatures. Ruto, meanwhile, clung tightly to her beloved’s arm, knowing he couldn’t flee but not willing to leave him.
Ideas circulated through Link’s mind. What could he do to escape this situation? Din’s Fire was useless underwater…Farore’s Wind gave him speed, not strength…Nayru’s Love would protect them for a while, but only protect, not escape. The temple energies? They seemed to empower his sword more than his body. And all his weapons were useless in this environment – the Master Swod, the Megaton Hammer, his boomerang, his bow and arrows, his hookshot, his bombs, his…
Wait a minute…
“Ruto! Hold onto me!”
Ruto didn’t need to be told; she was already clutching her fiancé securely with one arm around his left arm and the other his waist. With the Tektites’ snapping jaws almost close enough for the Hylian to make out the tiny hooks on each tooth, Link wasted no time in reaching for his hookshot with his right hand and raised the weapon above his head.
He didn’t even blink as he pointed the head straight up and pressed the trigger, sending the arrowhead and chain surging through the water with a muffled bang.
As Link called this out to the Zora, Link suddenly realized he didn’t know whether the hookshot’s chain was long enough to reach the ceiling of the chamber – and even if it was, the water pressure might slow it down enough for…
Link really had to stop worrying like this.
Before he could get into an all-encompassing anxiety fit, the hookshot broke through the surface of the water above and sank into the stone roof of the chamber without any trouble. The Tektites were within arm’s reach of the Hylian and Zora when the arrow pierced the stone, but they had no chance to make an attack of any kind before the chain grew taut and the hookshot’s powerful spring recoiling spring took over.
“Darling, what was…woah!”
Ruto’s squeal of astonishment floated through the water just as she and Link were lifted off the ground, pulled towards the ceiling as the hookshot’s chain began wrapping itself up with its familiar clack. Ruto obviously was stunned by this mode of transportation, but even Link, who had “flown” like this several times before, watched in amazement as they soared away from the once threatening Tektites. Apparently, watching the scenery fly by underwater was different than watching it fly by in breathable air…
…which abruptly surrounded the Hero of Time and princess as the two burst through the water’s surface with a silent splash. An instant later, Link felt the suckling blue cloth that had helped him stay alive underwater fall off his skin without ever indicating it had ever been wet. As his attire felt like regular clothes again, Link also realized holding his breath felt like…well, holding his breath. With a loud gasp he released a long overdue exhalation, and immediately his body took over as his lungs started functioning once more.
He managed to draw breath two, maybe three times by the time the hookshot carried him and the Zora princess to the top of the chamber, ending their swift ride to safety with an unsteady jolt. And then there the two of them hung like a desultory chandelier, with Link holding onto the lone anchor point with a partially damaged hand and Ruto latching onto his waist with the tenacity of a parasite.
The two remained suspended there for what seemed like an hour, but in reality it took about half a minute for Ruto to be the first to snap out of their stupor.
“What…what in the name of the Three Goddesses was that?” she stammered, still unable to comprehend what had just happened.
Link could only grin at his fiancée. “A lucky shot, I guess.”
Ruto opened her mouth several times to respond, but couldn’t find the words, which gave Link a chance to get a bearing on his surroundings.
Just as he had surmised, a large air pocket topped the enormous chamber, creating an indoor lake of sorts. The pillar-like structure in the room’s center broke through the water’s surface and reached all the way to the ceiling, and Link could see doors and windows embedded in the building that befitted a land-walking Hylian more than a water-swimming Zora. More importantly, a platform ran around the edge of the structure just above the water, like a sidewalk without rails. The platform looked large enough for the entire Kokiri population to walk around comfortably with enough room for at least a dozen Gorons to curl up and sleep, and as far as Link could tell there weren’t any enemies to be seen.
So now he and Ruto just had to get onto the platform, and all his heavy belongings would ensure swimming there would be a nightmare. There was only one thing to do…
“Ruto, we going to get onto that platform…you see it?”
The Zora nodded as she eyed the dais quietly.
“Good. I’m going to let go of you and drop you into the water, since you can swim there, no problem.”
“But what about you, darling?” Ruto asked, looking concerned. “You’re too heavy to swim there yourself.”
“I know, that’s why I’m going to try and swing over there. It shouldn’t be too difficult, it’s not…that far away. I’ve had worse falls…I think.”
Ruto didn’t seem too convinced. “I don’t know…maybe we should both fall and I’ll help you swim the short distance there…”
“I’ll sink like a stone once I hit the water,” Link pointed out. “This is the only way. Trust me.”
The apprehension in Ruto’s face didn’t fade at Link’s halfhearted reassurances, but she knew he was right. “All right…just don’t make me jump in after you.”
“Sure thing,” Link nodded, reminding himself of how Ruto saved him the last time.
Ruto glanced down at the deep blue water, as if rethinking her acceptance of her beloved’s idea, before she looked at the Hero of Time and flashed a toothy grin, her indication that she was ready.
“Here we go,” Link stated as he squeezed the small on Ruto’s back assuredly…only assuredly. “On the count of three. One…two…three!”
The Zora actually left Link’s arms a split second before Link reached three, her arms squeezing Link’s torso tightly before releasing her grip with an abrupt push. As she fell, she contorted her body with the gracefulness of a diving bird, her magnificent fins flapping in the wind like a pair of delicate wings as she aimed her upper body towards the water headfirst. She broke the water’s surface with a silent splash and submerged beneath the gentle ripples she created before her slender body arched towards the platform in the chamber’s center. Link watched quietly as his fiancée glided through water with ease until she pulled herself from the pool onto the dais quickly and fluently, the water dripping from her body once again highlighting her gorgeous curves.
Link tried his best not to think about such things – for one thing, Navi was right under his hat – and waited until Ruto was safely on the platform before making his attempt to reach the stage. He tried pulling down on the hookshot chain to give himself a longer pivot, but the weapon’s spring refused to budge. Realizing he would have to make due with what he had, the Hero of Time started kicking his legs back and forth, generating some momentum.
As Ruto watched in worried silence, her fiancé suddenly released the hookshot and sent himself into a freefall towards the platform. Link half-expected to miss the stage, but such a reaction was not necessary in this case. He landed on the platform’s sturdy stone frame with a muffled thud, bending his knees to take in most of the shock. He then remained motionless in a kneeled position for a moment before finally standing up, checking himself over until he was satisfied.
