"How did I get myself into this?" Link thought as he stared down into the deep ravine, the vast, hungry abyss beckoning the Kokiri to fall in. He looked up the tree root he was hanging on and clutched it even tighter, but doing this only caused the limb to slip down further into the gorge.
He had lost his whereabouts. He had lost Kaepora Gaebora. He had lost Navi. But more importantly at the moment, he had lost all control of the situation.
And unless he did something, and quickly, he was going to lose his life…
Without thinking, Link called out. "Navi! Navi! I’m here! Help me!"
But even then he knew she couldn’t hear him. The echo was too loud.
"Link!" Navi called, looking around desperately for the young Kokiri. "Link! Where are you? Link!"
The fairy received no answer but the distant echoes of her voice caused by the mountain. She had been searching for Link for what seemed like ages but she had found no trace him at all. It was amazing how Death Mountain had managed to separate the two so quickly and easily, especially when Navi had vowed to stay close to Link since the Great Deku Tree’s death. In all the world’s history, Navi doubted a fairy had lost a charge before. She was most likely the first to do such a thing.
Then again, no fairy had ever ventured beyond the Lost Woods before…
But then again, that wasn’t the point, was it? She had lost Link, the Kokiri she had been told to watch over and guide, and she had to find him before something happened to him.
"And where’s that Owl when you need him?" Navi grumbled in her mind as she continued her search. "Link! Link! Can you hear me? Where are you? Link! Link…!"
"Link," Zelda whispered to herself for the hundredth time that day, her mind unable to concentrate completely on anything else. Her whispers weren’t loud enough for people nearby to hear them clearly, but every time she uttered that name she felt she had committed a sin by revealing a deep secret, the secret of the boy from the forest’s existence. And every time she blushed slightly before forcefully paling her face again and returning to the appearance a princess should maintain.
For some unexplainable reason, Link had become an undeniable and seemingly permanent part of her life.
She didn’t know why she murmured his name all the time without motive, but she did have a guess at why she blushed every time she said it. If she could flow down the River of Time, she probably wouldn’t have lied to Link like she did…but was it really lying? She didn’t say anything false to him, but instead omitted truths from her words. To her mind, she hadn’t falsified anything. But her heart seemed to tell her differently.
Why else would it drive blood through her facial skin every time she uttered that name…?
"I’m sorry," she uttered, sending another small surge of embarrassment through her face. She had probably muttered that phrase as many times as she had that name.
But no matter how many times she apologized to Link in her mind, most likely only the real experience could erase the bitter guilt she tasted in her heart. Why had she lied – if it really was lying, that is – why did she lie to Link in the first place? The question plagued her mind for a split second before the answer instantaneously emerged, and Zelda stopped questioning the motives behind the falsehood.
The answer only increased the bitterness of the guilt, and it took Zelda a few moments to return to her required princess-like air. She then swore to herself not to think of the matter again, only to find herself repeat the cycle of remembrance and liability again moments later. She didn’t know how long the periodicity would continue, but she occasionally guessed the moment of its conclusion.
When she confessed to Link her true motives behind sending him in search of the remaining Spiritual Stones.
At one time during the day, she thought, "When you come back, Link, I’ll tell you everything. I promise."
The promise was all but devoured in the war of guilt within her mind…
Kaepora Gaebora grumbled in frustration. It was pretty hard for the Owl to grumble in his current form, so he was somewhat surprised that he could show the emotion in such a manner. But his mind was still focused on a more important matter: to find the Child of Destiny, wherever Kaepora had somehow lost him!
"Death Mountain truly is a wonder," he thought as he caught a warm air pocket and rode it to a higher altitude. "I can only pray that it won’t live up to its name with young Link…and that fairy Navi…"
As he stabilized his height, he looked around the mountainside for any signs of the Kokiri or the fay. When he couldn’t see any, he cooed loudly. "Link! Navi! Are any of you there? Please, answer me!"
Nothing, not even an echo. "A wonder, indeed."
He continued to scan the mountain’s surface in vain, his frustration continually growing with every moment. He wished he could use his abilities to travel up Time’s River and discover Link’s location, but he knew his magic couldn’t be used for such small and precise glimpses into the future. Frustration soon turned into worry, and Kaepora probably would’ve chewed his feather tips if he could’ve.
Just then, when he was about to call out again, he spotted some movement near a steep gorge…
The root slipped down further into the abyss as Link tried carefully and unsuccessfully to scale it. His efforts were only aiding in his inevitable fall, he realized, but Link didn’t want to go through with his unfortunate fate willingly. Oh, sure, he might hasten his death by trying to climb the frail rootlet, but that didn’t mean the deed might also help him escape, despite the obvious remoteness of the gamble succeeding.
