Hidden behind the horizon in the faraway west, Din’s Eye hadn’t yet risen enough to shine its rays across the Land of Hyrule; all it could do was announce its approaching presence by highlighting one half of the distant sky with an orange hue, using the dark, graceless clouds as unwilling harbingers of the dawn. Few people in Hyrule ever greeted the sun in this desolate age, but without fail the eye of the fabled goddess performed its daily cycle for those who were willing to share such an experience with her.
On this day, there were three persons awaiting the morning, but they weren’t there to watch the impending sunrise – they were there for another purpose.
Gathered at the edge of a hill overseeing the parched remains of Lake Hylia, the trio took their positions. The first of the three was a fairy, who sat perched on the edge of a small tree branch, the best place to watch what was about to happen. The second was a Sheikah, whose quiet and seemingly mysterious motions almost hypnotized as he slinked his way to a spot on the rim of the hill’s crest. Once there, he turned to face the third of the three, a Hylian, who boasted a face with the uneasy calmness of a sea before a terrible storm.
The Hylian took his own place at the other end of the hill’s peak, facing the Sheikah with nary a word. A brief silence followed before the Sheikah finally spoke.
“I’m ready, Link. Are you?”
Link nodded firmly without saying anything, a slight breeze beginning to pick up, causing his golden locks to flay in the air before his eyes.
“Are you sure you want to do this?” Sheik continued, maintaining a fixed gaze on Link. “You remember what happened yesterday, right?”
A hesitation emerged in Link’s face before he nodded again. What happened just the other day was still fresh in his mind…
Sheik paused momentarily, contemplating something before continuing, “You know I won’t hold back, and I could very well skewer you if you push yourself too far.”
A tiny smile curled up on Link’s lips. “We’ll see who may or may not get skewered this time, Sheik.
Despite the enormous collar over Sheik’s face, Link could tell that the Sheikah was smiling back at him.
“Oh, a challenge, is it?” Sheik grinned. “Let’s see what you’re made of.”
“Just try me.”
“I think I will.”
The Hylian and the Sheikah then moved, though only slightly. Sheikah moved his arms behind his back, his fingers twitching carefully. Link, meanwhile, lifted his left hand and grabbed the hilt of the Master Sword, which was now angled towards his left shoulder, and removed but a tiny fraction of the blade from its sheath. The two boys then remained deadly still, watching each other with an eerie calmness.
Navi gingerly kicked her legs from her perch on the branch, her eyes willed with concern but her smile twitching with animation. She occasionally glanced at the two opponents in their silent stances, but her gaze was mainly fixed on the distant mountains that bordered the land of Hyrule to the southeast. The clouds were leisurely beginning to glow brighter…
“Come on, Link!” the fey urged in her mind as she glanced down at her charge. “Kick his behind!”
At that instant, the crest of the sun’s face burst from behind the remote crags, bathing the barren lake in the first morning rays…
As the golden rays cast themselves upon the metallic surfaces of Sheik’s daggers and Link’s broadsword, they cast a powerful glint that caught both challengers’ eyes. Eyes narrowed. Feet shifted. Lips smirked…
Piercing battle cries escaped both fighters’ lips as Link and Sheik sprang forward towards one another. Sheik locked his blades into classic offensive and defensive stances, while the Master Sword hissed free from its sheath with a cold metallic chime into Link’s hand. The dry grass crackled under their nimble feet as their weapons’ edges cut through the morning winds to find their targets…
Sparks flew into the sunrise as Link send the Master Sword crashing down towards the Sheikah’s face, only to have the mighty sword meet Sheik’s knives crisscrossed into a protective clasp. With one powerful tug, Sheik yanked Link’s sword to the side, leaving an opening for the Sheikah to use one of his knives in a stabbing attack.
But before Sheik’s blade could even cut through Link’s green clothes, the blade’s tip bounced off the tough surface of Link’s shield, which had been removed only moments earlier. Despite the mangled right hand, Link’s fingers still managed to keep the safeguard firmly on his arm, defend against any attack Sheik might make.
Which was just fine with the mysterious youth…
Recovering from Sheik’s tow, Link swung the Master Sword into an arc aimed at his opponent’s neck; the Sheikah quickly ducked to avoid the swipe, and attempted to take advantage of the situation by thrusting one of his blades upward into Link’s belly. Link leaned backwards to avoid the attack, using his shield to bat the dagger harmlessly away. The Hylian then tries using his legs as a weapon by directing a kick towards Sheik’s ankles, but the Sheikah evaded the maneuver by simply jumping over it. Sheik landed a short distance away from his adversary, but he dove straight back into the fray the instant he landed
This wasn’t over, not by a long shot.
As Navi watched quietly and eagerly, steel scraped against steel during barrages of endless attacks as Din’s Eye crept across the horizon, bathing the world in its rays. Sweat glistened in the morning light as it danced off both boys’ brows, and each swipe made by either the Master Sword or Sheik’s knives seemed to add to the sense of resolve and grit that soaked the air.
Thousands of tense moments later, the sun hung in the air above the far-away mountains, bathing the clouds in their familiar paleness that would soon be replaced by a solemn gloom later in the day, a somber reminder of the twisted fate of Hyrule.
Not that the two boys seemed to care…
The Master Sword sailed past Sheik’s head as Link attempted to thrust it at his opponent, missing the strands of the Sheikah’s hair dangling from the fringes of his mask. Sheik responded by attempted a similar thrust with his daggers, but Link skirted both blades by skimming them across his shield to the side. Their bodies collided thanks to their momentums, forcing them to take a step back in order to continue their melee.
But Sheik seized upon an opportunity.
Using the trained arts of body language deception, Sheik crafted the illusion of retreating in order to setup a new assault…before leaping forward with a swift kick, planting his knee directly in Link’s exposed stomach. The Hylian, caught off guard, grunted loudly as the blow sent him lurching backwards. He landed on his back with a loud crackle in the dry grass, but attempted to return to his feet before Sheik could gain the upper hand.
He was too slow. With lightning speed, Sheik pounced upon his prey and buried a knee in Link’s chest, pinning the Hylian to the ground. Link raised his shield, as if to use its weight to knock the Sheikah off of him, but Sheik raised his dagger and thrust it downward, aiming its sharp head at Link’s throat.