He didn’t have time to turn around before he felt two blue, wet arms wrap around his shoulders and cling to his neck like a noose. “Are you all right, darling?” Ruto queried almost forcefully as she did her best to throw the Hero of Time off balance. “You almost scared me with that jump. Don’t ever do that again, you hear? I don’t want you to break a leg, or worse…”
“I’m fine, for crying out loud!” he screamed in his mind as he tried to wrestle the Zora from his neck. “Geez, you’re almost worse than a bloody Dodongo…”
As if Ruto wasn’t bothering him enough, Navi finally realized she could escape from underneath Link’s cap and darted into view at a fierce velocity. She took in her new surroundings for only a brief moment before she turned her attention to the Hero of Time, who was still trying to claw Ruto’s arms away from his windpipe.
“You! Do you know how uncomfortable it was underneath there?” she barked, pointing an accusing finger dangerously close to his eye. “ That air tasted like a rotten Deku nut, and whatever stunt you just pulled sent me crashing against your thick skull. If you’ll just stop making out with every girl you see and for once think about how I feel…”
Now that was cold….
Luckily for Link, before Ruto could inquire about Navi’s statement concerning “every girl” with which he’s made out, he and his two accompanying ladies interrupted by pressing danger.
A loud splash indicative of something breaking the water’s surface from underneath drew the three’s attention to the water, and they were in time to watch two rather angry-looking Tektites spring from the pool with the agility of a locust and land on the dais a short distance away from where Link and Ruto were standing. Despite their blindness, both of their single bloodshot eyes stared directly at the Hylian and Zora – a faint trickling sensation down Link’s chest reminded the Hero of Time why.
A sharp insect-like screech scratched Link’s ears as the Tektites’ incisors clamped violently against their saliva-soaked jaws, a cue that Navi understood as her signal to hide once again underneath Link’s cap. As the fey disappeared from view, Ruto released her grip around the Hero of Time’s neck and huddled behind her fiancé, crouching nervously. Apparently she knew enough not to hang onto her beloved like a chain when he had more pressing matters to attend to, such as exterminating these bugs.
Sighing, Link extracted the Master Sword from its sheath and directed its tip towards the Tektites. The Tektites responded by taking a cautious step backwards, but their jaws didn’t yield in their incessant snapping.
He turned his head slightly to the anxious Zora behind him. “You know the drill, stay behind me.”
He spotted a nod of acknowledgement and once again turned to face the Tektites…just as one of the giant insects scurried across the dais with the speed of a twister snake and made a diving leap for Link’s head.
“Damn, they’re fast,” Link thought calmly as he swung his blade…
The ground seemed to almost rupture as the Iron Knuckle stormed impatiently past one of the many bonfires now lit throughout the cemetery. The slight tremors caused by his thunderous footsteps were enough to rattle the enormous logs used to construct the bonfires, prompting one of the necromancers to scream restlessly as it tried to steady the logs and prevent the structure from collapsing. The supernatural-like fire that devoured the wood burned the necromancer’s hands in the process, but the blind creature didn’t notice or care.
Noticeably irritated, the Iron Knuckle swung its hand and deliberately missed the necromancer after it finished steadying the bonfire. “Make these things stronger, you idiot! If this thing collapses during the ceremony, I’m going to rip out your throat. Understand?”
The necromancer crouched in fear at the Knuckle’s threat and screamed a reply in its blood-curling voice.
“Good!” the Knuckle snapped as it lowered its hand. “Now get back to work! I want five more bonfires made before we begin!”
After screaming another response, the necromancer picked up its peculiar orb and then scuttled off as fast as it could to help the other necromancers finish construction of the woodpiles.
The Iron Knuckle made a spitting motion in the necromancer’s direction as it continued walking down a pathway to the edge of the graveyard. “Pah! Filthy creatures…I almost wish Lord Ganondorf hadn’t created them. What good are they for besides this stupid ceremony? They can’t even lift a bloody dagger. All they care about are those stupid spheres…”
The Knuckle got cut off as its foot struck a tombstone it failed to notice. Agitated, the armor swung at the stone slab with its enormous axe and tore the stone apart with a loud crunch. Satisfied, the Knuckle continued on its way.
“Still, this is Lord Ganondorf’s plan, and what he says must come to pass,” the Iron Knuckle mused to itself. The creature then chuckled. “Heh…I wish I could see the look on that Hero of Time’s face when he sees what we’re about to release. I’m sure he’ll cry like a sandworm before he dies facing it. And then with him out of the way, Lord Ganondorf can focus on finding that accursed Zelda and her pathetic resistance.”
The Iron Knuckle’s thoughts ended just as it reached the end of the graveyard, a large fenced-off section with one border being the edge of a crag from a nearby hill. Curiosity set inside the Knuckle’s mind as it wondered what this section was for. This segment was nowhere near the entrance of the “prison,” but it seemed to hold some kind of importance. Deciding to see what was inside, the Knuckle took one glance back to make sure the necromancers were still working before it entered the fenced-off plot of land.
Right away the Knuckle noticed the gravestones were in a higher concentration than outside in the main cemetery, suggesting this place really was important. The creature knelt down and tried reading the tombstone inscriptions to see what they said, but neither the names nor the epitaphs said anything of significance. Curiously, though, a lot of the names had military nomenclatures, many of them of high rankings.
“Maybe this is a military graveyard,” the Knuckle pondered as it approached the far edge of the graveyard section. “How pathetic.”
That same line of thought ran through the amour’s mind as it studied more of the gravestones. Most of buried were indeed military men, though several stones did display the gravesites of high ranking court officials. Still, the Knuckle found nothing particularly fascinating about this place, and after a few minutes of grave-reading it started to consider heading back to the necromancers to see if they had finished their task.
But just before it could change that consideration into action, something caught the Iron Knuckle’s eye: a gravestone larger than all the others, a stone large enough to contain a body and covered in intricate carvings on all sides.
“Hmm, what’s this?” the armor muttered as it thudded its way to the stone and knelt down. “Pretty fancy tombstone here. Must’ve got a load to make. Shame that stupid gravedigger didn’t leave to enjoy the fruits of his labor, ha! Now, let’s see…Here lies William Mathias Gammon, the…what the? This can’t be right…this is the grave site of…?”
A voice behind the Iron Knuckle cut off his train of thought. A little surprised, the Knuckle stood up and turned around to find one of the Iron Knuckles it had left behind in Kakariko Village, standing within arm’s reach of him.
“What do you want?” the head Iron Knuckle demanded. “I thought I told you to stay in the village and prevent anyone from leaving…”
“That’s why I’m here, sir! The villagers are leading some kind of revolt. The Moblins and the other Knuckle are keeping them at bay, but we need your help.”
The head Knuckle blinked silently at its underling’s plea. Something didn’t feel right…
“What happened to your voice? I thought you were Gerudian, but now you sound like a Hylian.”
The underling Knuckle remained still for a moment before it spoke again, only this time to itself and in a flash of disbelief and anger. “Bah, stupid accent. Should’ve just got him in the back when he wasn’t looking.”