Taking a deep breath, Link spat – something he never did before – into the ravine, gathered and diverted the remainder of his strength to his arms, and began to climb. As he lifted himself up, he felt the root slither down further. His eyes were so blind with determination and pain he didn’t notice whether the net result of the climbing and sliding were in his favor or not. Gritting his teeth, he pushed himself harder.
Seconds seemed to turn into hours and the edge of the ravine still seemed as far away as it had been when he started his desperate risk. But he still pressed on, determined to either reach the top or die trying. But by now his arms were straining to hold his weight and trickles of blood were seeping from his stiff palms and dribbling onto the root and his face. He knew he wouldn’t be able to hold on much longer, even if the root held.
Trying not to think of the pain, Link pictured his home, the Lost Woods, and all its wonderful memories within his mind. He thought of the days when he was picking ripe berries, climbing great oaks, and running through waving glades. He thought of all his friends and how they stood up for him when Mido bullied him.
He thought of Saria…
…and found his eyes crying despite the burning discomfort. His mind filled with the words she had told him about the ocarina, about how he mustn’t give up because something was difficult. Those words, those seemingly powerful words, echoed like soft thunder in his head. It was as if Saria was there with him, telling him not to give up.
Ironically, it was at this moment that Link began to doubt he could climb to safety.
"I can’t," he whispered to himself as he loosened his grip slightly on the root. "I can’t do it."
"I don’t want you to give up…" Saria’s voice murmured in his head.
"Saria, I can’t do this," Link pleaded to the voice in his mind. "I can’t."
"I know you can do this," the voice whispered back. "I know you can do this."
"Saria. Please. You’re talking about playing the ocarina. This is completely different. I can’t…"
"I know you can do this."
"I don’t want you to give up something just because it’s difficult…I know you can do this…trust me, Link. You can do this. Trust me."
By now, Link could barely see because of the pain and the lukewarm blood creeping into his eyes. Saria’s words continued to echo as his delusional state worsened. They repeated in his mind so many times that he eventually ignored them, unable to hear his best friend telling him about something impossible.
He couldn’t do this; he couldn’t save himself. He would fall, either by the branch breaking or by his own will…and right now the latter option seemed like the best one.
His entire life passed before his eyes: the Lost Woods, Saria, Navi, the Great Deku Tree, Gohma, Kaepora Gaebora, Malon, Hyrule Castle, Zelda…and his grave, Death Mountain. As his strength slowly drained away, the world around him darkened and illusions – hundreds upon hundreds of them – flashed like enormous stars within his fading vision.
"Forgive me…" he whispered to a blurring phantom that he caught a brief glimpse of. He didn’t know who the phantom was, but it didn’t matter. His life was finished…and it shall be by his own hand.
Feeling the sticky blood squelch beneath his stinging palms, Link emitted a final sigh – a sigh that seemed to take with it all his remaining strength – and let go of the root. His eyes saw the real world and the dream world merge, and he almost thought he could hear the sweet sound of Saria’s ocarina singing him to his eternal rest…
Suddenly, he felt an abrupt and painful jerk on his left arm and his descent into the abyss instantly stopped. Surprised and indifferent at the same time, Link found a small scrap of energy left within his stiff body and used it to turn his neck so he could see the reason for the interference of the inevitable.
As he turned his neck, his tired mind discovered something: the jerk had been caused by something wrapping around his arm and gripping it tightly and roughly. Memories indicated it was Kaepora Gaebora as they recalled the tightness of the Owl’s claws, but Link’s pained eyes told a different story.
But before Link could hear the story, he blacked out, only able to hear a single word uttered by his exhausted mind: Gohma…
As he turned the last page, Ganondorf snorted in disgust and then threw the book in the corner of the room. He then got up from his bed, stormed to the book, and kicked it with his dirt-filled boots. As a final show of disgust for the tome, he picked up a final time and ripped out several pages before throwing it out the window.
The deed done, Ganondorf contemplated the few discoveries he had managed to discover from the book. Unfortunately, there was little in the book he didn’t already know, and a lot of it was about legends he knew for a fact were just that: legends. All in all, the book itself didn’t teach him anything useful.
However, he did note one interesting thing about the book: it possessed the legend of the Three Goddesses Spiritual Stones. Although he didn’t have firm evidence, it was possible that Zelda had read the book and knew about the keys to the Sacred Realm, and thus the Triforce. If she had, then she probably knew why he was here in Hyrule. It was also possible she might’ve sent someone after the Spiritual Stones…
But Ganondorf smiled at this thought. "The little brat won’t do something like that. And even if she did, she won’t get them. I’ve made sure they’ll be mine when I leave to pick them up."