And then a smile…followed by another…
“You’ve improved since yesterday,” Sheik admitted, keeping the dagger’s tip partially sunk in Link’s flesh. “I’m surprised you’ve learned how to fight competently with your left hand this quickly.”
Link grinned as he narrowed his eyes at the Sheikah, feeling a soft, minute trickle of warm blood run down his neck. “You’d be surprised how I can adapt to things if need be. I don’t plan on letting a little thing like a crippled hand stop me.”
“As you so aptly demonstrated,” Sheik uttered. “Still, you’re still not good enough to best me in hand-to-hand combat…” He then carefully lifted the blade out of Link’s neck, allowing the tiny droplets of blood to dangle on the tip. “…or should I remind you of how I just defeated you once again?”
The smile on Link’s lips turned into a sly smirk. “Are you sure about that?”
Sheik tilted his head. “Eh? What do you mean?”
Not saying anything, Link used his head to motion to Sheik’s left. Sheik turned his head…and saw something that left him speechless. Sheik had managed to stop Link from using his shield – now hovering precariously close to the Sheikah’s head – to knock him away, but now Sheik could see that Link had a completely different objective. In Link’s hand, its head glistening in the morning sun and aimed directly at Sheik’s temple, was a very familiar weapon…
“…The hookshot…” Sheik stated, surprised. “How are you able to…?”
“Your doctor friend helped modify the grip,” Link replied with a smirk. “All I have to do is slide my fingers through a few convenient finger slots and I can use it with my right as well as my left.”
It didn’t take Sheik much to realize all Link had to do was press the trigger and he could’ve won the fight easily…wait a minute…
“Ha!” Sheik laughed as he stood up, pocketing his daggers and dusting himself off as he glanced down at the still sprawled Hero of Time. “You might be able to hold it with your right hand, but it’s still no better than a dull knife if you can’t fire…”
A loud clack quickly silenced Sheik’s words as a bright red light beamed from the hookshot’s head, aimed straight at Sheik’s forehead. The Sheikah’s jaw dropped underneath his collar, his eyes affixed to Link’s face, which was grinning reticently.
“Just because I can’t close my hand completely anymore doesn’t mean I can’t still use my fingers,” Link beamed, maintaining that pose for a moment longer before another clack signaled the release of the partially compressed hookshot trigger. “As you can see, my thumb works well enough to give you a new hole in the head if I wanted to.”
Still grinning, Link put away the hookshot on his belt and forced himself to his feet, dusting off bits of dry grass on his clothes. Sheik, meanwhile, was still trying to release the redness that had developed in his face, undoubtedly from the awkwardness of the surprising amount of dexterity left with Link’s crippled hand. When he finally had eliminated the embarrassed blush, Link was busy slipping a couple items he had removed before the battle back over his shoulders…
“So…if you can use the hookshot with your right hand, does that mean you can still use your bow?” Sheik asked, pointing to Link’s bow and quiver.
Link glanced at Sheik for a moment with a quiet purse of his lips before he nimbly removed the bow from around his arm, gripping the wooden arc firmly in his left hand. The Hylian then turned to face a section of the distant forest that stood several lengths away from them. Link raised his right hand and pointed as best he could with his crooked fingers.
“See that tree over there, Sheik? The one with the knot in its bark that looks like a beehive?”
Sheik squinted a little before he could confirm the knot’s existence. “Yeah, I see it. So?”
With an almost sneering smile on his lips, Link turned his attention to the outlying tree with the protruding bark knot. He twisted the bow into a ready position below the aim line, and stared at his target for a few moments before he finally reached for an arrow. As he did, Sheik’s mind wondered how Link could grip such a thin shaft from his quiver with such warped fingers.
But Link demonstrated he didn’t need to grip anything. With the precision of a craftsman, forefinger and middle finger slid between one of the arrows’ shafts at the feather…and clamped around it. Link then slid the arrow from his quiver and twirled it around his head, causing the head end of the projectile to land securely against his fingers holding the bow. Still fastened around the arrow, Link’s fingers then bent as far as they could go and hooked around the bowstring, drawing both it and the dart back as Link raised the bow to aim.
All of this happened with astonishing swiftness – less than two breaths – and before Sheik could even gape, Link had finished aiming the arrow at his target. With a thick twang, Link’s fingers straightened, forcing the bowstring to snap loose from its taut position, firing the arrow.
It struck the knot in the tree several instances later, sinking into the gnarled wood with a soft groan.
Dumbfounded, Sheik could only gape as Link beamed proudly to himself before returning his bow to his shoulder. He then turned to the Sheikah, smiled and asked, “Does that answer your question?”
Sheik finally managed to say something. Kind of.
“You don’t think that using the Master Sword’s the only thing I’ve been practicing, do you?” Link demanded, raising his right hand and trying, unsuccessfully, to clench it into a fist. “I’m not going to let something like a damaged hand cripple me. I can still fight – all I had to do was adapt.” He then turned his right hand around so that a large, gashing scar running across the back of his hand could be seen by the Sheikah. “This will remind me of my failure…and what I need to do to make up for it.”
He lowered his hand with a smirk. “You wanted a Hero of Time? You’re damn well going to get one.”
Sheik remained speechless for a while longer before he finally clapped his hand a couple times with a noticeable smile under his collar. “Well, I…I must say I’m impressed. I didn’t think you’d actually regain this much of your former combat skills, but you certainly proved me wrong. I knew you were the Hero of Time…but I didn’t think you’d go through such lengths to prove it like this, especially after…”
The Sheikah quickly fell silent, but Link knew what he was about to say.
“Things change, I guess,” Link uttered, making it clear he didn’t want to talk about it either.
“Yeah, I suppose so,” Sheik agreed before looking into the sky at the position of the sun. “Huh…I didn’t realize it was already mid-morning.” He turned his attention back to Link. “I’m going to head back to the house and get something to eat. You wanna join me?”
“In a minute,” Link replied. “I just want to retrieve the arrow I shot.”
“Okay, see you then.”