The head Iron Knuckle’s fist tightened around its axe. “Who are you?” it demanded.
The minion responded by raising its own axe and bringing its sharp edge down toward the head Knuckle’s helmet.
Link groaned heavily as he dunked the Master Sword in the water surrounding the platform again, hoping it would work this time. But the waters alone were unable to remove the sticky juices hardening on the blade’s surface, which was exactly what Link didn’t want. Growling, Link reached into one of his bags around his waist and pulled out a cloth. He wetted the cloth in the waters before he started to wipe the yellow sap from his sword’s surface.
“Why can’t your blood be more like a Hylian’s?” the Hero of Time complained as he stared momentarily at the hacked carcasses of the Tektites, lying a short distance away on the dais. Their armored bodies shattered and their legs snapped, the Tektites were barely recognizable as their carcasses reclined in a pool of their own golden juices. One of the insects had its eye punctured and red pus flowing from its socket, while the other’s eye was spared but now stared listlessly at the one who had so easily killed them.
“But noooooo, you had to have blood that sticks to my weapon like bloody tree sap, and of course I’ll have to get my clothes cleaned once this is all done,” the Hylian continued carping as he wiped his blade as thoroughly as he could. “And you didn’t even put up much of a fight for all this trouble. How pathetic can you get? Buggers…”
As the ooze finally started to slide off Link’s sword, two damp arms glided past his neck and slid down his chest, their fingertips feeling the ridges of his ribcage through his shirt. “Forget about them, darling,” cooed Ruto as her lips brushed against his ear. “They’re not worth your time.”
“As if I didn’t already know that,” Link’s thoughts sighed as he finished cleaning his blade as best he could. He squeezed his cloth dry and returned it to his pouch before sending the Master Sword back into its sheath. He then made an attempt to stand, but Ruto’s clinging made it difficult. At least she wasn’t choking him this time, thankfully.
“So, where to now, Link?” Ruto asked almost too gleefully, pressing her bosom firmly against Link’s back.
“Wherever this thing Ganondorf called Morpha is, I guess,” Link answered as he tried to unhook Ruto’s arm from his neck, this time more successfully than last time. “If the Forest and Fire Temples weren’t flukes, Ganondorf uses really powerful creatures kept in each temple to maintain a lock on each temple’s awakening. This Morpha definitely fits the profile.”
The Hylian scratched his head with a sigh. “Unfortunately, I have no clue where he is.” He turned around to look the Zora princess in the eye. “I don’t suppose you know your way around this place, do you?”
Ruto, who’s face had appeared slightly playful, gave a more serious expression as she answered. “Unfortunately, I don’t. My father never took me here before or even talked about this place to me. I’m just as lost as you are.”
Link frowned as he kicked an imaginary stone. “Perfect. Then we’re no better than blind ducks walking through a battlefield. Morpha could find us before we find it…” Recalling what happened the last time, Link felt the urge to scan the room for small holes in the walls where the creature’s jelly-like substance had appeared. A growing tenseness did manifest in his body when he noticed several identical cavities littered around the room, but thankfully there was no indication of Morpha.
Either the monster was waiting for the right time to attack…or its unfortunate encounter with his shadow counterpart had made it a little cautious…
A soft grunt escaped his lips as he rubbed his forehead with his fingertips. “Bah, whatever. We’ll just have to make due with what we have.” He glanced around the chamber for a moment, looking for anything he may have missed during his initial scan. But aside from the tiny holes that threatened an attack from Morpha, the chamber walls held nothing except the intricate carvings and fiery torches that typified the other temples. Aside from the corridor underneath the indoor pool, there didn’t appear to be any other entrance or exit. No doorway, or window…
Just then, Link remembered there were other entrances, but not in the chamber walls…
“Come on, Ruto,” Link said as he sheathed his still somewhat dirty blade and started walking along the dais.
“Where are we going?” the princess inquired as shuffled alongside her beloved.
“To look for a way into this place,” the Hylian replied, pointing to the pillar-like building that held the balcony on which they walked. “There’s a reason why the front door to this temple leads to this room, and I’m sure we’ll find it if we look around a little.”
Sure enough, as the two of them rounded the corner on the dais, Link immediately spotted something engraved in the architecture that differed from the usual intricate carvings and the holes that threatened an appearance from Morpha: a door surrounded by plagues and a heavy frame, inserted in the very center of the wall. Just as Link had figured, this door had to be an entrance for Hylians, akin to the scattered Zora entrances in the pillar beneath the water’s surface.
He quickly glanced around the room – partially as a safety precaution, partially to make sure the door was the only thing of note in the area – before he led the princess to the portal: a thick-looking stone slab adorned with nothing but typical wear and tear from frequent past use. At first Link didn’t know how to open the latch-less door, but a gentle nudge against the slab with his palm revealed that it swung inward on hidden suicide hinges. Taking this as a sign that things were looking up, the Hero of Time entered the portal, leading the Zora princess with him.
The inside of the pillar proved to be very different from what Link had imagined; rather than a room, it felt more like a segment of a hollow tube. Curiously, the interior took the shape of a circular pipe rather than the tetragon exterior walls, and instead of a ceiling the inside was roofed by darkness leading who knew where. Even the floor had its own quirk: it was a grating, porous enough for water to flow through but closely knit enough for a person to walk on comfortably. A quick inspection revealed that portions of the floor were attached to hinges that lifted the pieces upward, though the purpose of this wasn’t clear since it would take a lot of effort to lift the grating sections from either above or beneath.
As for the furnishings, there weren’t any – the room was seemingly devoid of anything that resembled furniture and decorations. But as he stepped further into the circular chamber with the Zora princess, Link’s brief scan of the area brought to his attention a lone exception to that thought: a metallic plaque attached to the far end of the well. Curious, he led Ruto to the tablet so he could get a better look at it.
He grimaced when he tried reading it. “I can’t read this…this lettering’s too eroded to make out,” he sighed. “It’s nothing but jibberish…”
“Wait, let me see,” Ruto politely interjected as she leaned forward to get a better look at the plaque. After a moment’s hesitation she grinned slightly before looking at her betrothed. “No wonder you couldn’t read it, silly. This isn’t eroded Hylian text. It’s perfectly understandable Zoran text. Though it is a little eroded, I’ll admit, but nothing I can’t read.”
“Is that right?” Link said, feeling a little relieved and a little silly for his incorrect evaluation of the plaque. “Well, could you please read it for me, if you don’t mind?”
“Not at all,” Ruto grinned before returning her attention to the tablet, taking a few moments to study the lettering. As she did, Link took the brief opportunity to take one final look around the room. Everything was as bland and ordinary as before, though now he did finally notice that beneath the hinged grating of a floor was more water. Obviously the grated floor had something to do with this water, but he couldn’t decipher the purpose at the present time…
“Finished,” Ruto uttered before turning to the Hero of Time with a proud grin on her face. “The writing appears to be directions for getting around and about the temple.”
