Thursday, August 26, 2010

Chapter 44: Cutting the Strings

The sun performed another silent dawn as its yellow-orange face slowly peeked above the horizon and bathed Kakariko Village in its rays. The only sound to accompany it was the gentle rustle of wind in dry grass and the occasional crumbling of a roof shingle somewhere in the village. Very few people were out to witness the sunrise; many of the villagers felt there was no point to waking up early in a land that was condemned to die by the man ruling it with an iron fist.

Sheik, however, was different. He found a very good reason to be where he was now: sitting on a small shelf on the windmill, perched just beneath the rotating blades, staring back at the half-hidden face of Din’s Fire. The marvelous beauty that can be found in a sunrise was one of the few things that Ganondorf had not tainted with his foul touch; Sheik woke up early every morning to watch the sun emerge so as to be reminded of the beauty that was stolen from Hryule, beauty that will be returned to them, thanks to the Hero of Time.

Speaking of which…

“I wonder how long it’ll take for Link to awaken the Forest Sage?” he thought, scratching his cheek underneath his enormous collar. “It’s been, what, five or six days since I left him. I hope he’s doing all right without my help. This is his first major battle since his awakening, not to mention his first major battle as a grownup…”

Sheik straightened himself out before continuing his line of thought. “Link…a grownup. Boy, it must be hard to be a child one moment and then be an adult the next, especially for someone like him. To be forced to grow up that quickly must be so…nerve-racking. But then again…we all had to do the same thing when Ganondorf stole the Triforce…”

Just then, as he glanced down at the ground away from the sun, which was now high enough to burn his eyes, Sheik noticed a long shadow moving down in the village. At first he thought it was a villager taking a morning walk, but he quickly realized the shadow was too long to be just a person. No, the bottom portion of the shadow was quite thick compared to the rest of it, which meant the owner of the shadow was…

…riding a horse.

“Link? Is that you?”

Sheik shielded his eyes so he could filter out the sun’s rays, and when he glanced upward to see the owner of the shadow, he instantly saw what he was looking for: a horse with a single rider who was wearing a long cap on his head and a sword and shield upon his back. Sheik didn’t need to make out any details to realize who the person was.

“Link! You’re back!”

Sheik didn’t scream out Link’s name loudly; the possibility of spies being anywhere nearby was very high in this day and age. Instead he simply waved wildly to draw Link’s attention. When he was sure Link was looking in his direction, Sheik stopped waving and started moving. He jumped down the shelf, deciding not to use the ladder, and landed on the ground with a delicate thud. He then started to run as fast as he could to the edge of the village, where Link was probably waiting for him now.

He found Link easily; the Hero of Time was indeed waiting on horseback near the entrance to the village. Sheik only increased his speed as he ran up to Link, still waving furiously. When he reached the horse – her name was Epona, he believed – Sheik didn’t waste time looking up at its rider in delight.

“Welcome back, Hero of Time,” Sheik announced with a smile under his collar. “How did things go at the Temple of the Forest?”

To Sheik’s surprise, Link didn’t answer or even turn to look at the Sheikah. Instead the Hero of Time simply remained seated on Epona, staring blanking ahead without making a single movement.

“Hero of Time? Are you all right?”

This time Link responded, but not through speaking. Instead Link abruptly dismounted Epona on the side opposite of where Sheik was standing. He then grabbed the horse’s reins and proceeded to lead her to a nearby horse tether. As he securely fastened Epona’s reins to the tether, Sheik walked up to the Hero of Time, looked at him curiously for a moment, and then tried to say something again.

“Is something the matter…?”

“Do you know what I’ve been thinking about?”

Sheik blinked in surprise when Link unexpectedly spoke. “Um…come again?”

“Do you know what I’ve been thinking about?” Link repeated, this time more firmly. “Do you know what’s been on my mind for the past couple of days?”

“Uh…no, I don’t. What are you…?”

“Death.”

Sheik nearly jumped back when Link interrupted him. “Death?”

“Death.” By now Link had finished tethering Epona and turned around to face Sheik. When the Sheikah saw Link’s eyes he couldn’t believe how narrow and twisted they were. They seemed to be bloodshot from a lack of sleep, but they also appeared almost cold and condescending.

“You see, Sheik,” Link continued, “as I was riding back here from the Forest Temple, I reflected upon all my past accomplishments and achievements…and failures. I then realized that many of my accomplishments would’ve become failures had it not been for one thing: death.”

“Death? I’m still not understanding what you’re talking…”

“I’m talking…about killing.”

That got Sheik’s attention.

“When I first started out on this little quest or whatever, I hated killing. I thought it to be the vilest thing imaginable. My first kill, the monster known as Gohma, I made with an apology. I gave her a reason for her death. Back then…I would’ve done almost anything else other than killing. Anything.”

Link then smiled. “But now…I realize that it was killing that has gotten me this far. All those beasts I’ve slain, all those monsters I killed with my own hands…they all deserved to die. And it was their deaths that have taken me where I am today. Had I not killed, I would’ve been killed. And now that I’ve come to accept that, I will not hold back any longer. I will not allow sentimentalism to get in the way of what I need to do.”

Sheik was starting to shake, although he didn’t know why. “I…I still don’t understand. Why are you telling me this? What’s the point to telling me this…?”

