Chapter 64 - Going in Circles
“Just admit it Link.” Nabooru sighed, looking on the rocky crags and gullies of the highlands. “We’re lost.”
Link shifted his weight slightly as he perched precariously on the edge of the drop off, straight below him was a ravine with jagged pillars and what appeared to be a bleached carcass impaled on a rather nasty looking rock. Link sighed despondently, “Yeah, I’m sorry guys. I thought for sure we were going the right way.” He looked off to the northeast. The tall snow peak appeared no closer than it had several hours ago. “I have a feeling the Gorons would be there, but I have no idea how we are going to get there!” Link moaned feeling miserable that he had gotten them lost.
Saria was busy hovering around above them, looking for alternate avenues they could use to progress onward towards the snowy peak. It appeared hopeless to her, the plethora of haphazardly strewn rocks and spires were jumbling together in her vision and everything looked more or less the same. Just when she thought she saw a pathway down into the ravine to get to the other side, she lost track of it when she zoomed to get a different angle. She raged at herself for being so useless.
“Let’s not give up hope yet.” Zelda said, trying to remain cheerful. She looked quite dirty like the rest of them. They had been clambering over stones and gravel the majority of the past two days with little progress to show for it. Her clothes were a complete disaster and dust was caked on all their belongings. “Everyone is depending on us to succeed in this, I’m sure the Gorons wouldn’t lead you astray to fail. Darunia knew you would come looking for him here.”
Link’s shoulders sagged, “Yes, but I’m sure he was anticipating we were going to come from the west, not from the south. I’m sure finding their trail would have been a lot simpler the other way around.” He pointed dismally off to the western sky, where the sun was just starting to fall on the horizon.
“Well, that’s just great.” Nabooru snorted. Exhaling loudly, she looked around and spotted an overhang that appeared to cover well from the elements. She indicated to the others of her discovery. “We might as well make up camp for the night. We’ll try again in the morning.”
The rest muttered at this idea but made no excuses or complaints. They all slumped their packs down, relieved to be free of their excessive loads. Link especially was grateful for having his back free from the overbearing burden that was placing stress on his wings. His appendages were aching and sore, he asked Zelda’s assistance to untie them so he could unfurl them out from underneath his cloak.
They had let Epona and Fado loose in the fields as planned, Link tethered them together so they wouldn’t go wandering off in separate directions but stay together. Epona was initially unwilling to leave without him. After a few hearty attempts at navigating the rough ridges and slopes of the foot hills, even the stubborn mare had to admit defeat. The mountains were no place for a horse. They knew this going into the mission. Ingo was to journey northwards shortly after them with Malon and Ashley to retrieve Epona and Fado and bring them back to Glaun’rung, everything seemed to be in order there. Link only hoped Epona didn’t have to wait too long on Ingo.
Fall was quickly ending and winter was fast approaching; each of them could feel it, all except Xavier. For some inscrutable reason, the Cyn’Taak was indifferent to the changing climates, it seemed quite at home in either the sweltering swamps of the Negev or the cold bluffs of the Xaagar. Furthermore, her intellect improved by leaps and bounds throughout their journey, she was conversing with them on a regular basis and inputted her opinions on various subjects. Granted, her overall worldly knowledge was lacking and she couldn’t relate to them on many levels, but that didn’t stop her from trying her best to fit into the group.
“I ‘hink it’s gonn’ be good day tomorro’.” Xavier said happily, as she lumbered over to the overhang. Wherever they ended up camping for the night, she would also know just where to situate herself to help alleviate any wind. The Cyn’Taak would casually lick her finger and place it in the air to determine from which direction any gusts were blowing in from and then promptly positioned herself where she could be a formidable wind breaker, much to the appreciation of everyone else.
Link shook his head and smiled at the beast he had grown so fond of over the orbits. “Nothing ever gets you down, does it Xavier?” He asked.
“Nope!” She grinned bearing all of her teeth. To the uninitiated, it was a frightening visage but to Link and Zelda, it was one of great joy.
