Link looked around the cavern frantically, trying to see whatever was coming. Several torches positioned against the wall all around the room lighted the cavern, but even that couldn’t get rid of the overpowering sense of darkness that filled the room. It wasn’t as devastating to pure nightfall, but it was just as nerve-racking. Unable calm himself, he started to shake violently, even to the point where he nearly dropped his sword.
“Where is it?” his mind, surprisingly stable, thought. “Where is it coming from? Is it that cave…or could it be that one…or even that one…maybe even behind me…?”
As if hearing his thoughts, Link felt something touch his shoulder.
He gave a high-pitched shriek before leaping into the air clumsily, dropping his sword and shield in the process. He landed a few feet in front of him on his feet, but his legs were so weak from the jump they didn’t hold him up, sending him sprawling to the ground on his face. But he still managed to lift his head and turn to face whatever had crept up behind him. He expected to find a monstrous lizard staring down at him with beady eyes and anxious jaws.
Instead, he found a Goron, whom he recognized immediately.
“Malatite!” Link exclaimed as he stood up and dusted himself off. “You…you…what are you doing here?”
The Goron gave a sheepish grin before answering, “I’m here to help you, Link.”
Link’s face lit up a little when he heard those words. “You are? That’s great! I can use all the help I can get…but I thought you guys were too weak to fight the Dodongos, so…”
“I’m afraid I’m not here to help you fight,” Malatite uttered quietly. Link’s smile faded again. “I’m here to help you navigate the mine. It can be a maze down here for those who aren’t comfortable with it, and almost every Goron can navigate this mine blinded.”
Well, Link thought, at least I’ll have some company should I die. “But why didn’t you think of that before I stepped into the mine?” His tone, although not intentionally, was slightly livid and demanding of an answer.
Malatite looked down to the ground and mumbled, “The Goron race isn’t a stupid race, but we sometimes tend to be slow thinkers. Eons of living solitary lives have evolved us into strong, powerful creatures that usually don’t reflect over things carefully. Big Brother is an exception most of the time, but not even he can escape our mandatory existence forever. Today is an example.
“When you entered the cave, he just stood quietly where he was, unable to move or take his eyes off the mine’s entrance. All we could do was wait for him to do something, for we care about Big Brother and we didn’t feel comfortable about him just standing there like that. After a while he finally did speak, and we were stunned by what he said. He wanted to go in after you so he could help you.
“We begged him not to go, for even Big Brother’s strength had gone down since the arrival of the Dodongos and he was no match for them. But he asked, even pleaded us to let him go inside, for he wanted to do what he could to help, even if it were to help you around the mine. Naturally, we suggested that one of us go in his stead. Overwhelmed by our pleas, he consented to let a volunteer go in to help you.
“I happened to be the only one who volunteered.”
Link was staggered. He didn’t know what to think or to say. The Goron standing before him had volunteered – solely! – to help him in this dangerous quest. To top it all off, Darunia had actually wanted to help as well! It was all too much to take in at once. This race was treating him like a prophet, a savior of the people, when all he happened to be was an ordinary Kokiri that just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Or, to the Gorons, the right place at the right time.
He wished he could say something – a thank you, an acceptance of his help, anything! – but his voice had frozen in his throat. Malatite merely stood there, awaiting a response but not in any way demanding one. Link wanted to cry, cry partly because of Malatite’s kindness to risk his neck to help Link.
He also wanted to cry partly because he realized he was a coward. He may have slain Gohma, he may have volunteered to help the Gorons, but in truth he was a coward. He could only be brave when his own life was somehow directly involved. He had trembled not before an actual Dodongo, but the remains of one. He had put on a charade outside the cave instead of admitting his cowardice before stepping in. Now he was going to show his spinelessness before Malatite, someone who believed in him more strongly than most of the Goron race.
It was almost enough to break his heart…
“Link…are you all right?” Malatite’s question sounded like a mallet driving in the final nail through his heart.
“Malatite, there’s something I have to tell you.” The words tasted like bitter bark sap in his throat. He strained himself from making eye contact with the Goron. “I’m…I’m a coward. I’m afraid. I’m no hero. I can’t do this. I’m sorry.”
With those words he dropped his sword and shield to the ground. They struck the ground with a soft thud. The silence that followed was thick enough to create an impenetrable wall between the two in the cave…
Princess Zelda jumped when she saw something rustle in the trees, only to sigh in relief when she discovered it was nothing more than a pair of black song thrushes. She shook her head in release and continued her walk down the worn path in the Royal Gardens.
Ever since her encounter with Ganondorf, Zelda had felt uneasy and anxious. She expected the King of Thieves to appear at any moment and threaten her again, maybe even go after her life. It wasn’t pleasant for her at all, for she had grown up in a world where virtually everybody loved and adored her. While she never let such a thing go to her head, she had obviously taken it for granted and now she had to live with it until the Prince of the Desert’s leaving.
