The rasp of my own breathing was loud against the dark walls, the scent of my own sweat ripe. My lantern had gone out several minutes ago and the metallic hint of blood crept in to nestle with the damp odor of mold and ancient stone. My wound had reopened when I'd fallen; stabs of agony and stars of pain whispered through my skull. My left leg was all but useless. I'd been a fool to come here, but the truth was close, so close after all this time.
I fumbled through the bits of broken glass for my only hope. Shards threatened to open my fingers as I gingerly felt for the lantern handle. Just a minute, and I could get it lit again. Flame was the enemy to all predators; surely this beast would shrink back from it too.
"You've come to seek..."
My efforts redoubled. Slithering into the carved runes the walls around me bore, between the moss-laden cracks and gaps in the floor, it sought me. I was unaccustomed to feeling such stark, raw terror. Such a festering sore to the mind of a rational man. I'd experienced the same once before and in that instance, my sword could easily cleave the problem in twain.
Not this time.
"You seek the truth, young man? Come then, embrace us as eagerly as you would what you desire." Its laugh was a winter's first frost, a blizzard's angry howl. Still it crept nearer, engulfing my ankles like the ever present sea. Cold, clawing, seeking to overtake me. My thoughts began to meld together into a sticky mass as I tried to pull away. Chills traipsed my spine as hot pain tore into my calves and coalesced in my chest. I tried to speak but it was a gasp, a moan. "Leave me be, g-get off of..."
I strained forth and with that last desperate effort, it was mine. I was released as I thrust my hand into the shattered door, heedless of the fresh burning needles as cuts opened fresh on my fingers. The oil reeked and was slicking the lamp's insides, but it would ignite with some coaxing. I screwed up my concentration, willing there to be fire. The fluid glistened to mock me in the moon's silver shafts.
The fire wouldn't start.
"I don't think you'll be avoiding us now, young hero," it breathed. "After all, you worked so hard to find us."
I drew a sharp breath. Like dragons' tongues it was licking a path up my boots again, feeling my ankles and filling me with dread. My vision began to tunnel and the discomfort to fade. I was blacking out from the loss of blood.
"What do you want?" I whispered, as the shadow creature moved over my waist, my chest. My arms offered no resistance as it shifted them above my head, a tendril of black encircling my wrists like unnatural rope. It throbbed with a wintry pulse, so close that we might have kissed had it human features.
"You have sought, and now you shall find."
My heaving breath hitched. Another inky vine rose from its mass and formed a lump at the end of its stalk. Stretching, shifting and it was a hand. Small stubs made fingers. Slowly, it hovered over my face, opening those fingers wide.
Two eyes, red irises and pinprick pupils, opened in the palm to blink at me.
"Watch and remember. Then, you may decide..."
Fascinated, I stared into those open eyes.
And then, wide awake, I began to dream.
"It's a shame we had to meet this way. If it had been under different circumstances, I could have grown to admire you. Perhaps even to like you."
He spoke calmly while I watched droplets of my blood spatter beside my ear. On my back he was an even more hideous sight than he had been face-to-snout, the demon torches he'd lit burning brighter than before. He wanted a good look at my expression before he drove his trident into my chest.
Months of fighting, weeks of living in Hyrule's wilderness, promises I'd made to people I'd met to end the nightmare of the dark realm. All of these would be gone in an instant. My sword had been knocked free of me, my bow somewhere behind me with its silver arrows scattered. The blow to the head had been well timed, right before I was to end his gruesome existence. I'd been arrogant, gotten too close to tease. Now there were no weapons left to me but my wits.
It was torture to smile, but I managed, my own dry laugh enough to bring tears to my eyes. "Your friendship, monster?" I chuckled again. "Oh, there are worse things than death."
His red, bloodshot gaze narrowed. If I strained I could see something almost human in that look, something beyond cruelty. Desire. But to what end? He kept the trident upright. Already I could see spheres of flame gathering. All he needed to do was will it, and the fire-bats that had burned away portions of my tunic would return.