“I’m just giving you a fair warning, Sheik,” Link uttered. “When I have to kill…I will not hesitate. And anyone who gets in my way…will wish they hadn’t.”

Without another word, Link reached into his pouch and pulled out what appeared to be a red fruit of some kind. He then lifted it to his mouth and took an enormous bite out of it, chewing it quickly.

As he chewed, Sheik stared in amazement at him. Was this the Link he had left several days ago back at the Lost Woods? Was this the Hero of Time who was destined to save Hyrule from the evil of Ganondorf? The old Link was a kindhearted, gentle boy who was willing to do anything to help, but now he seemed so flippant and uncaring. And his speech about killing sounded incredibly callous. Was this really the same Link Sheik knew…?

Pueah! Yuck! This fruit’s rotten!” Link cried as he spat out the contents of the red fruit from his mouth. He then looked at the remainder of the fruit in his hand, snorted in disgust, and crushed it between his fingers with a loud squelch, spraying fruit juice in every direction.

Sheik, still surprised at Link’s sudden turnabout, took a step forward and said, “Link…are you…okay?”

Link didn’t answer immediately but instead looked up and stared deep into Sheik’s eyes. He then smiled a smile that seemed almost devilish, one that nearly frightened Sheik. Sheik also quickly glanced at Link’s hand that once held the fruit; by now its red juices were trickling down his hand and arm like…like…blood…

When Sheik looked back up at Link’s face, Link responded. “Sheik…I’ve never felt better.”
 
********************

“And that’s how it happened, Sheik. He just…snapped.”

Sheik nodded and paused for a moment, allowing Navi to recollect her thoughts for any more questions Sheik might have. The two of them were inside the house where Sheik had given Link the hookshot, the window curtains drawn and the only light provided by the single flame burning in the fireplace. Sheik had managed to get Navi away from Link about fifteen minutes ago outside; Link had been practicing with his new bow and arrows while muttering to himself about improving his aim.

The Sheikah and the fairy stared at each other in silence for a brief while before Sheik finally spoke up again. “So can you tell me anything else? What happened after he learned he was a Hylian? Anything?”

“Well, on the way from the Lost Woods to back here, Link did look very restless and I don’t think he slept that much. He would either giggle softly to himself or stare blankly at his hands without a word. I tried talking to him a couple of times, but each time he would just mumble incoherently. Then I think it was a day before we got here that he started practicing with his sword.”

“Practicing with his sword?”

“Yes. He did sword practices before, but never that fiercely. The way he waved that blade, the look in his eyes as he practiced…it was frightening. I never thought that he would change like that just from learning his true past.”

“I suppose his past meant a lot to him,” Sheik observed. “When I learned that my father died from fighting in the war against Ganondorf, I broke down inside and seriously considered quitting the resistance movement. For him to lose his past must’ve been enough to for him to turn his back on his new one. At least that’s the best explanation I can come up with right now. But you’re right; Link’s sudden change is frightening.”

The two fell silent again before Sheik continued, “By the way, Navi, what do you think of it? What do you think of Link discovering he’s a Hylian? Does that change anything for you as his guardian fairy?”

“Well, not really…he may be a Hylian, but he’s still my charge, given to me by the late Great Deku Tree. I will be his fairy until I am called back by the new Great Deku Tree or either I or Link is dead. That will never…wait a minute, how do you know about the contract between a Kokiri and a fairy, Sheik?”

Sheik suddenly seemed to choke a little as he adjusted his collar. “Well, I…I’ve been reading a lot these years…and, you see…”

BAAAAAAM…

Navi and Sheik turned their attention to the door, which had been slammed open. Link was standing in this doorway, his hand resting securely on the door. His eyes surveyed the room for a moment before they found the Sheikah and his fairy. He stared at the both of them almost coldly before he started walking into the room, crashing the door behind him with a firm swing.

“Link…” Sheik started before Link rudely interrupted her.

“I’ve awakened the Forest Sage, Sheik. Now where’s the next temple?”

Sheik blinked. “Excuse me?”

“The next temple!” Link snapped as he pounded his hand on the table. “Can’t you tell me where the next bloody temple is? I’m supposed to awaken the five Sages, am I not? And one certainly isn’t going to cut it, now is it? Now…where is the next temple?”

“Well, I…I’m don’t know if…that is, I…”

Link gaped in sardonic surprise. “Don’t tell me you don’t know where the other temples are!”

“No, no, where know where they are,” Sheik assured as quickly as he could, “but…there’s a little bit of a problem.”

Link raised an eyebrow in curiosity. “Oh? And what problem is that?”

“Look here.”

Sheik then drew Link’s attention to the familiar map on the tabletop. The Sheikah used his finger to point out a mountainous representation behind what appeared to be Kakariko Village on the map. Link didn’t need Sheik to tell him what that representation was, but Sheik did anyway.

“This is Death Mountain, which I’m sure you’re familiar with. One of the temples, the Fire Temple, is located here…”

“Then what’s the problem?” Link demanded.

“Well…have you seen Death Mountain lately?”

Link paused to think the question over for a minute. “I guess…but what does that have to do…?”