That is, if he even was going to leave…
Zelda knew that Ganondorf had a hidden agenda for coming to Hyrule, and now she was almost certain it was the Triforce. He had told her with his own lips that he had gone after the three Spiritual Stones, and what purpose do such treasures serve other than the keys to the Sacred Realm?
But something else worried her: he didn’t have the Spiritual Stones with him right now. Why didn’t he come to Hyrule after collecting them? Were they that hard…or had he something else in mind first? He said he would collect them after he had done what was “needed” here, so he obviously was going to do something in Hyrule Castle that only he would benefit from.
What was that “something?” What was Ganondorf planning? She felt that Time was slipping past too quickly, and whatever the King of the Gerudo was planning would happen before Link arrived with the next, hopefully both, Spiritual Stones. And whatever it was, it would somehow be related to him getting his hands on the sacred Triforce.
“You’ll never get it,” she thought with a smile as she stroked a small part of her dress down her right thigh. The sizeable yet unnoticeable bulk located there tingled beneath her fingertips. “Not when I have the remaining key…”
Just then she froze when something scampered before her in the road.
She relaxed again when she saw it was only a blue jack hare.
Link kept his gaze fixed to the ground after his confession to Malatite. He didn’t want to see the disappointment in the Goron’s eyes, the hurt he must’ve caused, the tears that probably could form in a Goron’s eye. He expected to hear bawling and the loud thud of Malatite falling to the ground in shame and sorrow.
What he never expected was to see two items held by two powerful hands placed underneath his gaze. They were his sword and shield, and the hands belonged to Malatite. Surprised, he looked up and found the Goron looking at him, not in disappointment or anger but in sympathy. The small yet comforting smile on Malatite’s face solidified this confusing response.
“Wha…what…?” Link stuttered before Malatite interrupted.
“You dropped these. I think you’re going to need them.”
Link was stunned. Was Malatite deaf or something? “Di…didn’t you hear what I said? I said I’m a cow…”
“Yes, I heard you perfectly,” the Goron doctor interjected politely, “and I must say you did the exact opposite of what a coward really is.”
Confusion flooded Link’s mind and eyes, urging Malatite to continue. “A true coward would’ve backed out of his word a long time before this. A true coward wouldn’t have wanted to stick around before he knew whether his promise were hard or not. You, on the other hand, stuck to your word and never let go of it, even down here. Even now you’re still standing where you said you’d stand.”
“But I…” Link hesitated momentarily, wondering whether or not to reveal this information. “I cowered before a skull! I became scared because I saw a Dodongo’s remains! Doesn’t that mean…?”
“What is means is that you’re realistic. Do you honestly think that we Gorons weren’t scared of that skull the first time we saw it…? We wouldn’t touch it for several years before we finally decided to put it down here. The fact that you didn’t run from here is amazing. Link…even those of the Almighty Five were scared before they became legends. Even Big Brother can get scared sometimes!”
The memory of Link’s first meeting to Darunia suddenly entered his mind. He remembered standing up to the big Goron, refusing to move at all, and how the leader of the Gorons had crumbled because of such a gesture. He had been so ashamed of himself that he completely forgot about that. But was it enough?
“So…are you saying…?”
“What I’m saying is that you’re not a coward. It takes real courage to admit when you’re afraid…although I must admit I’ve rarely met someone who admits he’s a coward straight out. Maybe that’s just a sign of even greater courage. Who knows? All I know is that you’re being too hard on yourself and you need to stop thinking you’re a coward so you can fulfill your promise. You don’t have to fulfill it, of course – I’m not obliging you to – but I have a feeling you want to.”
Malatite then lifted the sword and shield closer towards the Kokiri. “Now please, take these back, for I don’t think I could use them.”
Link looked at the items he had dropped for a long moment before finally nodding and slowly putting them in his hands once again. When he touched the, he felt his strength return, his strength to continue with his quest. He didn’t know if Malatite was right or not, but he swore there and then that he would do all he could to prove the Goron correct.
He made himself comfortable with his utensils before asking, “Right, I’m ready! So where can we find some Dodongos? I’m ready to take on a whole army of those giants!” He then pointed to the skull with his sword.
Malatite smiled an enormous smile and uttered, “Well, you’ll be disappointed, because…”
That was when they heard the scream. It wasn’t one of terror or pain, but of intention, intention to induce fear. It sounded somewhat like a bird’s high-pitched cackle, brief and guttural, but Link knew from experience that it wasn’t a bird at all. It had come from something big, something powerful, something heading in their direction.