"I thought that after defeating even my pawn, you would be much harder to kill." Quiet reflection laced through his tone. "After gaining the power of the Goddesses, after changing the landscape itself to reflect what I want, after becoming a god in my own right, and this is what is sent to kill me? A simpleton lad?" Putrid breath assaulted my nose as he leaned over me and thick digits curled into the neck of my tunic. I was lifted from the floor. A flash close by, and I saw my sword in one direction, my arrows in the other. Then he shook me, hard enough to made my neck snap back and forth.
"So fragile," he mused aloud. "It's little wonder I lost the desire to be merely human so long ago. Are you ready to tell the Goddesses they must prepare far better than you if there's to be any joy in this challenge for me?" His grip tightened. "If I'm to die I'd like it to play the cat a little longer than this, tiny mouse."
As he spoke I'd remained limp and passive, allowing him to think that I was done in. Nearly being killed for my own stupidity was an aggravation. Being insulted beforehand and played with was unbearable.
I aimed my kick well and the air left him in a puff as my foot collided with his stomach. I thought that he would drop me right away, letting me land on my feet and retrieve my weapons. Instead, he threw me right for the nearest pillar. Over the months, the sting of arrows grazing my flesh and spears coming too close for comfort was nothing compared to what I felt as I hit, then slid to the floor. The tiles groaned under my weight, having seen better days. Fresh warm tracks cut into my cheeks as tears slid down them again. I laid where I was, sobbing for breath and swearing softly.
"Thought you were going to be clever?" He was coming again and this time I had a feeling he was going to pounce. I cast around for my sword, my body shaking as I drew myself up. I saw it, lying just a few feet away. I glanced from beast to blade. He was closing in, but I might have just enough time...
I darted for it. At the same time he picked up speed, cursing me, my family, my ancestors. He was upon me by the time I leaned to take up the hilt. His slash was wild, an arc of three-pronged bronze headed for my heart. I felt it hiss past as I dodged. It missed its intended target and he roared, taking another try before I could so much ready my defenses.
His roar of rage and my howl echoed together. For a blessed instant I was so shocked I was numb, then burning trickles down the back of my calf told me I'd been stricken. I tried to run but stumbled and toppled. I rolled to face him, sheet-white but ready. If I was to die here, I would go fighting. I didn't take up my sword, letting it lie where my fingers could just reach it when needed.
"It's a man's lot in life to die, little boy," Ganon told me, inhaling at the sight of my suffering. I could feel that his anger had mounted, his breaths short and fast snorts. If he was anything like most fighters, allowing emotion to overcome him would prove a mistake.
"I can't let inferior hands touch the treasure the gods left to us, let mediocre wishes pollute this beautiful place I've made. Don't you see? It would be an insult. And if you lived, you would touch it, touch my Triforce. You would insult this world and profane what only the strongest and most worthy hands should touch. I've defeated others foolish enough to try and prevent me from maintaining this paradise, but in the end, well, you see their bones there in the corners, do you not?"
I would have retorted, but spots were dominating my vision. I didn't have long. I grit my teeth against the raw and bloody hurt. He paused in front of me, and then, true to any cat, decided it best to play with me just that bit more. His hoof stomped down on my right hand. I felt bones protest and shift, but I bit hard on my lip. I wouldn't scream again.
Besides, the idiot had chosen the wrong hand. As I suspected, he'd allowed cockiness and animosity to overcome him.
His scream turned to the squealing of a stuck boar as I sliced. He paled and went stone-still as the Blade of Evil's Bane rendered him helpless as the elder had told me it would. I released the hilt, letting it remain where it was as I crawled across the floor. My bow and arrows were in sight. One clean shot and this would be over.
"Where are you going, boy?"
The fact he could still talk surprised me. I looked up to see his eyes were following my movements. I continued to crawl, gulping for air, until I grasped my bow, sitting up to nock an arrow. A wave of vertigo swept over me and he was still speaking.