After reassuring himself of his victory, Ganondorf looked at the window through which had thrown the book. Someone would undoubtedly find it, and Zelda will most likely hear about it and therefore know that he had also read it and was on to her. He chuckled at the idea of planting fear in the Princess of Hyrule’s mind, and wished he could actually meet the brat face-to-face…
An idea suddenly forming in his mind, Ganondorf marched out of his room…
Isn’t it strange how a person recalls his most recent memories when he is close to death? Then again, is such a thing typical, or is it an exception? Link didn’t know the answers.
Instead, Link watched his own memories as they reenacted the more recent moments of his life. He watched himself enter Hyrule Castle New City, meet and then leave Malon, scale the walls of Hyrule Castle to find Zelda…he watched all of these reminiscences quietly yet indifferently, as if they held no current value.
But these memories only appeared in pieces and sections. His vision of memories became more linked and fluid when he saw himself leaving Hyrule Castle in the dead of night, departing for Kakariko Village at the base of Death Mountain. There he would begin his search for the next Spiritual Stone, wherever it might be.
His mode of transportation wasn’t necessarily one fit for a royal emissary, but the cart filled with barrels of Hylian-quality wine was the only thing Zelda could come up with that was both quick and not attention-drawing. Link, although a little uncomfortable at the idea of riding something pulled by horses – creatures he had only had glimpses of before – he didn’t complain. Navi, surprisingly, didn’t complain either. In fact, she kept quiet until the cart had long left the palace and Zelda was but a faint silhouette in the moonlight.
"You really think this is what the Great Deku Tree wants us to do?" she asked softly in Link’s ear so she wouldn’t alert the adult driver of the cart. "To collect these Spiritual Stones?"
"I don’t know, Navi," Link whispered back, "but something tells me that this has got to do with the path of destiny the Great Deku Tree told me about. I get this feeling that I have to do this."
"I sure hope so, because if you’re just doing this just because that Zelda asked you to, then this isn’t right, Link. I pray you know what you’re doing."
Link didn’t say so, but he also prayed he knew what he was doing. There was something Zelda had held back about her reasons for wanting the Spiritual Stones. She didn’t directly lie – he could tell that – but the way she spoke almost felt like she, in fact, was lying to him in a way.
Something wasn’t right about this. He knew he had to do this, but something wasn’t right about it…
The trip took several days to cross the expansive fields of Hyrule through several small hamlets to the larger town of Kakariko Village. The journey was long and tedious for Link, who only had Navi and the driver of the cart for company. Several times he wished he could’ve asked Malon to join him as a companion, but he then always remembered finding her already gone from the inn on the night of his departure.
Therefore, to pass the time, Link resorted to learning the rest of Zelda’s Lullaby. The driver’s first reaction was one of fear and shock – after all, the song was forbidden to those outside the Royal Family – but he eventually calmed down when Link explained he was permitted. Even so, the driver tensed up every time Link practiced the song.
Arrival at Kakariko Village wasn’t much of a welcome for Link. They arrived in the dead of night, a time when very few people were outside, so there was virtually no one to greet the weary Kokiri. Because it was night, the village wasn’t too much of a sight to behold, despite several positive comments given to him by Impa about it before his departure.
Giving a polite word of thanks to the driver, Link left the wine cart and headed with Navi into the heart of the village, where he found the same nightly blandness and one or two people taking evening strolls. He was about to say something to Navi when a familiar feeling in his stomach made him change his statement.
"I’m a little hungry," he said to the fairy. "Wonder where we can get something to eat…?"
"I see you made it here safely, Link. Welcome to Kakariko Village."
Surprised to hear that old familiar voice, Link looked up to the edge of a nearby house’s pointed roof, where Kaepora Gaebora stared back down at him with his wide eyes. Even Navi was astonished to see the Owl again. The three remained silent for a minute before Link broke the silence.
"Kaepora Gaebora! Where have you been? Boy, have we got a lot to tell you. We actually met Princess Zelda, and…"
"I know, Link," the Owl interrupted politely, "and now you’re on a mission to collect the three Spiritual Stones, one of which you already have."
Link let his jaw drop in amazement. "How did you…?"
"I have the ability to ride the River of Time, and I can see pieces of the future if my magic can work properly. Fortunately, it managed to work this time, and I witnessed your coming here to seek the next Spiritual Stone. It was very convenient for me, because I didn’t have to fly all the way back to Hyrule Castle New City to find you."
"Wait a minute," Navi said, flying halfway between Link and the Owl. "You came here before you had your vision? Would you mind explaining that?"
"I would," Kaepora uttered as he stretched his wings in a wide arc, "but I think it would be best to do so once you’ve collected the Spiritual Stone of Fire first."
"Spiritual Stone of Fire…" Link could hardly contain his excitement. "So it is hidden here. Zelda was right. Do you know where it is hidden?"