Without another word, Sheik turned and started heading down the hill back to Dr. Garigan’s house. Link simply stood there on the hill for a few moments, watching the Sheikah slowly disappear behind the mount’s dry curvature, before he finally turned and started walking towards the tree with the knotty bark that housed his arrow.
As he walked, Navi flew up beside him.
“Well…that was certainly better than yesterday…but you could’ve put some more effort into it, you know.”
“What do you mean?” Link asked, his feet crushing the parched grass with every step.
“You know what I mean,” the fey retorted. “You were holding back. I could tell – you were moving far too conservatively, even if you were still getting used to fighting with your left hand. Why didn’t you just knock that boy on his arse and be done with it?”
Link sighed before shaking his head. “Navi…you know me too well.”
“Your bloody-well right I know you too well,” Navi cheekily snapped. “So why didn’t you end the fight immediately…?”
“Because I could’ve killed him, that’s why.”
Navi fell silent as Link gave his unexpected answer.
“Sheik knows how to control his fighting so that he can stop an attack moments before the final blow is delivered,” Link continued, his eyes fixed on the approaching tree ahead of him. “Me, I’m not one who knows very much about restraint – I can’t do what Sheik does, and with such a heavy weapon I doubt I can practice such a thing. Besides…”
Link’s eyes lowered for a brief instant. “I’m scared of releasing him…”
Navi’s flickering pink light dimmed a little. “What do you mean by ‘him’…oh, you mean that shadow counterpart of yours?”
Link nods. “Yeah…he said he feeds on the negativity that dwells in me, so if I let go of my restraints while fighting Sheik…I don’t know what’ll happen. It’s best to remain cautious…at least when I’m fighting someone I don’t want to kill.”
“I guess that makes sense,” Navi admits as she perches on Link’s left shoulder. Deciding to change the topic, she continues, “So, how is fighting with your left hand? Too different from using your right?”
“Actually, no,” Link answered as the Hylian finally drew up next to the tree in which his arrow was lodged. As he reached up to remove the dart, he further replied, “It’s like exercising muscles that you hardly ever use…both physically and mentally. It takes a little getting used to, but after a while the transition between hands doesn’t really feel too different at all.”
“I see,” Navi mused, kicking her legs a little. “Well, I’m glad you’re at least making an effort here.”
“An effort…in what…?” Link asked as he gave the arrow a firm tug, yanking its head from the bark with a tough groan.
“In becoming the Hero of Time again.”
As Link replaced the arrow in his quiver, he seemed to pause at the mention of that name for a moment…before he nodded. “Yeah…I guess you’re right.”
“I know I’m right,” Navi giggled darting back into the air. “Well, come on…let’s go back to the house. I want to get something to eat.”
“Sure…fine…” Link uttered before starting towards Dr. Garigan’s house over the hill.
As the Hylian and fairy made their way back, Link’s thoughts wandered back to Sheik…and the lies he had said – wittingly or no – to keep Link as the Hero of Time. A tiny smirk curled up on Link’s lips.
“Well, Sheik…” the Hero of Time pondered as he glanced up at the morning sky, “…you’re not the only one who can lie…”
“Link, it’s time for you to visit the next temple.”
Sheik’s declaration came two days after Link demonstrated his ability to still use the hookshot and his bow and arrows, right when the Hylian was eating some breakfast in Dr. Garigan’s kitchen. The doctor was there at the table with him, chewing on a bowl of berries while he watched the Hylian devour an entire plate of roasted Cuckoo, and Sheik’s statement obviously meant nothing to him.
But it meant something to Link and Navi, who was sitting on a counter behind her charge.
“The next temple?” Navi inquired.
“Yes, the next temple,” Sheik repeated as he took a seat at the table, ignoring the doctor who was voluntarily ignoring them back. “Link, you’ve proven you’re more than capable of fighting even with a damaged right hand. Besides, my scouting of the area revealed that Moblins are growing more numerous. If we don’t move soon, we might have more difficulty than we need. So you need to visit the next temple as soon as you can…now, if possible.”
“Is that so?” Link calmly replied as he tossed a piece of Cuckoo back onto the plate. “Well, I’m the Hero of Time, so I must do what needs to be done.” He clasped his hands together and leaned forward over the table, eyeing the Sheikah coolly. “So…which temple am I visiting next?”
A smile formed under Sheik’s collar. He used his fingers to scratch the table before he answered, “The Water Temple.”
Link nodded. “I figured as much,” he replied.
“However, there is a small problem…” Sheik started before Link interjected.
“What’s the problem? The Water Temple is right outside, sitting on Lake Hylia. And if Ganondorf posted anymore guards there, I’ll just take care of them like I did last time…”
“That’s not the problem, Link,” Sheik in turn interrupted. “That building that’s sitting on top of the lake isn’t the Water Temple itself, it’s merely the entrance chamber.”
Link’s eyebrows curled into an obscure curve in confusion. “The entrance chamber? Then where’s the actual temple?”
Sheik took a deep breath before answering, “Underwater.”
Now Sheik had Link’s attention. “Underwater…but where’s the…oh, wait, that pool of water inside that building. You mean that that’s the temple entrance? That’s where I have to go?”
Sheik nodded. “Exactly.”
A brief pause intervened before Link unclasped his hands and propped his head against one of them. “Okay, then…how exactly am I even supposed to go down there? I may be the Hero of Time, but I sure as damnation can’t breathe in water. I’m not a fish.”
“Yes, I know,” Sheik replied. “But I may have a solution to this problem.”
An eyebrow was piqued on Link’s brow. “You may have a solution?”
An uneasy silence followed, where the only sound was Dr. Garigan suckling his berries between his withered lips, giggling incessantly and spitting the pits into a nearby bucket at his feet. The Hylian and Sheikah merely stared at one another quietly, both their faces stony and unyielding.
Finally, with a sigh, Link said, “All right…give it to me. What’s this solution of yours?”
Sheik cleared his throat before he answered, “You remember the Zoras?”
Link’s ears twitched at that name. He hadn’t thought of the Zoras for ages, and being reminded of them brought back a mixture of memories related to that race. Memories of some a good friend, strange traditions, a suicidal mission…and a certain Zora he couldn’t help but…but…actually, he didn’t know how to feel about that Zora…
“Yeah, what about the Zoras?” Link inquired. “Can they help us?”