“There is a legend in this village handed down by the Sheikah. It says, ‘When the clouds of the mountain are as red as its fires, you can be sure all is not well there.’ Legends always seem to have some kind of truth in them, for we now know that Ganondorf has been to Death Mountain.”

At the mention of that name, Link’s eyes narrowed. “Ganondorf is up there? Then it’s all the more reason for me to go there right now…!”

Ganondorf’s not there right now,” Sheik pointed out, “but his influence is. But Ganondorf isn’t the only thing I’m worried about. You see, we’ve discovered through ancient scripts that the Fire Temple is located somewhere deep within Death Mountain’s volcanic area, so anyone other than a Goron who goes there will be unable to withstand the incredible heat.

“Then there’s the beast.”

Link jerked his head in surprise. “Beast? What beast?”

“For several months now there have been rumors going around Hyrule that Ganondorf has resurrected some kind of beast within the mountain. I’ve tried sending spies to find out what this beast could possibly be, but they’ve found nothing. I fear that Ganondorf might’ve put the monster inside the Fire Temple to protect it from outsiders, which means this task will be more difficult than we really need it to be.”

At first Link didn’t say anything to Sheik’s description of the situation, but then, to the Sheikah’s surprise, Link chuckled.

“Link…what’s so funny?”

“So that’s it, is it?” Link uttered without even hearing Sheik’s question. “Then it’s settled: I’m going to kill that beast.”

Now it was Sheik’s turn to jerk his head in surprise. “Kill the…Link, what are you talking about?”

“It all makes sense,” Link stated as he looked down at the map and pointed at a portion inside the Lost Woods. “When I went inside the Forest Temple, I had to fight a phantom version of Ganondorf. After I defeated that phantom, the power of the Forest Temple was awakened. And now I hear that Ganondorf might have put a beast inside the Fire Temple…that can only mean one thing. Ganondorf sealed the temples using the life force of monsters to imprison the temples’ power. Killing the monsters is the key to unlocking the temples’ power. All I have to do is kill whatever beast Ganondorf put inside the Temple of Fire and…well, I’m sure you know the rest.”

Sheik, while still a little nervous of Link’s sardonic tone, couldn’t help but see his logic. “I see your point,” he agreed. “However, it’s only an educated guess at best. What if you’re wrong and…?”

“We’ll have to go and see, then. I’m leaving for Death Mountain first thing in the morning.”

“Tomorrow morning? Are you sure? Maybe you should wait a couple of days and rest yourself before you tackle something like…”

“I’m fully rested already, thank you very much!” Link snapped. “I don’t need someone telling me when I can or can’t do what I need to do! I’m leaving tomorrow morning the moment the sun rises, with or without you…which reminds me, do you have another song to teach me? Another song I need to play after I’ve awakened the next Sage?”

“What…oh, er…yeah, I do…”

“Do you need to teach it to me up on the mountain, or can I learn it right here right now?”

“Well, um…you need to learn it on the mountain, or else the song won’t be affixed to the surroundings it’s meant to heal…”

“Then be ready to leave first thing tomorrow, because I will not wait for you. Now, is there anything else I need to know?”

Sheik hesitated and thought for a moment before shaking his head. “No…I guess there isn’t.”

“Then, if you’ll excuse me, I’ll be outside practicing.”

Without another word, Link turned around and promptly headed for the door. But just as he grabbed the door handle to open the door, Sheik held out a hand and cried out, “Wait, Link, I just remembered something.”

Without turning around, Link muttered, “What?”

“It’s the Gorons. Since Ganondorf has been up on the mountain, I’m sure he’s done something or is planning to do something awful to the Gorons. I just want you to be ready to save them if need be.”

Link remained silent for a minute, not moving to even turn around and look at Sheik. He seemed to be muttering to himself, as if asking himself if something he was doing was what he really wanted to do. Sheik waited patiently for Link to answer; when he did, he got something completely unexpected.

“Why should I?”

The silence that followed was thick enough to shatter into a thousand shards with but a whisper.

“Link…wha…what do you mean by that?”

Now Link turned around, and when Sheik saw his eyes he nearly fell to his knees in surprise. The Hero of Time stared at the Sheikah sternly and coldly, as if the question shouldn’t have been asked.

“What do I mean by that, you ask?” he asked, sounding irritated. “I’ll tell you what I mean by that. What I mean…is that I want a very good reason why I should put my life on the line for them.”

“Because…you’re the Hero of Time!” Shiek blurted out without thinking. He quickly realized that it was not what Link wanted to hear.

“Because I’m the Hero of Time,” Link repeated cynically. “Since when did the job of the Hero of Time come with such a ridiculous requirement?”

“Ridiculous…?”

“If I remember correctly, all I’m supposed to do is awaken the five Sages and kill the man who is ruling this country. I don’t remember hearing anything about going on rescue missions that could be pointless or even suicidal. Or maybe I wasn’t paying attention. Would you care to enlighten me? You seem to know a lot about the Hero of Time, after all.”

Sheik struggled to find a reply to Link’s bizarre statements. “Being…being the Hero of Time…is about saving this land of Hyrule…and that includes the people that dwell within it…”

“Oh, so now you conveniently make people part of the land that I, the Hero of Time, am meant to save…this is a war, Sheik! I can’t just go out and rescue everyone that’s been captured or sentenced to die for whatever reason! I have my core job as the Hero of Time to do, and I don’t have time to act rashly or stupidly.”