"Thinking you're better than a man who has simply shown the world on the outside what he is on the inside, does that make you so much better than I? Playing the hero those peasants have all been clamoring for, does that make you purer than an honest man? Does it?"
"I don't have to answer to you," I retorted, readying the arrow and drawing back the string.
"Oh, but you do have to answer to you, and there's blood on your hands," he said, and I heard his quiet laugh as I took aim and fired.
"And it was right after that the nightmares began?"
We were alone on the ship that was to take me to sea within the hour. The crew was still loading chests and cargo aboard, the captain overseeing operations with shouts as hoarse as the gulls' screeches. The princess looked out to the white-caps, her shawl flapping in the cool, salty breeze.
I nodded. "But they're nothing, just jumbled images." I waved a dismissive hand.
Her answer was a sigh. "Then why are you leaving, Link? Ganon's dead, you slew him yourself. We're at peace now."
We'd been over this several times since she'd come to the dock to see me off an hour ago. It bore repeating. "He was just a representation of what's really out there, Your Highness. If not Ganon, then there are other things, other people, out there with similar ideas. I'd like to assure myself there aren't any of his followers out there with notions of threatening Hyrule before I allow myself to relax."
Her blue eyes drifted down. "And your leg?"
"As good as new. The healer got to it in time, so it's coming along nicely." I demonstrated by putting most of my weight on it before raising the other so it alone supported me. Zelda shook her head.
"Nevertheless, I want you to be careful out there, Link. You may have a map, but much of Hyrule's waterways are uncharted and can be dangerous. Consider it a royal decree. I've asked Captain Morrigan to take all the precautions he can, but promise me you won't be reckless," she pleaded, laying a hand on my shoulder.
"You have my word, Princess," I told her, righting myself. "I'll be back within a month's time."
"Are you sure it's signs of Ganon's return you're looking for and not something else?"
"Ah, sir, Your Highness?" The gruff voice behind us was startling and Zelda's hand tightened on my shoulder. Captain Morrigan had removed his hat in respect, shifting it from one red, raw hand to the other. "Beggin' your pardon. We're ready to cast off. Just got the last of the cargo below decks. Like I said, sir, we can only be takin' you as far as Calatia before we have to make that delivery to them, an' then you're on your own in the raft. Shouldn't be more than a few knots before you hit landfall though."
"Link!" Zelda was immediately up in arms. "Why did you not tell me you were planning on journeying alone for some of this trip?"
"I didn't want to worry you. You have enough to concern yourself over, with all due respect, Highness." I lifted my chin and met her gaze, daring her to tell me that after all of this preparation, all had to come to a halt. For a second, her eyes blazed into mine and then, she lowered them.
"As you wish. But if you aren't back on these shores within a month precisely, I'm sending out someone to look for you. And don't think I won't be aboard the ship I send to tell you what's what when we do find you."
I bowed my head to her to hide a smile. "Thank you, Highness. I won't disappoint. Good-bye, and may the gods keep you well until we meet again."
She inclined her head. I thought there was a certain sadness in her expression. "Farewell, Link, and you...you too."
Morrigan grinned and clapped me on the back as he began to lead me for the gangplank. Around me, the crew was hustling to get the last odds and ends together before we set sail.
"How you feelin' there, sir, ready for the voyage?"
We ascended the gangplank and boarded. The floor was suddenly rolling and shifting, making breakfast do all manner of things in my stomach. I must have turned green, for Morrigan roared with laughter and patted my shoulder.
"That'll pass after a few days aboard. After that, we'll get you a taste for grog so quick you'll wonder what you did without it."
I could only turn greener.
To my surprise, Morrigan was right. After a week at sea, I got used to the rocking of the vessel, being crammed in with two score other men in hammocks below decks, and even started to like grog when it was passed around at nights. Still, there were times where I preferred the solitude of being above decks after everyone else had gone to bed.