“Maybe,” Sheik responded. “You see, like the Gorons, the Zoras once shared Hyrule with Hylians willingly long before the great wars divided this land. Like the Gorons, the Zoras realized that Hylians were limited in their current form and developed special clothing to help Hylians. Of course, instead of heat-resistant clothes to withstand extreme temperature, the Zoras perfected clothes that can help air-breathing creatures to breathe underwater.”
Normally, Link would’ve been amazed by this kind of revelation, but these days were anything but normal for him…
“This clothing dropped out of use since the wars, and for all we know they could’ve been destroyed. But if I know the Zoras, there will still be some of this clothing left over in their kingdom. It’s a shot in the dark…but it’s our best hope of getting down into that temple.”
“Hmm, I see what you’re saying,” Link agreed as he scratched his chin. “Still, there’s that ‘maybe’ you mentioned. What’s going to make this harder than it should be, Sheik?”
Shiek seemed to snicker at that question. “I can’t hide it from you, can I? Yes, there is something that’s holding us back. Something’s happened to Zora’s Domain, and it’s made things very difficult when attempts were made even before you were awakened as the Hero of Time.
“You see, the entire kingdom has been frozen.”
Link’s eyes blinked rapidly in gentle bewilderment. “Been frozen? What that means what, exactly?”
“Just want I meant,” Sheik stated. “Every drop of water within the Zora kingdom has been frozen, and the surrounding air is as cold as a cruel Hylian winter – cold enough to create snowfall inside the caverns that contained their homes. Even the sacred spring that once housed their deity, Lord Jabu-Jabu, has been frozen over.”
Link pursed his lips together as Sheik sketched the disturbing details of the Zoras’ home’s current state, and hearing Sheik say “once housed” in relation to Lord Jabu-Jabu didn’t make him feel better. “And the Zoras themselves? Have they relocated or what?”
Sheik shook his head. “No, they can’t – they’re all frozen along with their kingdom.”
Link’s hands slammed down with their palms on the table. “What? Frozen along with their kingdom?”
“Yes, they’re trapped under…no, trapped in the ice that now blankets their home.”
Link could feel his face grow slightly pale. “Are…are they all…dead?”
Again, Sheik shook his head. “No…at least I don’t believe so.”
“You don’t believe so? What are you talking about? Stop leaving me hanging like this, just spit it out already!”
Sighing, Sheik fulfilled Link’s request. “We know for a fact that the ice that covers Zora’s Domain is paranormal – it wasn’t created by natural means. It can only have been created by magic, and there’s only one man who’s twisted enough to perform such a cruel and inhumane act…”
“Ganondorf,” Link completed, almost snarling.
“Exactly,” Sheik agreed. “Now, this isn’t conclusive proof that the Zoras are dead, but I believe that they’re still alive. Why would Ganondorf entrap an entire race like this when sending in his Moblin army would more than do the job? But no, he takes the time to encase the entire Zora race in ice, as if he were preserving them for something. Preserving them for what, we can only guess…but there’s a very good chance that the Zoras are still alive trapped under that mystical ice, trapped in a deep hibernation. If we can break the spell over the kingdom, we just might free the Zoras.”
Link continually nodded as Sheik revealed his suspicions, but his face still betrayed lingering skepticism. “This sounds all well and good, Sheik…but it’s still only guesswork. Don’t you have anything else to go on?”
“Well…there is something else that gives my theory more weight: we did manage to free one Zora from the ice.”
Again, Link should’ve been surprised by this revelation, but again, he wasn’t that affected by it. “Oh, really? How did you accomplish this?”
“It was pure luck, actually. A full year after the Zoras were encased in the ice – about three years after you pulled the Master Sword – an expedition I was leading to the kingdom happened to find a Zora trapped near the surface of the ice. To our amazement, we discovered that Zora was still moving inside the ice, moving as sure as Ganondorf’s heart is as black as the darkest night. We spent the next three months digging her out of the ice…”
“Three months? Why so long?” Link asked.
“The magical ice is incredibly durable, almost to the point where it will break any weapon or tool that tries to dig through it. Trust me, if we could’ve dug through the ice at all, we would’ve freed the Zoras long ago. But it was through luck and hard work that we managed to free this one Zora located so close to the ice’s surface. We still have no idea how that Zora managed to survive for so long, but I’m confident it was because of some hibernation property of the ice itself.”
Link was beginning to see how Sheik’s theory was reasonable, but he was more interested in this lone Zora that managed to escape. “So…where is this Zora now?”
“Oh, that Zora is still in Zora’s Domain. She refuses to leave her people and won’t even talk to us anymore…”
“Wait a minute…she?” Link’s mind screamed. “Could it be…?”
“…in fact, she screams for us to get out if we even enter Zora’s Domain. She’s been a recluse the past few years, and we gave up trying to reach out to her.”
Shaking off ideas about who this female Zora might be, Link nodded at the Sheikah. “Okay, then…so where does this leave us?”
“It leaves us with one hope,” Sheik uttered, “and that she’s warmed up since we last tried speaking to her. For all we know, she’s as hostile and hostile as she was when she discovered her entire kingdom was imprisoned by Ganondorf…but we still have to try. She could be the only one that can help us retrieve the clothing you need to enter the Water Temple.”
“‘You need,’”, Link thought, “meaning I’ll be going alone this time. Figures.”
Straightening out his neck, Link sighed. “But we can’t just look for the clothing? Why do we need a Zora who won’t help us to get it?”
“Trust me, we’ve looked,” Sheik admitted. “But Ganondorf’s been very thorough in his cleansing of Zora’s Domain. There is nothing that remains of the original kingdom other than broken relics and the frozen remains of the few Zoras who tried to fight back. But he may have missed something somewhere…which is why that Zora is our only lead.”
Link’s face again demonstrated skepticism in his eyes. “I don’t know, Sheik…all of this is one big ‘if’. You’ve based a lot of this on guesswork which may or may not be right. Is this really the only chance we have to enter that temple?”
Sheik paused for a moment and lowered his eyes, as if thinking Link’s question through methodically, before he finally and reluctantly nodded. “I’m afraid so.”