“Link…I…you’re right. This is a war we’re in right now. And I know you can’t save everyone…but you have to do all you can to save as many as you can. You can’t just ignore those that need your help in their time of need. You have to help them…”

“And I ask again…why should I?”

Without thinking again, Sheik cried out, “Because it was the responsibility you chose to wield as the Hero of Time, that’s why!”

It didn’t Sheik more than a moment to realize that this response was worse than the last one.

CRACK…

With one quick movement, Link raised his right hand and punched it straight through the cottage’s wooden door. Splinters flew in every direction and the door nearly loosened from its hinges because of the impact from Link’s fist, but luckily the door held fast. Link didn’t withdraw his hand immediately from the hole he had just created; instead he stared at Sheik with a stare so sour that Sheik could feel his blood run cold.

“Link…” he tried to start before the Hero of Time interrupted him.

“Don’t…you…dare…tell me…that…again!” he bellowed before yanking his arm from the door with a soft crunch. “I didn’t choose anything, you understand? I was made the Hero of Time without my consent, without my permission. Did you really think that I would submit that easily to be something I never wanted to be in the first place? If you did, you had better get your ideas straight.”

Link then stormed his way toward the table behind which Shiek was standing, slammed his right palm on the table, and leaned forward. “I lost something precious…something really important to me…because I was the Hero of Time. I will not allow myself to be manipulated like that again! I will not be controlled by this title anymore! I will not be anyone’s…puppet! Do you understand me?”

Link leaned even closer to the Sheikah, making sure his gaze was more than enough to make his feelings known. He noticed Sheik trying to respond but unable to say anything; all the Sheikah did was stare back at Link, his eyes betraying a very real fear of the Hero of Time.

It was then that Link noticed something about the way Sheik was looking at him. It wasn’t the fact that Sheik looked scared; it was how Sheik was showing he was scared. Sheik’s eyes were shivering with horror, struggling to prevent tears from escaping. They reminded him of when he had seen someone else appeared this terrified, reminded him of when someone had this look of fear showing on her face.

He could still remember vividly how Princess Zelda looked at him as she rode off with Impa on her horse seven years ago. Ganondorf’s evilness had been what had instilled that fear in her. And now he was seeing the exact same thing from Sheik. Was he really, at this moment, acting just like…just like Ganondorf…?

Link slammed his other hand on the table and glared at Sheik for a moment before suddenly straightening his back, turning around, and heading for the door. He stopped just a footstep shy of the door and stood still, waiting patiently for Sheik to regain his composure.

“Link?” Sheik mumbled after finding the courage to speak again.

“I’ll make a deal with you, Sheik,” Link interrupted again, only this time more politely than before.

“A deal?”

“When we go to the Fire Temple, I’ll do what I can to save the Gorons…but only within what I feel is necessary. I will not put my life on the line for them…or go too far out of my way to help them. That’s about as much as I can guarantee for you, and that’s all I’m going to offer. Do I make myself clear?”

A slight pause filled the room before Sheik quietly nodded. “Yes…crystal clear.”

“Good,” Link uttered before opening the door gently. “We’re still leaving in the morning. I suggest you get ready whatever we need for the trip. I’ll be practicing outside if you need any help, all right?”

For the first time in a while, Sheik smiled. “Okay. Thank you, Link.”

Link tilted his head a little to the side but still didn’t turn around. “Just remember, Sheik. I will not be a puppet any longer. I’ve given you a fair warning. I suggest you take heed of it.”

The Hero of Time then exited the cabin, closing the door behind him with a soft yet firm thud.
 
********************

The sun broke over the horizon the next morning slowly, almost painfully, like a dreamer awaking from a forced sleep. As Din’s Eye’s orange rays blanketed the world below, the landscape slowly recollected its colors lost the evening before. But Death Mountain remained as bleak as ever, refusing to shed its dark countenance in the wake of the morning light. Even touched by Ganondorf’s evil hand, it was still the foreboding and threatening peak it had been seven years ago.

“You will not gain the upper hand this time,” Link vowed, remembering how he had nearly been killed on the mountain’s surface the last time he visted. He then made sure he had a firm grip on the rocky ledges before using one hand to cup his mouth. “Hey, Sheik, how much farther?”

From above, Sheik looked down at the Hero of Time from a small but sturdy ridge. “Not too far, Link. There should be an entrance to Goron City a little higher up from here. Just be careful; some of the rocks feel a little slippery.”

“No problem…” Link cried back when he was gently interrupted by the fairy underneath his hat.

“Link?”

“Yes, what is it, Navi?”

“I…there’s something we need to do. Something on this mountain.”

Link rolled his eyes. “Something we need to do? Navi, we’re a little busy right now doing something we need to do. If it’s something else, we can’t…”

“We don’t have to do it right now. We can do it after we awaken the Sage of Fire. But we have to do it before we leave the mountain.”

“Fair enough,” Link uttered before swinging his arm over a crevasse to grab a sturdy foothold. “So what exactly are we going to do?”

“I…I’m not sure.”

For some reason, Link wasn’t surprised. “You’re not sure?” he repeated agitatedly. “And why is that?”