Saria plunked down next to Nabooru with a whine, she had been flying all day trying to assist them in finding the right path, all to no avail. She jealously looked at Link receiving a massage to the base of his wings from Zelda. “I certainly wish I could get a rubbing like that, I’ve been flying all day.” She pouted.
Zelda looked at her and smiled, “Well, when I’m done with Link, would you care if I did yours too?” She had unintentionally become the de facto therapist for Link’s wings each night, it wasn’t anything they questioned anymore, it just happened.
Saria puffed up irritably, turning around to display her ethereal wings as she glared at Zelda, “Do you see any part that is physically connected with my body? They just hang there, I can feel that they are there but there is nothing to hold onto.”
Leaving a protesting Link behind, Zelda walked over to Saria to inspect what she was talking about. Allowing her to touch the wings, Saria held them still. Gently feeling the delicate material they were comprised of, Zelda was surprised to discover that they were quite firm to the touch. Following it down to the base where it should have been connected just between the shoulder blades, she encountered nothing. There was nothing specific to grasp or hold on to, her brow furrowed in consternation as she began examining further.
Saria giggled, “Okay, now you’re just tickling.” She leapt away quickly before fluttering back to the ground facing Zelda.
Zelda crossed her arms perplexed, “I wasn’t meaning to, I’m just surprised at how different your wings are from Link’s. And you say they are sore and aching from flying all day?” Saria nodded vigorously. “Strange.” Zelda said, mulling over the matter.
Nabooru, having ignored the entire conversation, had started a raging fire just a couple meters away from Xavier’s resting spot for the night. “If you all are quite done, let’s get some food started here so we can eat.” She was feeling especially famished tonight, Xavier seemed to concur with her sentiment by licking her snout excitedly.
Zelda looked around anxiously, “Do you still think it’s a good idea to be starting fires like that?”
The Gerudo elder looked around in the fading light of dusk, “I don’t believe there is anything dangerous that we can’t handle in these parts. Besides, there is nothing of interest here for the Nevachreans, that lies further north with the Gorons.” Satisfied with her own logic, Nabooru continued unwrapping the last few packages of cured meats they had brought with them from Glaun’rung.
A look of worry began to form on Link’s face as he watched Nabooru heating up the hunks of meat. “Don’t you think we should begin rationing the food a bit better? We still have a lot further to go and I haven’t noticed any real game we can hunt here for replenishments.”
“Yeah,” Saria chided, “I also haven’t noticed any fresh fruit trees or any foliage that looks remotely edible in this pile of rocks. What do you expect me to eat, that?” She curled her lip as she pointed disgustingly at the flesh slabs that were just starting to steam. “You are just as bad as Talon with wanting and eating food, maybe he’s rubbing off on you!” She added in carelessly.
Nabooru scowled at the indignant Kokiri, “If you don’t like what I cook, then you can go without food for tonight then.” Tempers had flared between them over the last couple moons, the journey had already taken a toll and it was clearly showing.
Zelda quickly stepped in the middle of the two holding her arms up to distance the flustered combatants, “Okay, let’s just simmer down now. We’ve all had a frustrating day. Let’s just settle down, rest and start anew tomorrow, all right?” She looked back and forth between the two of them. Sensing that the hostility had lifted slightly, she ruffled in their food pack and brought out an orange and a few leafy greens. “I know it isn’t much, but we are running out of food for you Saria.” She tried to smile, but it only came out half-heartedly when handing the food to the Kokiri.
“Thanks.” Saria vacuously said, taking the proffered items from Zelda’s hands. Determined to make a point, the Kokiri stalked away from the group and sat roughly on the cold rock next to Xavier, leaning back up against her bulk. At a nudge from Xavier’s snout, she reached up and patted the beast’s nose blithely, “Hey girl, I know you’re there for me.” She beamed at the hulking creature.