“Directions, eh?” Link nodded. “Interesting claim for this thing to make, especially considering there doesn’t appear to be any other place to get directions to around here. What kind of directions does it give?”
“I’m not quite sure,” Ruto squeaked, putting a finger to her lips in thought. “It lists several places to go – chapel, storage, and so on – and then adds something weird next to each destination.”
“Weird? Weird as in how?”
“I don’t know,” the princess admitted. “Look, I’ll show you.” She motioned for Link to take another look at the tablet; he did so without a word and waited for her to explain. Ruto leaned forward and then brushed her fingers over some of the writing. “See these symbols? These are basic Zoran ideograms, stuff most Hylians won’t understand but any Zora can recognize. I can read everything on this tablet…everything except for these ‘weird’ things I mentioned.”
The princess allowed her fingers to drift to a set of carvings in the plaque that even Link realized bared little resemblance to Zoran text. “I’ve never seen these kinds of letters before,” Ruto stated. “In fact, I don’t think they are letters. I’m sure if my father were here he’d tell us in an instant…”
Now it was Link’s turn to say, “Wait a minute.” He gently moved Ruto’s fingers away from the plaque and brushed his own digits over the weird symbols, getting a good feel for them. They looked…familiar. Very familiar. And all of the peculiar symbols shared something in common. Somethings. Sets of parallel lines. Bars…
Link’s jaw snapped shut to provide audio for the sudden thought in his head.
“Could they be…?” he muttered to himself as he reached into his pouch and pulled out something in his fist that Ruto couldn’t see.
“Darling, what are you…?” she started to ask when Link raised a hand.
“Shhh, just a moment, I want to check something.”
He raised his clenched fist to his mouth, and he started moving his fingers up and down in a bizarre rhythmic motion that Ruto couldn’t explain. It was only when the Hero of Time lowered his hand after a few moments with a satisfied look in his eyes did she finally notice the amethyst instrument in his palm. Before she could comment on it, Link disclosed his revelation.
“They’re musical notes.”
“Musical notes?” Ruto repeated with a blink. “Are you sure?”
“Absolutely,” Link nodded as he studied the short bars of notes in the tablet again. “I mean, it fits perfectly with the previous two temples. I had to use a song to open doors in both the Forest Temple and Fire Temple, and it looks like the Water Temple makes use of a multitude of songs. Each song on this thing is unique – obviously that means a different path opens for each song.”
He grinned as he added, “Now we just need to figure out where to go, and I think I have a good idea where.”
“Where, darling? Where?” Ruto asked almost enthusiastically, tearing her attention away from him and towards the tablet.
“Here,” Link answered, pointing a finger at a set of Zoran letters. “Read what that says, please.”
“It says, ‘Sacred Pool,’ ” Ruto obliged before she noticed something. “But wait, Link…there’s no music piece next to this name. There’s just a strange symbol there…”
“Exactly,” the Hylian acknowledged with a nod. “And I know what that symbol is. It’s the symbol of the Door of Time.”
Ruto glanced at her fiancé. “The Door of Time? Isn’t that the place where you found your sword or something?”
“Yes, but more importantly, it’s a door that needed a song to open. The doors that I opened in the other two temples all required this song, and behind each door I found something important. The Forest Temple door held some mystic torches that opened the way to a ritual hall, and the Fire Temple door contained the Megaton Hammer. I have a strong feeling that something important can be found at this ‘Sacred Pool.’ If not Morpha, then something that could greatly benefit us.”
Ruto clapped her hands together eagerly. “Then what are we waiting for? Let’s go there and see what we can find!”
Link spared a moment to turn his head towards Ruto and give her a quiet look. “Not yet,” he said finally.
The Hero of Time’s reply surprised the princess, who asked her beloved why not.
“Because I’m not going to be careless this time,” the Hylian answered as he reached for something on his belt Ruto allowed Link the opportunity to continue, which he took. “In the last two temples, two friends of mine came close to being killed by the things that were in those temples. Saria, Darunia…you don’t know these two very well, but they were very good friends of mine that nearly died because I couldn’t protect them. Not this time…”
Without another word, Link pulled an item from his belt and placed it firmly in Ruto’s hand. It was a dagger…or rather, it was the “sword” he had used when he still believed himself to be a Kokiri. Link didn’t want for Ruto to say something before he removed his shield from his back and handed it to the Zora. The princess accepted it, though rather reluctantly.
“This blade and my shield should protect you from whatever we might face. I’ll do my best to protect you, but there might be a time when I won’t be there, so you might have to depend on yourself for a bit. Are you up to that?”
Realizing the gravity of her fiancé’s words, Ruto glanced down at the items Link had given her before looking back up at him. “I…I think so, but…but what about you? How will you protect yourself without a shield…?”
“Remember that magical shield I used when I fought that Barinade? Nayru’s Love should be more than enough to protect me. It’ll be a bit draining if I use it too long, but this temple’s been so pedestrian thus far I doubt I’ll break a sweat.”
Link expected Ruto to giggle or cheer ecstatically at his admittedly inflated boast, but amazingly Ruto looked down at the knife and shield as a worried expression crept into her face. “I…I don’t know…I’m not sure if I’m strong enough for this…I haven’t been much use to you on this journey so far. I’ve been nothing but a burden. How can I protect myself if I can’t even help the man I love?”
By the Three Goddesses, do we have to do the self-deprecation bit now? Link groaned in his mind, allowing a sigh to escape his lips. So badly did he want to grab Ruto by the shoulders, shake some sense into her enormous skull, and demand at the top of his voice, “I don’t have time for this tripe, okay? Just answer the bloody question!”
But he didn’t. Instead he took a couple deep breaths, maintained his composure, looked straight at the Zora princess, and said, “Ruto…so what?”
The tone in his voice sounded callous enough for Ruto to lift her head in gentle shock. “So what…?”
“Yes, so what if you’ve been a burden? So what if you haven’t been much use to me so far? So what if the only practical thing you’ve done so far is sucked water from my lungs and used it as an excuse to get all lovey-dovey with me? Really, so what? I don’t care. All that matters is that I’ve brought you along this far, and I’m planning on bringing you along the rest of the way. I could ask you to stay here, or maybe cower in a corner somewhere, but I’m not. Instead I’m giving you a means to defend yourself and asking you if you’re able to use these means against whatever we face, whether it’s Morpha or a giant mutated foot lice. So please, just give me a simple yes or no. Are you up to it?”
Ruto didn’t answer Link immediately, and when she did she still sounded hesitant. “I…I don’t know…”
Link quickly attempted to kill that hesitation. “Ruto…yes or no?”