"Yes…and no," the Owl answered with a grim face. "I don’t know of its exact location, but I do know that it lies somewhere within Death Mountain. The ancient Sages knew where to hide them well, for Death Mountain is a cruel place. Many who have dared to climb its mighty walls have never returned, and it is littered with legends that cannot be verified as either true or false."
"Just like the Lost Woods," Link thought quietly before saying, "Okay, so that’s where we need to go. I’m sure we can find it if we try. When do we leave?"
"At dawn," Kaepora answered. "I wish to explore Death Mountain with as much sunlight as we can gather. So you should get some rest now and…oh, here’s something for you."
The Owl then lifted one of his claws and threw something large in it at Link’s feet. It was a bush, and its tiny branches were decorated with dozens of clusters of bright red berries. Smiling, Link looked back up at Kaepora and asked, "So you managed to predict our hunger as well?"
Strangely, the Owl seemed to smile with its beak before Kaepora answered, "No, I just used good old common sense."
Link’s memories suddenly skipped past his eating of the berries and his nap, and the next thing he saw was himself…high in the sky, with Kaepora Gaebora carrying him in his powerful claws. Ahead of him was Death Mountain, its mighty peak seemingly beckoning him to explore its forbidden secrets. Behind him was Kakariko Village, its dull nightly exterior now being cleansed by the fresh rays of the dawning sun.
As Death Mountain grew closer and closer, Kaepora Gaebora called out, "We must be careful when we search for the Stone. The mountain is an active volcano and can erupt at any time. And we mustn’t be separated either, for the mountain has many tricks up its sleeve that can confuse even a well-trained tracker’s abilities, so even I would lose you and Navi."
"Hey, where is Navi?" Link asked.
"Right here," Navi responded from atop the Owl’s back. She didn’t say so, but she was actually enjoying flying upon another creature’s back…
Link couldn’t recall much of the search for the Spiritual Stone of Fire, mainly because it wasn’t worth remembering. Kaepora would take Link and place him on the side of the mountain somewhere, and the three of them would search the area as thoroughly as they could before leaving for another section to probe. By the time Din’s Eye was blazing high in the blue fields of the sky, everyone felt frustrated and exhausted – especially the Owl, for he had to carry Link every time they finished searching an area. But they still pressed on, determined to find the valuable key to the Sacred Realm…
It was late in the afternoon when Death Mountain finally responded to their presence…
The trio was exploring a dangerous section of the mountain where cliffs and loose-looking boulders were in bountiful supply. Deciding to take a chance, Link wandered farther than he usually did from Kaepora to inspect a jut of rocks near a steep bluff. That proved to be a deadly mistake, for as he stooped down to examine the bulge, the ground beneath his feet began to quake.
"The mountain’s erupting!" he heard Kaepora’s voice call out. "Let’s get out of here…Link! Link, where are you? Link!"
The Owl called out several more times before he saw Link and he glided as quickly as he could towards the stumbling Kokiri. But even then he was too late. As Kaepora’s claws grabbed Link’s shoulders, dozens of boulders began pouring down the mountain’s surface, spitting dust and gritty shrapnel in every direction. Kaepora tried to hold on to his precious cargo, but because he had carried Link around for so long he didn’t have the strength needed to keep his grip.
Without warning, a flying rock the size of Link’s head appeared from within the chaotic dust storm and struck the Owl’s back with full force. Kaepora screamed a terrible, earsplitting cry of pain before letting go of Link. The Kokiri fell and was soon lost within the chaos below…
All that Link remembered after that was landing hard on the ground and rolling like a stone along the inclined ground. He luckily saw the ravine ahead and tried to stop himself, but the sandy floor provided no such help. Fortunately, he also saw the tree root dangling like a vine in his path and he reached out and grabbed just as he slid off the edge.
Then came his desperate struggle to climb back up, his inner conflicts, his final decision to die by his own hand, and…Gohma…
So, the parasite had returned from the grave to seek vengeance upon what had killed it. Link remembered his discussion with Navi about whether or not the beast was evil, and he wondered whether or not he had been right. He claimed it wasn’t evil, but do non-evil creatures seek revenge? Did Link really understand anything? Did he really have what it takes to walk the path of destiny the Great Deku Tree told him about?
Was he even supposed to be here…?
It was then that Link awoke. He didn’t awake with a start, but it was fast enough that he didn’t feel like falling back asleep immediately. Even so, his body felt stiff and sore, as if he had fallen from the heights of the Deku Tree and lived to tell about it. His eyes didn’t see blurs; they saw nothing but blackness. He couldn’t hear much save a soft, rhythmic vaporous sound, like breathing…
As if on command, Link’s eyes adjusted to his new surroundings. The first thing he saw, however, wasn’t something he expected – or wanted, for that matter – to see.
"Gohma…" he managed to whisper loudly.
Then, he screamed.