Groaning to himself, Link arched his back against the chair for a few seconds before he finally nodded forward. His eyes still held a sense of doubt in Sheik’s scheme, but his lips were curled into a resolute and accepting smile.
“All right, then…what do I have to do?”
Two days later, Link set out for Zora’s Domain.
After countless hours of planning and revising with the Sheikah and his fairy – and,on occasion, the eccentric doctor – the Hylian finally felt confident in testing out Sheik’s idea in getting inside the Water Temple. Dressed in his familiar green attire with all of his weapons at the ready and Navi perched comfortably under his hat, he left Dr. Garigan’s house and mounted the back of his faithful horse Epona, whom Sheik had been kind enough to take care of since his battle inside the Temple of Water’s entrance chamber.
With a loud cry and a firm crack of the reins, Link sent the mare into a forward gallop that rapidly carried him and his fey from the dried up Lake Hylia, which quickly disappeared behind the dry hills dotting the landscape.
So began Link’s journey to the kingdom of the Zoras, a journey that would occupy many of his days, he knew. Zora’s domain lay in the northeast edge of the land, and Lake Hylia dwelled in the south, so even a fully rested Epona could only complete the journey in four days at the least. Still, Link didn’t mind the length of the journey – he had tackled similar extents before, after all – and it would give him time to think.
Think about many things. About Zora’s Domain. About the mystery female Zora who had become a recluse. And about his mission to find some kind of clothing that can help him breath underwater.
But he could also think about things that didn’t pertain to this mission. Things like Sheik. And Malon and her fragile condition. And Link’s decision to take up the title of Hero of Time once again. And his decision to…
Navi’s shrill voice interrupted Link’s wandering thoughts as the sun started to reach its crest in the afternoon sky. Smiling a little, Link’s eyes rolled up.
Link noted a subtle pause in Navi before the fairy finally uttered in a delicate fashion, “I’m…I’m glad we’re together again like this.”
Link’s grin widened a little. “Yeah…me too.”
Not hearing anything else from Navi, Link’s thoughts drifted again, this time focusing on Malon. The image of the farm girl laying like a living corpse in that bed still haunted him, and he could only hope Sheik would keep his word to help her recover as best she can. Link admittedly had his own doubts Malon might pull through, but he couldn’t bare throwing away all hope for her. He had faith in Sheik and Dr. Garigan. They would do what they could for her – the rest would be up to her…and he had much more faith in Malon than the other two combined…
“Just hold on, Malon!” Link cried out in his mind. “Just hold on and get well! Once you’re well enough, you and I will…!”
“Oh, and another thing, Link…”
Navi’s voice cut into his thoughts once again, and it was then that Link decided to hold off thinking…at least until Navi fell asleep. Still, he did leave himself with one final message before he gave his complete attention to his fairy:
“Don’t worry, Malon. As soon as you’re better, I’m getting rid of this façade…”
In the distant west, a lightning bolt pierced the sky. There was no thunder heard where Link was…
But indeed thunder rolled across the remains of Hyrule Castle New City, arriving a mere instant after the fork of pure energy split the dark clouds and made contact with the ground in a shower of sparks. Had anyone been there to witness this, they would’ve been amazed by the awesome yet crippling power of a lightning bolt, one capable of killing a man with but a single touch of one of its deadly claws.
But no, there were none to bear witness to what has now become a frequent occurrence in the once glorious capital of Hyrule. None to bear witness save the ReDead, the vile reanimated creates of the underworld, given life by twisted magic to guard the desolate ruins with screams of petrifying fear and gazes of cold revulsion. Nothing living – or nothing truly living – wandered the streets of New City anymore, or at least nothing that wanted to cling to living in a broken world.
Watching over this dreary and forlorn landscape from the comfort of a balcony located high in a tower built from dark magical arts, a sinister face snarled as his thick hands gripped the balcony’s edge with a deathly clasp. He was unclothed save for an undergarment cloth draped around his waist and a black robe clinging to his muscular frame, which rippled with frustration.
“Where are you, boy?” Ganondorf snarled, his heated gaze glaring across the valleys and hills that filled the horizon, showing only the barest glimpses of distant towns located in Hyrule. “Where are you hiding?”
“Is something bothering you, my lord?”
Ganondorf turned his head around to look at the one speaking to him. The speaker came from a single girl of about twenty-four years, reclining in the flameless shadows of a large bed resting against a wall close to the doors that led to the balcony. Unlike Ganondorf, her delicate but powerful framework bore no clothes, but she covered herself using the soft blankets provided by the bed, which was rutted with obvious signs of a struggle…or something more depraved…
“What do you think, wench?” Ganondorf snapped, glaring angrily at the girl before looking back out at the scenery below. “Of course something’s bothering me!”
The young girl leaned up a little in the bed, wrapping the sheets tightly around herself so they may not fall and reveal herself…though it didn’t really matter now, anyway. As her face entered the light of the afternoon pouring in through the balcony door, she exposed herself as a Gerudo, one whose face bore the familiar scars of living years in a harsh desert.
“What is bothering you, my lord?” the girl asked.
Ganondorf growled a little – as if annoyed the my Gerudo were getting curious – but he gave in. “I’ve been trying to find a boy who’s been a thorn in my side recently. First he saved that pathetic forest, and then he killed my pet dragon…and when I tried to get something useful from him, it got away from me. And now that little brat is on the run, and my men can’t find him. Like a rat he’s scampered out of view…probably to that accursed resistance movement that refuses to die.”
Ganondorf slammed his clenched fist on the balcony edge. “Damn it, why is this punk getting the better of me? He should be dead by now…instead he’s more than likely laughing at me while plotting his next move.”
The Gerudo in his bed tilted her head slightly as she listened to her king’s words. “That’s terrible, my lord. Is there nothing I can do to help you? I can lead my regiment of Iron Knuckles and weed out this little boy for you…”
“No, that’ll be a waste of time and resources,” Ganondorf snarled, dismissing the girl’s suggestion with a wave of his hand. “I need your Iron Knuckles at the Spirit Temple anyway…that’s where my mothers live. Those old harpies need all the protection they can get, especially if this little prick is running loose.”