He turned to face a tunnel on the closest wall, and moments later saw something emerge from within its inky blackness. No, not something, somethings! There were two of them, and they made no attempt to hide themselves from the Kokiri and Goron. In fact, it seemed like they wanted to be noticed, as if confident in the abilities and skills they were about to show off.
They were lizardmen. Big, tall, lizardmen. That was the only way Link could describe them. They had the anatomy of a person from top to bottom, but that was where the recognized stopped and the nightmare began. Their skin was colored a rich yet vile green and scales of the same color charted their hides all across their torso and upper body. Their hands, feet, neck, and face, however, were immune from scales and instead showed rippling veins pulsing like vigorous maggots through rugged muscles. Their faces were the epitome of a reptile, except for the fact that their eyes possessed an emotion never seen in lizards: spite, the desire to kill.
Link, with all his notions of cowardice gone, lifted his sword and shield, ready to face whatever these lizardmen were. A determined spirit had possessed his body. He didn’t recognize it during his fight with Gohma, but his evaluation of his courage had made him recognize it. If he was a coward, he wasn’t going to look like one.
“Malatite!” he bellowed to the Goron behind him. “Get back! I’ll take care of these things!”
He didn’t hear the Goron argue, but he faintly made out Malatite’s heavy footprints retreat to the other end of the cavern. Now ready, Link put on a gritty face – hopefully the same one he had had when he first met Darunia – and smiled a sly grin. He raised his sword and lifted his shield and whispered loudly to the approaching lizardmen, “Come and get me. I dare you!”
The closest lizardman emitted another bone-shattering bark, allowing a red snake-like tongue to whip from without a mouth of tiny, curved teeth. Then the creature did something Link never expected: it reached to its side and grabbed…a sword! It was only then that Link realized the creature was covered in armor! The emerald covering had been disguised by the lizard’s natural color, but now he saw it clearly, as well as the red scabbard and also the enormous sword it now wielded.
Swallowing hard, Link tightened his grip on his dagger.
Then the lizardman charged. It emitted an ear-splitting cry – most like a battle cry – and lifted its blade high in the air before bringing it down towards the Kokiri. Link, knowing he wouldn’t be able to meet the attack with his weapon, raised his shield in the blade’s path. Moments later he heard loud thwack as the weapon struck the shield with its sharp edge. Link expected the sword to slice through the wooden shield and find his flesh.
Remarkably, the Deku wood held the impact, preventing the lizardman’s steel from carving Link. The blow, however, did knock Link to the ground backward. He landed on his back with a thud, but he never lost his sense of direction for a moment. Even so, he barely had time to think before he watched the lizardman raise its weapon yet again to strike. With a quick thrust Link rolled over to his right, barely making it before the sword buried itself in the hard soil of the cavern with a clink.
Link scrambled to stand up and raised his sword and shield. The lizardman screamed a furious yelp as it yanked its weapon from the ground and again charged. This time, Link was ready. As the lizard lifted its sword, Link raised his own blade and sent it on a course for the beast’s stomach. But just before the weapon reached its target, it stopped abruptly in a cloud of sparks before Link realized that the lizardman had used its sword to defend itself.
“He isn’t a pushover, that’s for sure,” Link thought as he gritted his teeth to strain his muscles. “And he’s strong, too…”
The two fighters kept their weapons locked for several moments, each trying to push the other away solely with his strength. Despite his determination, Link could feel his relatively small weapon slipping from the lizardman’s giant blade. When that happened, he would be completely defenseless and he would most likely be diced into little bits…
…unless he executed a desperate gamble he just thought of!
The two combatants struggled to overcome his opponent, and they both knew that only one was going to be the victor. All of a sudden, Link’s dagger slipped from the lizardman’s sword, allowing the creature’s weapon to complete its trajectory towards Link’s flesh.
But it only found air, for Link had used a bulk of his strength to keep his blade from slipping while he positioned himself to slip underneath the lizardman. When the two pieces of steel finally unlocked, Link used the force of the lock to skim across the grainy ground of the cavern, underneath the lizardman’s legs. The Kokiri managed to make it a little beyond the beast’s long, belt-like tail.
But the lizardman wasn’t as stupid as Link had hoped, for a split moment later the beast turned around, raised its blade high in the air, and brought it down in Link’s direction. Link, surprised but not stupefied, managed to roll away in time, allowing the enormous sword to be embedded in the ground a second time. This time, however, Link made sure it stayed embedded.
With a surprisingly fluent motion, Link arched his dagger over his head. The blade’s tip found its way into the wrist of the lizardman’s sword arm, sinking deeply into the thick green flesh. As the blade exited the wound, black blood gushed from the wound, spraying the dagger, the ground, and Link with its sticky vileness.