Ruto looked down again at the dagger and shield, then up at Link, who was staring at her with a firm insistence. Then back at the armaments. Then Link’s face again. She exchanged glances between the two several times before she released a deep sigh and nodded.
“Yes…I’m up to it.”
Link felt his own shoulders relax. “Good.” He once again turned his attention to the plaque. “Okay, get ready, I’m going to play this song. I’m not sure what’s going to happen, so be prepared…”
“Link, what’s this?”
Ruto’s question made Link roll his eyes as he faced the princess. “What’s what?” he asked tiredly.
“This,” she replied, pointing out a small circular indentation in the dagger’s hilt.
When Link realized what it was, he quickly turned around again so Ruto didn’t notice the “oh, bugger” look in his eyes. “It’s a groove…for a jewel…that’s all.”
“A jewel, huh?” the Zora repeated curiously, studying the indentation more closely. “What kind of jewel?”
“I don’t know…a ruby, I think.”
“A ruby? Well, what happened to it? Did you take it out or something?”
“I…must’ve lost it.”
“Lost it? How?”
“It must’ve fallen out when I was fighting or something.”
“Fallen out? Are you sure…?”
“Look, I’m playing the song now, okay? Be quiet.”
Giving Ruto no time to continue the inquiry, Link put the Ocarina of Time to his lips and played the Song of Time. The notes resonated in the tiny chamber brilliantly, the echoes crashing against the walls several times before they faded either in the dark endless ceiling or the waters below the caged floor.
Link played the song once before he pocketed the instrument in his pouch once again. He instantly scanned the room, expecting something to happen that would lead them to this “Sacred Pool.” A door opening, an elevator descending from the ceiling…anything. But his expectations weren’t matched by anything at first. The walls didn’t budge, no platform appeared from anywhere…not even a low rumbling sound far away to indicate that something was happening somewhere as a result of the Song of Time.
Scratching his head, Link turned to Ruto, who appeared just as puzzled as he was. “Nothing’s happening,” he pointed out.
“I can see that,” Ruto concurred, looking around the chamber once before adding, “I’m going to take a quick look outside and see if something’s happened outside.”
As the princess slinked over to the door, Link chose to study the plaque again. Maybe he had misread the symbol – it might not be the sign of the Door of Time as he had believed. Or perhaps the Zoras used some other tune for the Door of Time. Maybe if he played another one of the songs on the tablet…
“Darling, something’s wrong here.”
“What?” Link asked glibly, still studying the tablet without looking up at Ruto.
“The door won’t open.”
That got Link to turn around. “What do you mean the door won’t open?”
Before the princess could restate her strange discovery, Link heard a sound beneath his feet. He glanced down, peered through the grating of a floor…and immediately noticed something going on with the water. It was bubbling, sluggishly at first but rapidly growing in intensity until bubbles and foam formed on the water’s surface almost furiously. It reminded Link of the molten lava in Death Mountain…which wasn’t a good thing…
“Link, have you figured out anything yet?”
Interrupting Link’s concern, Navi burst from underneath his hat and hovered before his face with the air of authority of knowing everything that was going on, as well as the smugness of what should be done next.
“I’m getting a little bored sitting under your hat waiting for you to do something. Are you getting anything done, or do I have to…?”
That was when Navi noticed both Link and Ruto ignoring her and staring uneasily down at the floor. Confused, Navi glanced down…and was just in time to see the boiling water beneath the grating abruptly surge up from the pool, like a corked geyser that had just been released.
Seconds before the surge of water could gush through the porous floor and sweep the three from the chamber, Navi looked up, gave Link an irritated stare, and managed one angry question.
“What did you do?”
Logs piled several stories high, some burning with firelight as eerie and sinister as the final moments of death, crashed to the ground with uncoordinated thuds as one of the bonfires collapsed in on itself. Several necromancers temporarily abandoned their precious orbs and attempted to save the structure, but one ended up being crushed beneath the weight of one of the logs and the others could do nothing to slow the bonfire’s breakdown.
This infuriated the head Iron Knuckle, who stormed as quickly as it could to eliminate the cause of the bonfire’s destruction: the Iron Knuckle that had tried to kill him, the Knuckle that now spoke with a noticeably different accent and voice. Whoever this Knuckle was, it certainly wasn’t one of Ganondorf’s soldiers, the head Iron Knuckle knew. And if this renegade wasn’t stopped, who knows how many heads would fly at Ganondorf’s command?
Making amazingly agile jumps over the fallen logs of the second bonfire destroyed by the renegade, the head Knuckle reached the rebel, who was busy pulling its enormous hatchet from the remains of the log pile, and performed a downward attack for its head. The insurgent Knuckle noticed the attack just in time and used its ax’s hilt to block the strike. Sparks flew as the head armor’s blade clashed with the renegade’s, similar to how the lead Knuckle had blocked the attack when its former underling revealed its traitorous ways.
“Who are you?” the head Knuckle demanded for the countless time, trying to throw the rebel off balance.
“Someone here to stop you,” the subordinate Knuckle replied firmly, holding its ground. “You will not get away with this; I’m putting an end to this atrocity.”
The head Knuckle laughed. “Feh, what a pathetic threat. You couldn’t kill me when you had the chance, and to make up for it you’re trying to destroy each bonfire in this cemetery.” It squeezed its grip on its weapon. “Do you really think you can stop this ceremony when it’s already close to being finished? You’ll have to kill me first, as well as every Moblin and necromancer in the area. You can’t do that all alone, can you?”
The head Knuckle suddenly used its upper body strength to heave its massive frame forward, catching the other Knuckle off guard and sending it sprawling to its knees. The lead armor tried to take advantage of the moment by attempting another downward strike, but the rebel again stopped the leader’s ax with the hilt of its own weapon. This time, however, the traitor armor slipped its weapon’s hilt into the curved lower edge of the lead Knuckle’s blade, locking the two weapons together. The insurgent then tightened its grip on its weapon and became rigid, refusing to budge from its spot or allow the lead Knuckle a chance to pull its weapon free.
“Curse you!” the head Knuckle roared as it struggled to pull its axe free from its underling’s hilt. The rebel didn’t move an inch during the struggle, remaining content to stare up at its former leader and sneer with its hollow gaze.
But the lead Iron Knuckle had had enough. Unable to free its weapon, it rushed forward and delivered an unexpected and powerful kick to the subordinate Knuckle’s chest. The rebel, not moving to evade the attack, landed on its back with a rattled clang. It even made no attempt to escape as the lead Knuckle planted a heavy foot on its underling’s abdomen, pinning it to the ground.