“I understand, my lord,” the Gerudo acknowledged, bowing her head. “Then what shall you do about this boy?”
“I don’t know,” the Evil King admitted. “But I need to think of something before…”
Just then, Ganondorf’s eyes lit up with inspiration. He turned to the Gerudo girl and pointed at her. “Get dressed this instant! I have a job for you!”
Without hesitation, the Gerudo threw off the blanket covering her person – exposing everything a lady of decency shouldn’t bare freely – and leapt out of bed, making her way towards her clothes hanging over a chair without a hint of embarrassment in her face. As she proceeded to get dressed, Ganondorf walked into the room and closed the doors to the balcony. There was an enormous grin on his face.
“I just thought of a brilliant idea,” he mused, more to himself than to the Gerudo.
“What is that, my lord?” the woman asked as she slipped on a pair of pink baggy hamaka pants and two red shoes.
“That boy – this so-called Hero of Time – he is obviously awakening the Sages of each temple, that I know. I could easily place guards around each temple and wait for him…but that’s too risky. He or that accursed Zelda or even that bloody Sheik might know of a secret entrance. However…”
“Yes, my lord?” the Gerudo asked as she wrapped a single piece of decorated cloth around her bosom and tied it securely behind her back.
Ganondorf grinned wickedly. “We don’t have to use the temples themselves as bait. We can use what’s in them to lure this boy out…or, more specifically, what’s in one of the temples I still have in my possession.”
“And what is that, my lord?” the girl questioned almost drearily as she started placing several pieces of jewelry on her body – bracelets, rings, necklace, and the like.
“Oh, just something that not even the Sages of ancient times managed to destroy completely,” Ganondorf sneered. “Those fools merely sealed it up…but now we’re going to release it. And once it gets loose, it’ll hopefully cripple that accursed boy if not outright destroy him. And the resistance just might get caught in the crossfire as a bonus.”
“It sounds like a brilliant plan, my lord,” the girl nodded as she pulled her long red hair back behind her head and secured it into a long, bushy ponytail with a clasp containing an enormous jewel. Shaking her head to allow her hair to flow freely behind her, she turned to her master. “What are your orders?”
Ganondorf maintained his sinister grin. “I want you to summon my best necromancers, and inform them that I have a task for them, one which I will give to them directly. Then, I want you to gather a battalion large enough to contain a small town, and we shall leave as soon as the details have been properly planned out.
The Gerudo nodded. “As you wish, my lord. What town are we planning on containing?”
Rather than be offended by the girl’s question, Ganondorf took a couple steps towards her, one of his hands playing against his face. “Kakariko Village.”
“And will we be destroying this village with the army, my lord?” the girl inquired.
Ganondorf stopped and shook his head, still smiling evilly. “No…because they won’t have to. All will be revealed soon enough. Now go and do as I asked!”
With one raised hand, Ganondorf pointed towards the door that exited his chambers. The Gerudo bowed her head at her master before turning to leave. As she opened the door and left her master’s bedchambers, Ganondorf sneered to himself before getting ready to dress himself in his menacing and commanding armor.
As he removed his robes, he thoughts drifted to the Gerudo who had just been with him in his bed – a “breaking session”, he liked to call it. His smile faded as he recalled why he had called the girl to his chambers in the first place…
“I may have you wrapped around my finger, Nabooru,” he snarled in his mind, “but yet you still refuse to tell me everything you’ve been hiding from me. Those old harpies obviously didn’t condition you enough. You will tell me everything…what you were doing at the Spirit Temple, who that little boy was with you…everything! Or so help me, I will cut your throat and devour your heart as you lie on my bed like the whore you are…”
“Link, what was that?”
Navi’s nervous question referred to a loud, piercing howl that echoed through the night sky, an animal wail sharp enough to make the moon itself quiver, it seemed. Link, sitting comfortably on a rock beside a campfire he had made several hours before, looked up at the sky through the thin forest’s canopy and shrugged.
“Sounds like a Wolfos to me,” he guessed, looking down once again at the food in his lap, consisting of a sack of rations Sheik had prepared for his journey to and from Zora’s Domain and some rain water collected not too long ago.
“A Wolfos?” Navi repeated, her pink light flickering nervously on Link’s shoulder. “Those things actually live outside the Forest Temple?”
“Why wouldn’t they?” Link asked as he put some cheese in his mouth. “Ganondorf, I’m sure, creates creatures for more than just guarding the temples. I’m willing to bet he uses them for his own armies as well. In fact, I would not be surprised if we saw a flock of Kayse…no, Keese, that’s right…I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw Keese on our journey.”
“Keese…?” Navi squealed before she added, “Okay, now you’re just teasing me.”
“I wish I were,” Link sighed as he sipped some water. “What a luxury that would be.”
Navi opened her mouth to protest Link’s comment, but she closed it again and fell silent, her flickering light slowing down in frequency as she sat on the Hylian’s shoulder. Link merely continued to eat from his sack of rations, occasionally glancing up at the third sky of stars he had seen since leaving Dr. Garigan’s house on Lake Hylia’s dry shores. One time Epona, tethered to a nearby tree, brayed softly for some attention – Link looked up at the beautiful mare and smiled at her with a peaceful look in his eyes before returning to his meal.
After a while, Link closed up his ration’s sack and tied it to his belt, returning it beside his pouch that contained his precious ocarinas. He then sighed a couple times before standing up.
“Well, time to go.”
“Already?” Navi inquired. “But we haven’t been here for that long. Aren’t you at least going to get some sleep?”
“Nope, don’t need it,” Link replied, although he did use his finger knuckles to scrape some gunk from his eyes. “Besides, we need to get to Zora’s Domain as quickly as possible. We can’t let things like sleep slow us down.”
“Are you sure? I’m glad to see you’re committed…but I don’t want you pushing yourself too far.”
Link turned to his fairy on his shoulder and smiled sincerely. “Don’t worry about me, Navi. I’ll be just fine. I promise.”
The calm and tender tone in Link’s voice was enough to assure Navi that her charge would be all right, which made her tiny face light up with relief and glee. Happy that he had satisfied his fey’s concerns, Link stretched his arms out and groaned as he popped something his back.