The lizardman screamed with pain as it reared back, let go of its rooted weapon and grabbed the wound in a poor effort to quell the pain. Link, although slightly blinded by the inky substance in his eyes, knew that it was now or never. He jumped to his feet, gripped his dripping weapon as tightly as he could, charged with a loud cry…and stopped when he had thrust his dagger into the lizardman’s throat, its only weak point through its armor. None of the weapon’s steel was visible; it had all been buried in the beast’s neck.
The lizardman let out a muffled yet shrill wail, a plea for help and a cry of pain, before its head reared back, taking the rest of its body with it. As it landed with a loud crash from its armor, the wound from its throat opened further, allowing a sickeningly large amount of dark ooze to gush out. Its mouth became an outlet for all the blood that couldn’t escape through the wound.
Link, who had let go of the knife to let the lizardman fall, remained silent and still for a moment, despite the fact that there was another lizardman ready to take the fallen one’s place. He felt something about this kill, something he had never expected. It was a feeling he never thought he’d feel, but now that he was feeling it he couldn’t help smile about it. It was the feeling of pleasure, pleasure derived from pain…
…and he liked it…
Just then, a loud scream indicated that the second lizardman was on the rampage. He didn’t know the reason why they fought one at a time, but he didn’t care. It was better for him, because he could take them on one at a time. The carcass he had just created was a clear indication of that.
With unnatural impulses flowing through his veins, Link reached for his embedded dagger and withdrew it from its fleshy scabbard with a nauseating squelch. But he didn’t feel sick; on the contrary, he felt invincible. He felt powerful. He felt…hungry…for death…
The lizardman found its prey and made a blow with its sword, but Link didn’t use his shield to block it. He instead used his dagger to meet the oncoming strike, and with unbelievable, newfound strength he managed to block and deflect the beast’s attack. This only made the lizardman even angrier and it started to hack its way furiously at Link.
The Kokiri met each attack perfectly, blocking and deflecting them all. The lessons Kaepora Gaebora had taught him on the way to Hyrule Castle were starting to come together. He could feel their usefulness flow through him. He could sense the desire for the sword to touch the beast’s flesh, to tear it apart, to hurt it in every possible way. And, without a single doubt in his mind, he knew he wanted to fulfill that desire!
After he had finished toying with the beast, Link finally made his move. He pushed the sword aside during one of its attacks and moved forward. The lizardman didn’t have time to act when Link took his dagger and thrust it deep into the creature’s left eye. The blade sank in deep, though not all the way because it struck bone through its journey into the beast’s skull.
The lizardman didn’t even have time to scream. It simply fell, dead before it even reached the floor.
Link drew his sword from the beast’s skull and held it high in the air, allowing the black ooze on its once beautiful surface to drip down the hilt and onto his arm. He laughed the thought of killing the two lizardmen, laughed at their failed attempts, their cries of pain, and their agonizing deaths. He laughed at himself, wondering why he hadn’t experienced this pleasure when he had rid the world of Gohma and her children. Why…
Then, with an abrupt start, he knew why. Navi. Navi had been there to help him when he had killed Gohma, and she had been there before and afterwards. Navi had been a sort of control that never knew it existed. Navi had unintentionally made sure he never dwelled on the deaths of Gohma and her children and that he didn’t enjoy them. Now she wasn’t here, so he had all the time in the world to linger on his deeds. He was alone, and he was now paying the price.
His face turned as white a sheet and all the strength he had found earlier suddenly evaporated into nothingness. His muscles trembling, Link dropped his sword. The blade spun slowly in the air before sinking into a small crack in the ground. Link’s wide eyes watched its descent and noticed its ugly transformation. The weapon shiny surface had been tainted with the black blood of the lizardmen, destroying the beauty that had one existed.
His heart sank when he realized that that was exactly what had happened to him.
“Link? Link? What’s wrong…Link!”
Malatite’s words came too late for Link to care. All his strength now gone, Link closed his eyes and fell to the ground. He didn’t recall striking the ground, for he blacked out before he felt any pain.
Pain that he probably deserved.
He sniffed the air, wondered if he had guessed wrong, then sniffed again to make sure. It was undeniable. The servants given to him by the one who had resurrected his children were dead. They had failed in their task to bring him the Hylian flesh. To make matters worse, the thick aromas of their blood blocked out all odors emitted by the Hylian, so he didn’t know if it would remain in the cave.
But why should it leave? It came into the cave for some inexplicable reason, it had killed his servants with apparent ease, and it still hadn’t left before its smells had disappeared amidst the black odors. So why should it leave? It might actually go deeper into the cave, looking for whatever it entered the Great Mountain for, and head straight for him. It was a small chance, but he never thought of that as a liability.
One thing, though.
Did he detect the scent of a Stone Eater before the dead servants’ odors masked everything…?