Sneering back down at the traitor, the leader Knuckle lifted its axe once again – the subordinate’s weapon still locked into its blade – and brought the full weight of both weapons down upon the underling’s chest, burying the metallic head of the axe deep inside the rebel’s armor.
And everything went still: the head Knuckle, the cleaved underling, even the nearby necromancers who had witnessed the battle.
Satisfied with its victory, the head Knuckle pulled its weapon from the now immobile rebel’s chest and placed its axe aside, planning on unlocking the two axes from each other in a moment. It knelt beside the remains of the underling Knuckle and snickered loudly.
“All that threatening and you die this easily?” the head Knuckle laughed. “You Hylians are a joke. I don’t know how you managed to get this armor, but it obviously didn’t do much for you.” Another chuckle escaped from the Knuckle before it flexed its fingers. “Okay, enough chitchat. Let’s see who you really are.”
After taking one final moment to bask in its triumph, the Iron Knuckle reached out with its hands and grabbed a thick armored plate on the motionless Knuckle’s chest, an area where the lead Knuckle had left a thick fissure with its axe. With a couple quick tugs, the lead Knuckle tore this plate off of its subordinate armor and threw it to the side, exposing a large cavity in the chest and a vacant interior.
A sight that released a loud, shocked roar from the lead Knuckle.
“This armor…is hollow?” it bellowed as it forced itself to stand. “But that’s impossible! What’s going on…?”
Smoke and red heat clouded around the Iron Knuckle, blinding its sight and knocking it off its feet. It landed on the ground a short distance from the subordinate Knuckle’s remains, bouncing once before coming to a stop. The impact against the ground jolted the head Knuckle rather violently, but the blow wasn’t enough to stun the now enraged armor.
It pushed itself back onto its feet and turned its attention to where the bomb had exploded. A small cloud still remained where the explosive had detonated, and the Knuckle didn’t need to look carefully to see that the blast had accomplished its intended task: shattering the two axes beyond usefulness. All around, frightened necromancers squealed loudly as they ran feverishly in all directions, their arms flailing about wildly if they weren’t protecting their mystical artifacts.
Anger surged through every joint of the Knuckle’s armor as its eyes darted in every direction imaginable, searching for the culprit. It ignored the frightened cries of the necromancers and put no effort into coaxing them to fixing the destroyed bonfires. The head Knuckle wanted blood, and even without its axe it could tear a Hylian apart. But it saw nobody, and no sound or movement indicated otherwise.
Frustrated, the Iron Knuckle roared again. “Where are you, you bastard? Come out and case me…! What in Hael…!”
The Knuckle’s exclamation of surprise came when it felt two feet land on its shoulders, allowing the body of some unseen assailant to perch on its armor plates. The sudden and unexpected arrival of the mystery attacker stunned the Knuckle for a moment, but it quickly made up for its surprise by attempting to reach for the perched assailant. But the attacker gave the armor no opportunity to even reach him.
With one sharp kick, the attacker landed a blow with his foot against the Iron Knuckle’s helmet, sending the piece of headgear to the ground with an ugly clank. The assailant then jumped down and clung to the Knuckle’s back like a leech, avoiding the armor’s hands ready to rip him to shreds. Out of harm’s reach, the mysterious foe reached for something small and curved on its belt.
“Want to know how I got inside that armor?” he uttered to the Knuckle as a loud scratching sound was heard. “Let me show you.”
Then, using a well practiced aim, the attacker tossed the circular item into a gap in the armor where the Knuckle’s helmet once stood. Without wasting a second, the assailant subsequently launched himself from the Knuckle’s back, landed on the ground, and sprinted a short distance away from the armor.
Meanwhile, from within the hollow interior of the head Knuckle came a high pitched shriek, accompanied by the echoes of a soft yet noticeably hissing…
A second explosion rocked the graveyard, louder but more isolated than the first. The headless Iron Knuckle fell silent, its once menacing arms abruptly drooping to the sides as smoke started to pour from every cavity in its armor. Whoever was inside that armor couldn’t have survived; nothing really did when a lit Bomb Flower seed was thrown into a confined space. Now all that remained of the Knuckle was a squatting statue – true, the armor hadn’t been destroyed, but the explosion had killed its operator, rendering it useless.
Taking a defiant step towards the defeated Knuckle, Sheik grinned underneath his collar. “You know, it’s always a good idea to look behind you once in a while.”
Still smiling, Sheik found it a bit tricky to return to a more serious line of thought as he started pondering how to destroy the remaining bonfires…
…before his instincts suddenly kicked in and told him to roll forward. He listened to his instincts just in time to avoid a sharp, crescent moon-shaped blade slice through the air where the Sheikah’s neck had been an instant earlier. Sheik rolled across the ground several times, and fortunately for him he did, as the ground behind him was cleaved twice by the owner of the blade.
Finally, certain he was out of reach, Sheik returned to his feet and spun around to face his attacker, his arms unsheathing his daggers from their sleeves. He almost expected to see a Moblin or even another Iron Knuckle, but instead he saw a person just like him…no, not exactly. This person wasn’t a Sheikah or even a Hylian. He…no, she was Gerudian, not much older than Sheik, dressed in traditional attire that defined the Geurdo trademark blend of eroticism and bloodlust.
The Gerudo snarled at her inability to kill the Sheikah, but she didn’t falter in her attentiveness as she shifted into a defensive stance at the sight of Sheik’s daggers. Both opponents then remained deadly still, eyeing each other quietly and thoroughly, scanning for possible weaknesses and seeking the right time to attack. After a while, the Gerudo finally spoke.
“You must be Sheik.”
The Sheikah youth twitched for a moment at the mention of his name by someone who was undoubtedly one of Ganondorf’s henchmen, but only for a moment. “I see you know my name,” he confirmed, finding no good reason to lie. “Maybe you can tell me yours?”
The Gerudo’s lips cracked a smile for the first time. “My name? Feh, it won’t do you any good, boy. After all, your name is more precious to me than mine is to you.”
“Because your twisted and evil king wants me dead,” Sheik uttered.
The Gerudo sneered and spat to the ground near Sheikah’s feet. “Say what you want about the great king Ganondorf. Once I bring your head to him, he will devour that filthy tongue of yours, along with all the contents of your skull. And it’ll only be a matter of time before we find that wench Zelda you’re hiding and skin her alive.”
Sheik stiffened at hearing Zelda’s name. “You’ll never get your hands on her,” he declared, lowering his posture slightly. “And I’ll make sure of that by making sure you never leave this graveyard.”
The Gerudo’s eyes sparkled at Sheik’s words. “Heh…so you still think you can stop the ritual? Take another guess, boy. You couldn’t kill me inside the Iron Knuckle armor, and if you hadn’t ducked I’d have your scalp as a souvenir by now. If you want to stop the ritual, you’ll have to kill me first.”