“I…I don’t know how to describe it, but I just know that there’s something we need to do. I’m pretty sure I know where we need to go, but that’s about it…”

“That’s it, huh?” Link groaned as he pulled himself up. “Well, Navi, I suggest you find something more substantial to go with your hunch, because I sure am not going to…”

Just then, Link felt his entire bodyweight start to fall. He quickly glanced up and was in time to see his right hand holding onto a large rock…that was detaching itself from the rest of the mountain!

“Oh, drat!”

He quickly tried to let go of the loose rock so he could grab onto another hold, but the momentum of the stone was pushing his hand away from any possible jut he could grab. And he could already feel his other hand’s grip loosening, which meant he had only his legs to keep him from plummeting down the vertical cliff he was climbing. And he was already tilting backwards like windmill blades, so that didn’t really help him…

“Curse it!” Link swore in his mind.

Without a second thought, Link let go of the rock with his left hand and reached for his belt. He quickly grabbed the hookshot, yanked it from his belt, pointed it up at a nearby ridge, and squeezed the trigger. The mechanical hook sailed through the mountain air and struck the crest with deadly accuracy, dragging the rattling chain with it. The moment that Link heard the hook sink into the stone, he released the trigger to activate the retraction coil…

SIIINNNNG…

Link didn’t know how fast it took for the hookshot to jerk him off the cliff face and up to the ridge, but it was a lot quicker than he had anticipated. Before he could even blink, he was hanging at the bottom of the shelf by nothing more than his hand holding onto the hookshot’s handle; he almost felt like a piece of moss hanging from a tree branch…

“Link!” screamed the voice of Sheik from somewhere above. “Link, are you all right?”

“Yeah, I’m fine, don’t worry,” Link yelled back.

“Do you need any help?”

“No. I can handle this myself. Just wait a couple of minutes.”

“I told you those rocks were slippery!”

“Tell that to the rocks! They slipped off of themselves!”

Link then grumbled loudly to himself before uttering under his breath, “By the Three Goddesses…it’s at times like this that I wish Kaepora Gaebora was here…whatever happened to that Owl, anyway…?”

Almost as if expecting the Owl to fly up behind him and scare him, Link turned around, but not surprisingly he only saw the sunrise climbing the distant horizon. Shaking his head slightly, he thought, “Well, that was stupid, now wasn’t it? Still, it’s a nice sunrise, though…”

********************

CLING! CLANG! CLING…

The howls of steel striking each other echoed across the plains as the sun shone its brilliant orange face over the horizon. The fields surrounding Kakariko Village were usually quiet during times such as this, but not tonight. Tonight someone was ready to prove something and was willing to push himself to the limits to prove it.

Or, rather, herself…

The elongated shadows created by the setting sun danced vibrantly across the plains as the shadows’ owners clashed equally vibrantly with their swords, making blow after attempted blow but never actually striking the other. The moves they both made were extraordinary and certainly worthy of a master swordsman, but it quickly became apparent to both fighters that they were evenly matched.

CLAAAAANG…

A final clang ended with both fighters pushing each other back. They both stumbled slightly as they parted from their opponent, but they quickly regained their balance and readied themselves for another attack. When none came, Sheik was the first to speak.

“You’ve really improved, princess. I’m impressed.”

Zelda smirked. “I appreciate the compliment, Sheik, but I won’t rest until I’m standing over you with a blade against your throat.”

Now it was Sheik’s turn to smirk. “Interesting threat. Let’s see if you can come through with it.”

Heh.”

Without another word, Zelda charged, her sword raised in a position that could either attack or defend easily. But Sheik just as easily countered it with a quick swing up his right side. He kicked Zelda’s sword to the side, but Zelda used the momentum to her advantage as she swung around to strike him on his right. Yet Sheik again countered, stopping Zelda’s momentum cold.

“Not bad…” Sheik muttered as he struggled against Zelda’s surprising strength.

“You haven’t seen anything yet,” Zelda smiled.

“Oh, I think I’ve seen enough.”

Without warning of any kind, Sheik shifted the force applied to his sword, causing Zelda’s blade unexpectedly to slide down his. With reflexes rivaling those of a cat, Sheik used his opponent’s new momentum against her by allowing her stomach to fall onto his sword’s hilt. A gruff sigh of wind escaped Zelda’s lungs as she was struck by Sheik’s hilt, but he wasn’t done yet. The Sheikah immediately followed his attack by leaping into the air and landing a firm kick with his knee against Zelda’s chest. The princess didn’t even grunt as she toppled backwards and landed on the soggy ground with a gentle thud.

Smiling at the immobile girl before his feet, Sheik rested his sword on his right shoulder and walked up to her. “Good effort, but not good…”

“I thought you weren’t supposed to waste time mocking your opponent!”

Now it was Sheik’s turn to be surprised. Before he could react, Zelda’s limp body sprang to life. The princess forced all of her strength into her legs, where she made a well-placed side-kick that targeted Sheik’s legs. The Sheik didn’t have time to jump before he felt the ground underneath him disappear. He couldn’t even execute recovery maneuvers before he felt his own back hit the soil.