“Well…let’s get moving. I’d like to…”
“Wait, Link…” Navi abruptly interrupted. “What about them?”
The fairy pointed her tiny fingers in the direction of a small clearing in the forest, and Link turned around to see something he had already forgotten: the hacked up carcasses of seven Moblins he had killed not too long ago. The pig-faced fiends were covered in their own vile fluids from head to toe, flies buzzing around the corpses greedily as they scavenged some of the flesh rotting in the evening heat. Their faces held looks of either savage determination or incomprehensible fear – the Moblins who looked the latter were evidently killed after the Moblins with the former…
Sighing again, Link look at Navi. “Yeah? What about them?”
“Well…won’t they attract attention?” Navi pointed out. “Shouldn’t you do something about that?”
Link quietly stared at Navi for a few moments, his eyes hiding thoughts raging behind his gaze…before Link smiled strangely. “Yeah…you’re right, I should do something, shouldn’t I?”
Without another word, Link started walking towards the scene of carnage in the clearing. As he did, he pulled the Master Sword from its sheath…
The dawn broke surprisingly fast the next morning, illuminating the forest where Link had spent a scant few hours resting the night before. All signs of the Hylian’s passage were still there in the morning light: the remains of the campfire, the crumby remnants of Link’s rations, and the footsteps of both the Hylian and his faithful steed.
The light also illuminated one other thing: the severed head of a Moblin gaping in abject terror to a nameless foe, staring off into the distant as it sat upon the head of a deadly-looking pike planted in the ground, overlooking what was left of the Moblins’ cadavers after being devoured by ravenous crows all night.
Whether or not anyone would see this grisly signpost was never known. Then again, maybe that was entirely the point…
Link hadn’t even reached the entrance to Zora’s Domain when he felt the effects of the spell over the kingdom.
Several days of nonstop traveling finally led the Hero of Time and his companions to the river that led to King Zora’s realm, and it didn’t take much journeying for them to follow the river to the mountains that housed the river’s source. Even as the mountains started to surround him the further they traveled upstream, things looked normal to the Hylian – the river flowed as smoothly as ever, and everything felt as it was seven years ago.
Then, as the mountainous walls grew higher and higher and the distant sounds of the waterfall could be heard echoing across the caverns, he felt it: the cold, biting winds that felt as natural as the twisted creations Ganondorf had unleashed upon the world. Even with the afternoon sun bearing down on him from above, the winds originating from the direction of Zora’s Domain felt harsh and bitter with an icy touch that would make death envious.
His spirits dampening with each step Epona took, Link pressed on, trying to cover his face with his arm to protect his skin from the wind’s sting. Navi simply remained tucked under his hat, and Epona – bless her – carried her master through the painful, almost acidic winds that bore down on them.
Thankfully, the winds died down somewhat as Link and his friends turned a corner and finally came upon the waterfall that housed the entrance to Zora’s Domain. Still, reminders of the cold were pretty much evident as snowflakes – snowflakes! – drifted down from the waterfall’s crest, touching the frozen ground and melting into the soaked mud. The flakes, like the wind, were of no natural means.
Ganondorf’s fingerprints were all over this anomalous scene…
With a look of disenchantment on his face, Link dismounted Epona and tethered her to a nearby rock formation. Then, making sure Epona had enough grass to graze, the Hylian turned his attention to the curtain of water that stood between him and the entrance.
“Well…Sheik said that every drop of water within Zora’s Domain had frozen over. At least the waterfall’s not frozen. Maybe things are not as bad as he said they were…”
But they were.
Leaping through the waterfall to the secret tunnel behind it was bad enough for Link, as the water was cold enough to freeze his soul had he swam in it for any length of time. But to make matters worse, the biting winds returned inside the tunnel – albeit in reduced strength – and assaulted Link’s now drenched body as he stood there attempting to dry off. Giving up on such a futile task, Link hurried down the tunnel to the heart of Zora’s Domain.
That’s where what he saw chilled him far more than the winds ever could.
Sheik’s words rung true: every drop of water within Zora’s Domain was now frozen. The magnificent waterfalls that once cascaded from magnificent heights in the caverns were trapped in an eerie pose of uncomfortable silence. The ponds and the vast lake through which the Zoras once made their home was now a sheet of ice, and drifting from unseen clouds in the ceiling came infrequent flakes of snow that shattered upon touching the arctic ground.
But it was what Link saw inside the ice that made his heart leap. Though the surface of the ice was a little murky, he could clearly identify the unmistakable, agile and slender blue bodies of Zoras inside the lake of ice. And they weren’t simply frozen in the ice – they were horrifically frozen in the ice. Every Zora that Link could see had a look of pleading terror on his face, as if trying to escape an inevitable fate. The looks of the Zoras close to the surface were the most horrendous – the gaze of a breathing creature coming so close to salvation but unable to obtain it nearly broke Link’s heart in two.
What Link saw was so gut-wrenching that he was almost glad Navi wasn’t seeing this…
It took Link several minutes of taking in this terrible setting that he managed to look away and remember why he was here in the first place: to find the lone Zora that had escaped this ghastly prison.
Sucking in his gut, Link took several breaths before he looked out across the frozen lake, eyeing every possible crevasse and entrance he could see. He then called out in a voice loud enough to send tones echoing across the cavern:
“Hello? Is anybody there?”
Unsurprisingly, there was no reply. Undaunted, Link tried again.
“Excuse me, is anyone there? I know that there’s someone here…I was told that there is a Zora living here! I’d like to talk to you, please!”
Again he received no answer. Growing a little frustrated, Link decided to show just how serious he was to talk to this Zora.
As carefully as he could, Link stepped out onto the frozen lake and started walking out onto it. He came close to slipping and falling over several times – there was absolutely no friction between the ice and his boots – but he forced himself to move further and further out into the ice until he was a good distance away from the shore. The winds seemed to intensify somewhat out on this spot, but he paid them no mind.
Cupping his hands over his mouth, Link again called out to the mystery Zora.
“Hello? Will someone please answer me? I really need to talk to you! It’s a matter of life and death…what the…?”
Link finally got a response, though not one he expected. As he looked up at a small cave on the far side of the cavern, he saw something flying through the air, sailing straight towards his head: a boomerang.