Then, without warning, the woman lowered her blade and raised her head to the sky. “Necromancers!”
As if snared by some kind of spell, every necromancer fell silent and ceased their wild, fearful flailing at the commanding tone of the Gerudo’s voice.
“Listen to me and listen well! You will repair those bonfires and complete the ritual in under one hour…or I will cut out your annoying tongues and shove those stupid orbs of your down your miserable throats! Do I make myself clear, you miserable curs?”
It wasn’t necessarily the threat itself that sent shivers down the necromancers’ spines; rather it was the vitriol and viciousness in the Gerudo’s words, as if hidden in her warning was the possibility of something even worse. Wasting no time, several of the necromancers immediately responded and started rebuilding the collapsed bonfires, while others started encircling the already lit blazes and started chanting with their mystical spheres in hand.
Satisfied, the Gerudo turned her attention back to Sheik, who had made no attempt to attack her during her heated warning. This Gerudo was obviously peeved at being caught off guard with that bomb earlier; the Sheikah knew she wouldn’t allow her guard to be dropped again so easily. A confident gleam in her eye, the Gerudo once again raised her blade to an intimidating position.
A grin spread across her lips. “Come and get me, boy.”
The innuendo was unmistakable, but Sheik wasn’t in the mood for playful banter between a Sheikah and a Gerudo. He responded to the girl’s taunts by tightening his grip on his daggers and eyeing the Gerudo like a hawk before declaring, “As cocky as you were inside that suit. You won’t escape me this time.”
Then, without another word, Sheik pulled both his hands behind his head and sprang them forward, sending both of his knives sailing through the air in coiling arcs towards the Gerudo. The girl snickered and readied her blade, her eyes following the thrown daggers’ trajectories like a hawk trailing prey. As the two blades were about to sink into her flesh, the Gerudo swung her blade with precision and swatted both knives away from her.
Pathetic, she wanted to say, but Sheik had already made his next move. Without waiting for his knives to hit their target, the youth had rushed forward towards the Gerudo as she was distracted by his daggers. By the time the girl noticed the Sheikah’s close proximity, Sheikh had already pulled out a second pair of daggers from his sleeves, and the Gerudo’s massive blade was too far away to deflect both weapons at once.
Taking the opportunity, Sheik leapt into the air towards the Gerudo, aiming his knives where they would be sure to land at least a single blow…
…but both of Sheik’s daggers were blocked, one by the Gerudo’s colossal sword…and the other by a second, smaller but just as deadly-looking crescent moon blade. Amazingly, the Gerudo had pulled the second blade literally out of nowhere, a testament to the Gerudian ability to deceive opponents. The girl had done nothing to indicate she had a second weapon, and Sheik suspected if he had attacked using one dagger, that second blade of hers would’ve sliced him open by now.
Unable to push past the Gerudo’s defenses, Sheik retreated a step or two back, keeping an eye on the girl. The Gerudo sneered once again and flaunted her deadly weapons. “I don’t play games, boy.”
To affirm her declaration, the Gerudo launched herself forward, releasing a high-pitched battle cry from her lips as she prepared her blades for a direct assault. Sheik reacted by using his agility to nimbly sidestep out of the blades’ path; he realized one well-placed swipe of that Gerudian steel could shatter his daggers, making them useless for defense. Undeterred, the Gerudo made every attempt to get in close range of the Sheikah, swinging her blades fervently at any vulnerable spot she saw. Every effort of hers failed to find its target, often missing Sheik’s skin by a hair’s breadth.
With each eluding step he made, Sheik examined his opponent for any opening in her attacks. But with every slash she made with one sword, the other blade was ready to defend her from anything Sheik might try. The Gerudo was indeed not playing games; if she had the chance, she’d slice him into pieces without a word or thought.
And while Sheik couldn’t afford to divert any of his attention elsewhere, he knew that the Gerudo’s orders were at this moment being carried out by the necromancers. Recalling the Gerudo’s threats, he remembered he had under an hour to somehow get rid of this girl and interrupt the necromancers’ ceremony. If only she had some kind of weakness, some opening in her attacks…
A muffled yet lurid grunt replaced the Gerudo’s screeches as Sheik planted his knee directly in her chest just above her stomach, sending a violent shock throughout her upper body. The girl had tried to prevent the Sheikah’s counterattack, but he had managed to obstruct her blades with his daggers, pinning them out of the way before she could swing them rather than blocking them in mid-attack. The Gerudo had become overaggressive in her assault, and now she paid for that belligerence with a solid kick below her bosom.
If the necromancers were paying attention to the fight between the two youths, they made no indication of it with their chilling screeches. The girl collapsed to the ground on her back, her mouth gaping and her eyes wide in genuine surprise. Still, as a hardened Gerudo, she wasted no time in trying to return to her feet and face the boy that had sent her sprawling once again.
But Sheik wasted no time either. As the Gerudo attempted to stand up, he sent another powerful kick into her stomach, sending her arms flailing into the air with her weapons. Using this momentary distraction to his advantage, the Sheikah slapped both blades out of the girl’s hands and far out of her reach. He kept his knee firmly implanted on the Gerudo’s stomach as he quickly contorted his body in the most useful position he could. Within a matter of seconds, his other foot pinned one of the girl’s wrists to the ground, while his left hand firmly gripped the Gerudo’s remaining wrist.
And with her legs unable to do anything to help her, Sheik was free to use his right hand to press the fine edge of one of his knives against the Gerudo’s throat.
“I don’t play games, either,” Sheik grinned from behind his collar, unable to help firing off one final quip.
The Gerudo didn’t react to the retort; she remained motionless, glaring at her captor with eyes that rivaled those of her Iron Knuckle armor’s. She showed no fear or remorse, just spite for someone she considered one of her king’s most dangerous enemies. Sheik knew he couldn’t allow her to live – if the positions were reversed, he’d be dead by now. He had to kill her, just as he had killed many other Gerudo during this heinous war, and he flexed his fingers against the hilt of his dagger as he prepared to carry out the deed.
But he couldn’t. Sheik couldn’t kill her.
As the two of them lay there in the cemetery, eyeing each other with varying sentiments in their eyes, Sheik’s mind tried to sort out the reason why he couldn’t kill this particular Gerudo. Yes, her beauty made her appear harmless compared to other Gerudo he had slain, but their recent skirmish more than disproved her innocence in that regard. So why couldn’t he gather up his courage and slit her throat, a cruel act to be sure but one that had to be done to ensure his survival and the survival of the resistance against Ganondorf? Why?
Maybe it was her eyes.