One evening I noticed clouds that hid the moon. Where the day had been flawless and sunny, the water calm, the night had brought the rougher waters and the darker weather. I stood against the rails, wondering at the change.
"Awfully dark up there, isn't it?" Morrigan emerged from his cabin to take in the sight too. "Comes sudden-like, out here. Not like on land where a fellow can hide for cover. Naw, out here's the squall and you, that's it."
The boat rocked violently to prove his point. The rails dug into my stomach as the sea-spray flecked my forehead and cheeks. I spat out salt as the boat settled again.
"We'll at least be below decks when it hits, won't we?"
"Some of us will."
Lightening made the heavens spark white. As the first drops spattered the decks, a piece of the black sea reared up, arching against the flash before disappearing again. At my side, Morrigan swore and made a symbol of protection to the gods.
The appearance of the thing and his reaction astounded me. "What was that?"
"You ain't never seen a sea-beast before, sir?" he asked, still staring out into the waters. "Count yourself as lucky, then."
We stood on decks, both waiting for it to resurface.
"Why would that make me lucky?"
"You never heard the stories, sir?" In the half-light his eyes were wide. "They're bad luck."
"Aye, sir. Anyone what sees one's due for a stroke of real bad luck fairly soon."
"...Hey, are you listening to me? Link? Are you hearing anything I'm saying?"
I blinked out of my reverie and smiled sheepishly at Marin. "No, sorry. What were you saying?"
She propped her chin in her hand and brought her knees up closer to her chest. "Sometimes I wonder what it's like."
"Wonder what what's like, Marin?"
She spread her arms wide like wings suddenly. "To leave this island. To be free, truly free. If I could leave the island, I could have it so everyone could hear my music." Her arms lowered and she frowned. "Think if I got to the egg on the mountainside, the Wind Fish would let me leave if I asked?"
"I don't know," I shrugged, watching the way the sunlight played in her hair. Copper here, red there, like watching a fire.
"I'd be frightened of all the monsters we have around here though," she admitted shyly, taking the flower from her hair and playing with it. "It wouldn't be like you, having a sword and everything. I'm just me." Silence grew between us as we both looked out at the lapping waves, listened to the seagulls scream at one another.
Kohonolit Island was a prison. A beautiful place. But still a prison.
"Say, Link? Can I be honest with you for a minute?"
"Honest? About what?"
She didn't look at me as she twirled the flowers stem between her thumb and forefinger.
Before I met you, I thought getting off of the island was only a dream. People like Crazy Tracy say that theres a reason we all cant leave. That theres a reason why all the monsters have been showing up.
Worry made her features dark. On impulse, I laid my hand atop hers. I wouldnt listen to people like Tracy, Marin. I told you that Im going to get to the bottom of why the monsters have been coming and put a stop to it.
Crazy Tracy told me she went to the Dream Shrine the other day, Link. She had a dream there, Marin whispered. Something dark came to her and told her that the Wind Fish, asleep inside that egg Something is bothering him, Link, something evil. She had paled, pushing red locks from her eyes. So blue, like the princesss. It told her that if the Wind Fish wakes up, if he ever She took a breath. Everything and everyonell be gone. Our times running out.
Marin, I started, at a loss. Thats nonsense. Tracy---.
Im worried she might be right this time. What if the Wind Fish does awaken and everythings gone? Mabe Village, the children, everyone
I said Id take care of it, I told her firmly. Theres no need to worry about whats going to happen to you or the village.
A brief, sad smile lit her face. Im not worried about myself, Link.
The gulls wheeled and called to one another above us and the jailing sea slid to touch our bare toes.
No. Im worried about you.
Tell me where it is!
The owl flapped his wings, blinking bulbous yellow eyes at me as he sat perched in the gnarled tree. He hooted, flapping his wings to settle himself. So you have heard of the Face Shrine without my telling you yet? Clever, clever lad. Hoo!