“Don’t ‘et that ‘oman get you ‘own Sariea,” The Kokiri smiled at Xavier’s attempt to pronounce her name, the Cyn’Taak could never quite get it. Regardless, it endeared the creature to her heart all the more. Her reaction went unnoticed by Xavier as it continued, “She just ‘as issues.” She nodded her head as if that settled the matter.
Saria couldn’t help but chuckle a bit at the Cyn’Taak’s simple rationality. “I guess you are right.” She looked back towards the campfire at Nabooru, who was busy slicing up the meat to divvy it up amongst the group. “We shouldn’t get so easily upset with each other. We’re all in this together.”
Link’s sleep was disturbed by an incessant ringing in his ears. His eyes fluttered open as he realized it was Navi drumming against his skull, warning him of the impending danger that surrounded them.
Link! Link! Hey, wake up! Her voice was insistent and forceful.
Encumbered with the languor of slumber still weighing on his mind, he rolled his head over to look at Saria leaning back against Xavier; who was still sleeping peaceably. Something seemed odd about the view but he couldn’t decipher what. Link’s eyes shot open when he recognized Saria was wide awake and gripping her bag blanket so tightly her fingers were white. Her eyes were bulging at what she was seeing, but she wasn’t moving a muscle due to some horrifying terror just out of his vision.
Sensing several malevolent presences in the nearby area, he lifted his head to look back and over past the smoldering fire logs at Zelda. His vision blurred slightly, trying to focus on comprehending what he was seeing. Several spindly legs were rotating an object encased with what looked like strands of white rope. Trailing the spinning webbing to its source, his vision locked on the bulbous body of a giant spider ensnaring its prey.
Link! Navi chimed loudly in his head. There are several Skulltulas! Look, over there by Nabooru!
Skulltulas were a specifically deadly type of arachnid that haunted dark crevices and deep underground recesses of the wilds. Their toxin was as deadly as any other venomous spider in Hyrule, but what made these variants especially egregious was the singularly, iconic hardened shell casing on their backs. What gives them their moniker was the shape of this carapace which protects its vitals. To inspire dread in it’s, mostly Huma, victims, the shell closely resembled a Hylian skull.
Riveting his attention on Nabooru, Link grasped the notion she was being captured as well. His blood turned to ice as he understood the severity of the situation: Zelda was cocooned already and was slowly being dragged off! His body convulsed slightly at the sudden movement over his head. A swollen belly reeking of dead, rotting meat swung itself over his sleeping roll and began to spin delicate webbings around his body.
With a roar, he apparated a scimitar into his fist before driving it upwards into the fleshy mass of the fetid arachnid, it chittered in agony as Link swiftly twisted the sword into its belly. He deftly rolled out of the way of the collapsing Skulltula, its furry legs scrambling for purchase amidst the scorching pain permeating its stomach. Link was on his feet in seconds. Assessing the situation, he realized they were surrounded by several more Skulltulas, each the size of a grown man.
“Nabooru! Get up now!” Link shouted, kicking off any leftover strands clinging to his boots.
“What? What’s going on?” Nabooru’s eyes popped open and flicked around at the overbearing menace. She attempted in vain to flip to her feet but realized her lower half was completely sheathed in thick, sticky webbing. “Link! Come over and help me-” Nabooru screamed as the Skulltula above her sank its mandibles deep into her back. Within seconds she was limp and unresponsive. The spider hastened its task of entombing the food in its silk, eager to drag it back to its nest before it could be stolen.
Cursing an oath, Link apparated another sword, smaller this time and tossed it to Saria. “Here, take this and start attacking!” Link exclaimed before conjuring a longer sword in his hand.
Saria yelped fumbling with the thrown weapon. The hilt slipped through her fingers, piercing the night with its clatter when it hit the ground. “Link!” She whimpered, “I don’t know how to use these things!”
Link mentally kicked himself. He should have remembered that she had no formal training in warfare even after all these years. “Just do your best Saria! Wake up Xavier!” He suggested, sidestepping a graceless lunge before striking downwards at an awkward angle toward the arachnid’s eyes. He cursed as the Skulltula turned its globular mass towards him, warding off the lethal blow against its thick, iron hide.