He couldn’t put his finger on it, but something about the Gerudo’s eyes didn’t look right to him. Yes, the vitriol and hatred she had against him were clear as day, but the emotion looked…artificial. Behind the abhorrence was a look as empty and hollow as the Iron Knuckles’ gaze, if not more so. Something about these eyes did not feel genuine, a feeling that extended to Sheik’s hesitation.
Could it be killing this girl might be…a mistake…?
Just then, a smile curled onto the Gerudo’s lips. “You hesitated,” she sneered hoarsely with the blade pressed tightly against her windpipe. “That’ll be your final mistake, boy.”
Sheik was about to ask something when he heard what she undoubtedly heard first: the sounds of approaching footsteps. He didn’t even need to ponder whether they were the footsteps of necromancers before figuring out they were Moblins coming from Kakariko Village. Perhaps a necromancer had abandoned its post to warn them of the skirmish between the Gerudo and the Sheikah. Perhaps they had heard the ruckus and came to investigate.
Whatever the reason, Sheik had to get out of here quickly – even he was no match for a regiment of Moblins. He glanced up to see how far away they were…
…and was surprised by the Gerudo pinned beneath him. Twisting her body more than Sheik had considered, the girl managed to slip her legs underneath his chest and send a powerful kick against his ribs, removing him from above her person and sending him too far away to regain his position.
Realizing he had made a mistake in leaving her alive, Sheik scrambled to his feet and started running. The Gerudo scuttled to retrieve her weapons and tried to prevent the youth from escaping, but the Sheikah had already gained a lot of ground by the time she had even one blade in her hands. Irritation covered her face as she watched one of her king’s most wanted enemies heading toward the mountainous horizon, and she would’ve considered chasing after him had the sound of approaching footsteps not become unavoidable by now.
Moments later, at least ten Moblin soldiers shuffled their way beside the Gerudo, saluting as one of them, a captain, stepped forward.
“What’s goin’ on ’ere, eh? One of ’em necros came by the village just now, ’ollerin’ and screamin’ about someone givin’ this place trouble…is everythin’ all right?”
The Gerudo turned to face the Moblin captain, giving it a look that would scare even the most battle-tested warrior. “Is everything okay? I was nearly killed by one of our great Lord Ganondorf’s most hated enemies while you were too dimwitted to notice that the two Knuckles I left in the village were missing. Do you really think everything’s okay, you thickheaded twit?”
The Moblin captain tried to maintain his composure against the Gerudo’s anger, knowing better than to further upset a subordinate of Ganondorf. “I…I apologize, m’lady. Where is the bloke now…?”
“Running with his tail between his legs for the hills,” the Gerudo snapped. “If you had gotten here sooner, you actually might’ve caught him.”
The captain’s attempt to sound more formal than a Moblin usually sounds did little to quell the girl’s anger. Trying to show some semblance of confidence, he nodded as firmly as he could. “Yes, I understand. We’ll organize a search party and sniff the bugger out…”
The Moblin’s words were cut off abruptly as a deadly crescent moon-shaped blade was thrust near his face, the weapon’s tip placed dangerously close between his eyes. Sweat started beading down the captain’s face as the Gerudo’s fierce gaze dared him to move and incite her anger further.
“You? Sniff him out? Don’t mock my intelligence,” she growled. “Now listen, you brainless oaf. You and your little ‘party’ here are going to guard this cemetery. You will not move from this place until the necromancers have completed the ceremony. If you so much as let anyone else leave a footprint in this graveyard’s soil, I will disembowel you and strangle your filthy neck with your own entrails. Do you understand, or do I need to remove something?”
The Moblin resisted the urge to back away from the weapon pressed close to his face and muttered a frightened acknowledgement. “U-u-understood, m’lady.”
The Gerudo eyed the captain for a moment before nodding herself and lowering her blade to her side. “Then get to it!”
Snapping to attention, the Moblin captain spun around and faced his men, who appeared just as apprehensive as he did. “Right! You ’eard the Lady Nabooru! Surroun’ an’ protec’ ’his place o’ else! Get to it!”
The Moblins reacted by saluting their captain before spreading out across the graveyard, weapons in hand. The necromancers paid no attention to them as they continued their preparations for the ritual, the ruthless threat given to them earlier still enough to silence their wild shrieks.
As she watched the Moblins fan out, Nabooru still couldn’t help spit to the ground in disgust.
“Gods damn it to Hael…I almost had him. If I had gotten to my weapon sooner, that damned Sheikah would be dead by now. Still…” She glanced in the direction where Sheik had headed, the hilly terrain of the distant Death Mountain having already swallowed any visible trace of the outlaw. “…it’s interesting that he was here at all. How did that boy learn about the ceremony so quickly? Was he in Kakariko Village when we arrived?”
Bits of teeth flashed inside her mouth as she grinned. “If that’s the case, then Lord Ganondorf’s plan will be that much more satisfying. Should he come back here, reinforcements or no, he’ll have more to contend with than me.”
Maintaining her grin, Nabooru started heading back to her empty Iron Knuckle armor, hoping the smell of burnt bomb power had dispersed by now. Even if it hadn’t, the odor had to be better than the stench left inside the armor Sheik had been using, the armor now crudely decorated by what was left of a former Gerudo soldier…
“Stupid, stupid, stupid!”
Sheik muttered that phrase over and over as he raced across the increasingly rocky terrain, keeping his gaze straight. Not once did he look back, mostly because he couldn’t cope with his failure. If only he hadn’t tried to distract the Iron Knuckle to get a clean shot, if only he had used a bomb with a shorter fuse, if only he had slit that Gerudo’s throat when he had the chance…there were far too many ifs for him to accept this disappointment.
And no doubt the graveyard will be better guarded, making it more difficult for him to get inside there and stop the ceremony. Which was the last thing he needed.
Stopping to take a break next to a small hill of boulders, Sheik used the moment to consider his next plan of action. It didn’t take him long to figure out he didn’t have one. Another setback he didn’t need.
“At least Malon’s safe,” he sighed, grasping for a silver lining. “She’s far enough away from the village that she won’t get caught in the ceremony’s fringe. I only hope the magic isn’t powerful enough to affect the people of Kakariko Village…I can’t do anything for them now, not with those Moblins crawling everywhere.”
He brushed some moisture from his brow for a minute before he did something he rarely did out in the open: he removed his collar from his face so he could breathe a bit more easily. He looked up at the sky, closed his eyes, and took a deep breath, drawing in as much as he could inside his lungs. He then exhaled with a sharp hiss…
…and collapsed to the ground, his back propped up against the nearest boulder. Though the temperature outside was rather warm, Sheik started to shiver quite violently. He hugged himself with his arms and curled up into a ball in an attempt to get warm. As he did so, he started whispering a silent prayer upon his lips.
“Link…where are you? You’ve got to get back here…now…”