I growled. Tell me where it is, now. I havent got time for games!
How did you hear of it? The creature twisted his head unnaturally so it was upside down. I resisted the urge to throw a rock at him.
I went to the Dream Shrine in Mabe Village. A voice in my dreams told me that if I looked for the truth there, I would find what I was looking for.
The owl closed his eyes and rearranged his feathers. The Dream Shrine Yes, hoo, then it is time, young man. Go to the eastern seas, where the faces have tongues that speak the truth.
I made as though to sprint off, but the owls warning caught me.
Beware, lad. The truth can be an ugly thing.
Do you still have a heart that seeks the truth?
I gasped as I came back to myself, the past returning to its rightful place. Why would I not want to know the truth? I questioned, blinking to rid my head of the fog that remained. I have a right to know whether or not this place is, is
Is real?" The shadows snickered, melding into themselves as they started to slide down my body, pool near my boots. "Seek and you will discover the truth here, just ahead. Choose to turn back and the blood on your hands will wash clean away."
I dragged myself up, ignoring the numbness in my useless leg. Slowly, I started to limp forwards, down the corridor that would lead me to the answers I sought. As when Id first come into the shrine, they followed.
"So this is your decision. Interesting."
Agahnim, who would have perhaps been a normal man if not for Ganons influence, died on my sword in the shadows, formed by them as I passed. There had been others turned to monsters when the Dark World had been made, those that had gone heart and soul to the seduction of Power. In the end, I had slain them all, them and their master.
But it didnt change the fact they were once human. Their cries echoed from the walls as the runes inscribed in them bled black. I quickened my pace. Their bodies changed as the Triforces light restored the Golden Land, snouts and tails vanishing, human faces showing through the disappearing fur. Just human
Stop it! I stumbled and went to my knees as the corridor opened into a chamber. Here, the runes were absent from the walls, instead on a single large tablet made of stone. It was dark, too much so to read, and I fumbled again with my lantern. This time, the fire caught and the shadows shrank back, affronted. The tablets inscription gleamed, and on it, its revelation shone forth.
TO THE FINDER...
THE ISLE OF KOHONOLIT, IS BUT AN ILLUSION...
Around me, the shadows began to weave new patterns, making new shapes, new faces. This time, I saw Marin, faintly heard her ballad. Her father Tarin was stooped in the forest, gathering mushrooms.
No, I whispered, please, no.
Do you want to play the Ballad of the Wind Fish with me this time Link? the shadows giggled with Marins voice.
HUMAN, MONSTER, SEA, SKY...A SCENE ON THE LID OF A SLEEPER'S EYE...
AWAKE THE DREAMER, AND KOHONOLIT WILL VANISH MUCH LIKE A BUBBLE ON A NEEDLE...
Marin was watching me from the corner, a frown in her brow. Whats wrong Link? Around her, the village children played, unaware of their fate. Dont you want to stay here with me forever?
CAST-AWAY, YOU SHOULD KNOW THE TRUTH!
Stop, please, for the love of the gods, enough, I murmured, looking down from the tablet. I was surprised to find my eyes were wet. Ive seen enough. Stop showing me these things. I beg you. What sort of monster could make a place like this? I pressed my hands against the runes in the tablet, trying to block them from view.
The shadows seethed, pleased with themselves. Torches flared abruptly to life, and in their light, he was there again, made of shadow, wielding his ugly trident. I scrambled back, seeking my sword, and too late remembered that it slept once more in Hyrules forest.
What sort of monster indeed? This is not what youve come to defeat, cast-away. Already, they were changing again, sliding down the tablet to come equal with my face, press themselves against my fingers as I touched them. They twisted again, laughing with voices I knew and loved, shifting from face to face, person to person. Voice after voice came into my ears.
Then what have I come to defeat? My voice shook.
One last time, the shadows spoke.
With that they vanished completely.
Staring into the smooth, reflective marble of the tablet, I understood.
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