Not wasting any time, Zelda leapt to her feet and dived onto the fallen Sheikah. Then, quick as a wink, she flipped her right wrist…and out from her sleeve popped a tiny yet lethal-looking dagger. Within an instant, Zelda had the tiny blade in her hand and pressed firmly against Sheikah’s throat.

Now it was Zelda’s turn to smile. “And now you pay for your mistake.”

Sheik glanced down at the dagger while keeping his head completely still. “A…a dagger? Since when did I allow those?”

“Since you said that the enemy will do anything to win.”

Sheik’s gaze looked back into Zelda’s eyes, which were burning with fierce determination and pride. He couldn’t help but smile. “So…I guess you really did get a blade against my throat, just like you said.”

Zelda nodded.

“But…you’re not standing over me.”

Zelda blinked in gentle surprise, but quickly came up with a reply to his observation. “Ah, well. Beggars can’t be choosers.”

The two of them then fell silent for a brief moment…before they both started chuckling softly. It didn’t take long for the chuckling to turn into full-scale laughter. As they laughed, Zelda loosened the pressure she was applying with her dagger against Sheik’s neck, allowing him an opportunity to turn the tables on her.

But he didn’t. He decided to let her live this moment. He would get her back next time, he promised.

By the time they both stopped laughing, Sheik first spoke up. “I must say, you really surprised me today. Of course, since you let your guard down while you were laughing, I could’ve pinned you down instead.”

Zelda smiled. “Who said I let my guard down then?”

Sheik’s eyes widened in surprise…then forced a laugh. “My, you really have surprised me today. But how do I know that you’re weren’t bluffing?”

“How do you know I’m not bluffing now?”

Sheik shook his head. “All right, I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt. You defeated me today. Happy?”

Zelda sheathed her dagger back in its hidden pocket within her sleeve. “Very.”

“Good.”

Zelda then looked around for her sword. “Okay, Sheik, I think it’s time we packed up and went back to the village. The sun’s almost set and…”

“Zelda?”

Zelda turned back around. “Yes, what is…?”

Before she could continue, Sheik raised his right hand…and lightly touched the left cheek of Zelda’s face. He then started stroking it gently, pushing some of Zelda’s sweaty hair behind her ear. Zelda immediately felt her face go red and her heart start beating faster. She didn’t say anything in protest or question; she simply stared back at the boy whose eyes were just a hair bit small than the embarrassed smile on his face.

“Sheik…? What are you doing…?”

“Sorry…it’s just that…it’s rare for me to get a good look at your face like this, especially this close.”

Zelda could feel her heart beat faster. “I see…but what’s so special about my face? Is it dirty?”

“No, it’s not dirty. It’s clean…and smooth as silk…soft as a gentle breeze…pure as a winter’s snowfall…perfect. Just…perfect.”

Zelda started to breathe rapidly, although she tried to hide it from Sheik, who was now staring deeply into her eyes. “Sheik…what are you…saying…?”

Suddenly, just as soon as it started, Sheik allowed his arm to drop. “Sorry, guess I got carried away.”

He then forced a laugh that really sounded forced before he squirmed his way out between Zelda’s legs. Once free, he stood up, dusted himself off, and sheathed his sword. “Come, princess, let’s head back. I don’t want to be out here at nightfall when Ganondorf’s patrols are more active.”

Sheik then started to head towards Kakariko Village…but then stopped and turned around to see that Zelda was still kneeling on the ground. “Are you all right, princess?”

Zelda didn’t respond. She didn’t even turn around.

“Princess…?”

“Yes…I’m, er…I’m fine. Please…go ahead without me. I’ll catch up.”

“You sure?”

“Yes.”

“Very well, if that’s what you wish.”

Sheik then continued to the village, leaving Princess Zelda alone in the fields. As she remained where she was, her hands slowly moved across her chest. She could still feel her heart beating wildly from what had just happened, and already she could feel her face get warmer just by thinking about it.

What had just happened to Sheik? Was he…could he be…?

But if so, then what should Zelda do? She couldn’t just say no, not after all he had done for her. But she couldn’t stop thinking about the other, the one to whom she had given her heart. However, only she knew that she had given her heart to someone; not even the person to whom she had given her heart knew. And there was a very good reason why…

Perhaps she should see him again, see the person to whom she had given her heart. Maybe if she saw him again, she would figure out if he really deserved it. Maybe she was being na├»ve by giving her heart to him, especially since she hardly knew him. But then again…she couldn’t deny that she shared something with him, something that not even Time could destroy…

Zelda decided there and then to think about the matter. She’ll stay with Sheik a little while longer and see how things pan out from there. And if need be, she’ll visit the one…

The one whose name echoed in her mind every time she thought of him. The one called…

********************

“Link…are you okay?”

“I’ll be okay…as soon as I get used to this ghastly smell!”

The Sheikah and the Hero of Time were standing on a level close to the top of Goron City – in fact they were on the level that Link remembered quite well. All around the edge of the level he could see the ropes that extended into the darkness in the very center of the city where they housed the altar where the Goron’s Ruby once resided. He could also vividly recall when he was young enough to be carried across the ropes by a certain Goron.

But now Link realized not even a Goron could walk across that rope; it was in complete shambles and looked as if it was about to snap at any moment. And as he looked around the giant cavern that was Goron City, he realized that it wasn’t only the rope that was in poor condition.