The weapon struck Link’s head dead on, almost sending the Hylian reeling backwards in pain. Instead, he grabbed his forehead and knelt down on the ice, wincing as his head started to throb. As he knelt there, he started to wonder why the boomerang hadn’t cut his skull in two, but a quick glance at the boomerang now lying at his feet revealed the weapon didn’t have a blade in it.
Was this some kind of warning…?
“Life and death, you say!” a loud, feminine voice called out from somewhere inside the cavern. “You dare wish to talk to me about life and death when my people lie under your very feet, frozen for eternity in a Hael you cannot possibly imagine!”
His forehead still throbbing, Link struggled to stand up again while preventing himself from slipping. Groaning a little, Link tried to respond to the hidden Zora’s statement.
“I didn’t mean it like that!” he called out, still not sure where the voice was coming from. “What I mean was that I need your help! There is something really important I need to do, and you’re the only one who can help me do it…!”
“And why should I trust you?” the Zora called back, sounding irritated. “You’re an outsider, just like that wicked man who imprisoned me. What reason is there for me to offer you my help?”
Thinking quickly, Link blurted out, “Do you…do you know of the one called Sheik? The one who saved you from the ice several years ago?”
A pause followed before an uneasy and cautious “Yes” was heard.
“Well,” Link continued, “I know him. He told me about what happened to Zora’s Domain, and I’m sorry such a terrible fate has befallen your people. But if you’ll help me, I’ll help put a stop to the man who did this to you…and maybe even free your people. So please, will you help me?”
Another long pause followed…and then suddenly a soft smacking of lips echoed across the chamber, as if the Zora had…spit…
“You? Free my people? Ha! That’s rich! You’ll say anything to gain my trust, won’t you? Well, hear this, Hylian! I don’t give a damn about you or what you have planned for the man who did this! If you can’t give me results, then you’re just as bad as he is! I don’t listen to empty threats or hollow promises, little man, so you had better leave before my kingdom I throw another boomerang at you, this time one that will remove your pretty little head.”
Link’s face tightened. “Geez, this girl’s stubborn, isn’t she? She has to be…”
Losing patience with the Zora’s obstinacy, Link decided to take a chance. Preparing himself for another boomerang attack just in case, Link called out in as firm a voice as he could muster:
“No…I won’t leave your kingdom…and I have a good reason why.”
“Oh? And what is that, little man?” the Zora called back, obviously not intimidated by Link’s doggedness.
“Because…I’m sure I know who you are.”
Another pause filled the chilled air, this one filled with uncertainty and confusion. Still, when the Zora spoke again, she sounded as intractable as ever.
“What? You, know who I am? Who do you think you are? How can you possibly know about me? If my kingdom were still alive today, you would be forced to line up for a chance just to see me. You can’t possibly know who I am, little man…”
“Yep…that’s her, all right…” Link thought before he bellowed at the top of his voice:
“All right, enough’s enough! Come out and show yourself, Ruto!”
Another smack of the Zora’s lips were heard, this time one of stunned revelation. “What in the…you knew my name…? How could you…I never told anyone…how did you…? Who are you, little man? How do you know my name?”
Feeling a little more comfortable – a little – Link replied with the first thing that popped into his mind, something very quickly regretted:
“Don’t you recognize…your own fiancé?”
As his mind snapped at him for saying something so ridiculous and unnecessary, Link’s eyes finally saw movement was wasn’t a snowflake or a boomerang. At the same cave at the far end of the cavern, right where the boomerang has seemingly been thrown, a figure stepped out of the shadows and into the light entering the cavern from several holes in the room.
For a Zora, Link had to admit that Ruto was quite the “catch”, so to speak. No longer the little girl he had rescued from the bowels of Lord Jabu-Jabu, she stood about his height with a sense of femininity that reminded him a little of Malon. Her skin had evolved into a charming shade of blue, and her figure was shaped into stunning proportions: thin, curved legs; slender, caressing arms; a firm, ample bosom; and a lean, attractive torso. Wrapped around her waist and dangling from the ends of her arms were a set of fully developed fins that fluttered in the icy winds like fragile curtains.
As Link looked up at Ruto’s face, her pair of beautiful eyes gazed back at him with a look of disbelief and surprise, her luscious lips quivering in an attempt to stop herself from crying. As her horizontally elongated head tilted side to side slightly, a pair of simple yet elegant earrings hanging from patches of skin near her face swung along with it.
Yes, he had no doubt in his mind. This was Princess Ruto, the girl who had given him the Zora’s Sapphire all those years ago in exchange for a marriage proposal. Back then, Link thought the proposal was moot because he was a Kokiri who couldn’t age. Oh, how a single revelation could change everything…
Both Link and Ruto quietly stared at one another silently for about a minute before Ruto broke the silence. “Link? Is that you?”
Feeling a little better for saying that stupid line, Link nodded. “Yes, that’s right. Ruto…that is you, isn’t it? You’re Princess Ruto…right?”
Suddenly, Ruto threw her arms into the air, her face filled with unexpected joy and elation. “Darling! It is you!”
Then, with a burst of speed Link never expected from a Zora, Ruto started sprinting across the ice, her feet gliding over the frozen lake without any hesitation or slipperiness. The Zora princess was giggling jubilantly as she ran towards the Hylian, and her arms were open in a way that suggested Ruto wanted a hug…and now!
“Holy mother of…!” Link’s mind roared as he attempted to move…only to remember he was on a vast lake of ice with very little control over his movements. “Oh, bugger…!”
Unable to escape Ruto’s line of sight, Link held up his own arm in a gesture of cease and desist. “Wait, Ruto, wait…wait a minute…!”
But Link’s pleas went unanswered as Ruto only seemed to grow happier with each step she took towards the Hero of Time, her giggles growing increasingly louder with her approach.
“Wait, wait…don’t do this…think about this…please…wait!”
Without any indication of even hearing him, Ruto collided with Link and wrapped her arms around him, sending the Hylian crashing onto his back on the ice.
Surprisingly, it didn’t hurt…or at least it didn’t hurt as much as the feeling of a grown Zora princess landing on top of you and squeezing you so tightly that you can hardly breathe…