The sturdy walls and floors that once made up each level of Goron City were in pieces; chunks of the walls were littered all over the ground, and parts of the floor were lying on lower floors. Furniture had been tossed around like firewood, and the beautiful ornaments that he had noticed were completely destroyed. It was very reminiscent of the horrific scene he had witnessed in Hyrule Castle New City after awakening from his seven-year sleep.

But then Link saw something dotted sporadically yet noticeably around the cavern that he recognized answered his own question.

“Hey, that’s…” he uttered, pointing to a giant red stain on a far wall before Sheik finished for him.

“Blood.”

Link quickly shifted his gaze towards Sheik. “So Ganondorf slaughtered the Gorons…?”

“Not all of them, at least. As near as we can tell, Goron City was attacked by a hoard of Moblins with orders to capture all the Gorons alive. Ordinarily Moblins will obey their master without question, but in this case they had some Wolfos with them, and apparently the Moblins couldn’t control some of them.”

“Did the Gorons…fight back, by any chance?”

Sheik shook his head. “The Gorons aren’t a warrior race and don’t know how to adequately defend themselves. All they can do is roll up in a ball and pray to the Three Goddesses that their hard shells protect them. But Wolfos are known to find weaknesses in even the strongest armor, which is why even that didn’t save many of the Gorons.”

“I see. So answer me this: where are the Goron carcasses? Did your spy team bury them or something?”

Sheik didn’t answer immediately – the curtness in Link’s voice caught him off guard – but he quickly found his answer. “Actually…that’s something we haven’t been able to figure out.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, when Moblins kill, they tend to just leave the bodies of their victims where they lie to rot…either that or feed them to the Wolfos. But what’s peculiar is that we haven’t found any trace of any Goron bodies, not even bone fragments. It’s as if someone came along and…cleaned everything up. Our spies found Goron City like this when they first arrived.

“I don’t know why, but I’m sure that someone did this because he wanted to give the Gorons a proper burial.”

“What makes you so sure?”

“Look at those blood stains,” Sheik uttered as he pointed to a nearby stain. “Do you notice those bizarre strokes? It looks as if someone were trying to clean the stains off the wall. That’s certainly not the work of a Moblin.”

“So what?” Link sniffed. “It could’ve easily been someone collapsing in the blood and writhing around in it.”

“But…”

“Enough. We have no time to spend chitchatting about this stuff. It’s time we got moving and…”

“Link. Wait”

Navi’s voice entered his ear as a whisper, prompting Link to whisper back. “What is it, Navi?”

“There’s someone else in this room. Someone is watching us.”

Link immediately grew tense and alert. His right hand reached for the Master Sword – although he didn’t draw it – and his eyes scanned the city.

“Link, what…?” Sheik started before Link silenced him with a wave of his hand.

“Be quiet,” he hissed towards Sheik before whispering to Navi, “Do you know where he is? Can you see him?”

“I can’t see him,” Navi murmured back, “but I know he’s here. I can hear his heavy breathing. He’s not too far away, actually. He’s somewhere nearby.”

“Nearby, huh?”

Link took another look around the cavern. If the mysterious watcher were indeed somewhere nearby, where could he be? Most of the doors were blocked with rubble, and there didn’t appear to be any hidden ledges above him. Maybe the watcher was behind a secret passage, looking at them through peepholes…in stone? Yeah, right. So where could…?

Wait a minute…there’s only one place where the watcher could hide…

Link remained in his tense pose for a moment longer…and then relaxed. He straightened his posture, removed his hand from the Master Sword, and took in a deep breath. He then…smiled!

“Link? Are you all right?”

Link grinned. “Yes, I’m feeling great.”

“What was that just now? Is something the matter?”

“Oh, no, nothing’s wrong with me, for you see...I just found something I was looking for.”

Sheik scratched his head. “Something you were looking for? I don’t understand…”

“Here, I’ll show it to you.”

Suddenly, without another word, Link launched himself forward…straight onto the closest rope that led to the Goron’s Ruby’s altar! He landed on the rope with a little unbalance, but the Hero of Time quickly found his equilibrium. He then wasted no time in running straight across the rope into the darkness that enveloped the altar; he himself was shrouded in the gloom within a matter of moments.

It was only then that Sheik snapped out of his surprise and called out, “Link! What do you think you’re doing? Those ropes are unstable! Get back here before…”

WAKCAAAAH!

Sheik jolted to attention as a loud bang echoed throughout the city. The Sheikah quickly scanned the cavern, considering the possibility that it was some of Ganondorf’s troops using some kind of weapon…but he quickly discovered the real culprit. One of the ropes holding the altar above the city had snapped in two and had flailed through the air like a whip before dangling to the ground from its unseen pivot point in the darkness.

But before Sheik could even take the sight in completely, there was another earsplitting crack…and another rope holding the altar in place dangled downward like a limp vine.

“By the Three Goddessess…Link, get outta there! The altar’s going to fall! Link…”

WAKCAAAAAAH!

Another rope snapped.

“Link! Can you hear me? Link! Are you even listening? Link…!”

“Who are you?”

The voice that abruptly erupted from the gloom was undoubtedly Link’s, but Sheik was immediately confused. “What are going on about? I’m Sheik! I…”

“I’ll ask you again! Who are you?”

“I just told you! I’m…”

Wait a minute…was Link not talking to Sheik? Could it be that…there was something or someone else with him on that altar…?

WAKCAAAAAAH! WAKCAAAAAH!

The ropes…

“Link! Whatever you’re doing in there, hurry up! The altar’s not going to stay up there for much longer!”

“This is your last chance! Who are you?” Link voiced bellowed again, obviously not paying attention to the worried Sheik. “We’re not leaving here until you tell me who you are!”

WAKCAAAAAH!

Sheik could feel his shirt become drenched in sweat. “Link! Just get out of there! Link…”

WAKCAAAAAH! WAKCAAAAAH!

“What’s it going to be? This altar won’t stay up here for long, and I doubt you want to plunge all the way to the bottom and risk this enormous altar falling on your head. So what’s it going to be?”

WAKCAAAAH! WAKCAAAH! WAKCA-WAKCAAA-WAKCAAAAAH!

Ropes were now breaking in rhythm. Sheik was so frantic that he reached for the collar around his neck so he could scream as loud as he could. But before he could yank the collar away from his mouth, he heard Link’s voice again, this time sounding pleased, relieved, and annoyed at the same time.

“Thank you. That’s all I wanted to know. Now I suppose we’d better get off this thing. Here, climb onto my back…good. Now hold on tight…”

There followed a stony, uncomfortable silence…which was almost instantaneously interrupted by a loud crack. At first Sheik thought it was another rope snapping, but when he saw something fly like a silver bat from the darkness in the middle of the chamber, he realized that was no rope.

KACHUN…

The head of the hookshot sank into the stone wall just above Sheik, almost as if it had selected Sheik as a target but had overshot. Once the hook was firmly gripped in the stone, the chain attached to it grew taught and a loud clickity-click started echoing throughout the city. A split second later, a familiar figure emerged from the darkness, dragged through the air by the hookshot’s firing mechanism.

The Hero of Time used his momentum to somehow land perfectly on the ground in front of Sheik; he also seemed to use very little effort to unhook the hookshot from the wall and real the tip back in. When the hookshot was ready for use once again, Link smiled at the Sheikah.

“Did you miss me?”

Before Sheik could comment on Link’s snide remark, another loud snap ricocheted throughout the chamber. Both Link and Sheik turned their attention back to the platform just in time to watch the final set of ropes break off from their supports. Moments later, like a stone falling through a murky cloud, the platform that had once held the Goron’s Ruby altar emerged from the darkness, falling straight down and dragging the ropes still attached to it with it. The platform fell quietly until it struck one of the lower levels of the city with a loud crash, shattering into a thousand pieces and scattering itself all over the ground, leaving a pile of rubble in its wake.

The silence that followed was broken by Sheik. “Whawha…what do you think you were doing back there?”

Link turned his attention back to Sheik. “Back where?”

“On that platform!” the Sheikah demanded almost angrily. “I was yelling myself silly for you to get back here but you just ignored me, speaking to…who were you speaking to back there, anyhow?”

“Oh, you mean him?” Link asked, pointing behind him.

It was then that Sheik noticed that something was attached to Link’s back…and that something was a someone. More specifically, it was a young Goron, about as tall as Link’s waist to the ground but making up for it in weight. Sheik couldn’t see his face because it was buried in Link’s back.

“Okay, we’re safe,” Link uttered, poking the Goron’s arms wrapped around his neck. “You can let go now.”

It took a moment for the Goron to believe Link’s words, and even then he took his time to climb down Link’s back. Once his feet were firmly planted on the ground, he took a few shaky steps backwards away from the Hero of Time, keeping his gaze directed towards the ground.

“Why were you spying on us?” Link asked without any warning.
 
“I…I didn’t know if you were friend or foe,” the Goron meekly answered in a surprisingly deep voice.

“I thought the Gorons were all captured,” Link continued. “How long have you been hiding like this?”

“Since…since they came,” the Goron answered. “My dad managed to…to put me in a safe place when the city was…was…was attacked. Ever since then I’ve been all alone here, watching the city and all who come here…”

“So you were the one who cleaned up all the corpses left by Ganondorf’s forces?” Sheik politely interrupted.

“Yes. I wanted to give my friends a proper burial. They deserved better than to be left rotting like that.”

“And the blood stains?”

“I tried to clean some of them up, but unfortunately the blood has seeped too far into the rock. And that smell…is awful.”

Sheik nodded as he realized just how mature the Goron was acting, even though he was certainly very nervous. The Sheikah decided to get that out into the open. “I suppose you’re a little afraid of us, aren’t you?”

The Goron nodded. “A little. Your friend made my blood run cold when he threatened me like that.”

“He wha…? Oh, you don’t have to worry about him. He’s simply overcautious, that’s all.” At least that’s what Sheik hoped explained Link’s behavior. “In any case, we’re not going to hurt you. In fact we came here to save the Gorons…”

A loud cough from Link cut short Sheik’s declaration, reminding the Sheikah of Link’s earlier avowal. Deciding not to test Link’s temper, Sheik decided to change topics. “Anyway, do you have a name?”

The Goron nodded.

“So…can you tell us your name?”

Again the Goron nodded. “Sure. My name…is Link.”

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