His command did not go unheard, within moments Xavier was fully alert and aware of the danger around them. She went into a furious rage as she saw Link madly slashing at several spiders at once, each one biding its time for an opening with which to sink their maxillae into his soft flesh. Bucking off a Skulltula that had attempted to clamber up onto her back, she whipped around and stabbed it viciously in the face with her barbed tail.
The Cyn’Taak stared befuddled at the uncanny reaction the Skulltula was having to her defensive counter; in seconds its lanky physique was bubbling in sweet smelling boils which traveled up and down its conglomeration of legs. Overcome with an incredible urge to eat, Xavier snapped the largest abscess open and eagerly drove its snout into the wriggling mass of limbs, drinking deeply the luxurious fluid.
“Oh thank Farore!” Link yelled in relief, “Your venom finally kicked in! Xavier!” The beast reared up from its gory meal at his call, its mind still reeling with the shock of its newfound ability and the intoxicating smell of fresh blood. “Help me now! You can eat later!” Link leapt back as the nearest Skulltula slammed its butt forward intending to impale him on its jagged spike that protruded from its rear end, it ranted in angry clicks when it struck nothing but stone.
Shaking her head from the bloodlust, she picked up the rent meal before her and threw it at the assaulting Skulltula adjacent Link. He barked in surprise at the bloody mess surging past his face before it smacked into the squirming spider before him, both bodies tumbled down the decline before resting in a curled heap of legs and webbing. Wasting no time, Link leaped down the slope before jumping onto the Skulltula, driving his sword deep into its exposed belly.
“Loo’ out!” Xavier bellowed lumbering down the hill swiping at the hind end of the final Skulltula, narrowly missing the foul creature.
Adapting to her warning, Link ducked low before crying out in pain. He hadn’t taken into account the extra mileage his wings had to travel when evading; the pointed end of the Skulltula’s leg rammed into his right wing, yanking him back through the air before slamming him down to the ground. He gasped for breath as the air was knocked clean out of his lungs at the impact. Link knew it was hopeless recovering from the fall, he screamed in torment as the Skulltula dug its spiked leg deeper into his plumage drawing beads of red.
Sensing its prey finally subdued, the Skulltula tittered exciteably before opening its maw in preparation to puncture its future meal and inject paralyzing venom. A scream sliced the air, Link looked up to see a small flash of steel impale itself through the eyes of the Skulltula. Mercifully releasing its unbearable hold on his wing, the arachnid skittered back futilely utilizing its front legs to remove the affronting object of pain.
Xavier dealt the finishing blow by slamming her tail deep into the creature’s belly. Within moments the Cyn’Taak was feasting on steaming arachnid innards, seemingly enjoying every minute of it. Link ignored the ghastly sight and looked up to Saria who had flown above the carnage of battle. She was shivering uncontrollably with a look of horror in her eyes. Seeing no further threat in the vicinity, he motioned her down. After several attempts she finally acknowledged him and landed beside him.
Embracing the quivering Kokiri in his arms, he kissed her gently on the forehead, “You did great Saria. I knew you would.”
His words of affirmation broke the dam gates, releasing a torrential downpour of tears. She sobbed into his stomach as she gripped tightly his tunic. “Why must things kill each other?! Why must the world be like this?”
His heart broke to see his lifelong friend in such misery. War, jealousy, death, rape, torture, all these things were foreign to Kokiri. Saria had been exposed to far more than any other Kokiri in existence. “I don’t know, but you were very brave. You saved my life Saria.”
She sniffed heavily before looking up into his face, “You mean it? I was really brave?” Link nodded smiling. She returned it before noticing the injuring wing, “Link! You’re hurt!” She gasped.
Link adjusted his appendage slightly, it was rather sore now and it ached something fierce around the wound. If not treated soon, he wasn’t sure he wanted to find out what kind of infection to the wing it might cause. “I’ll be all right, but…”
He looked around quickly and noticed that the remainder of the Skulltulas had disappeared, dissolved into the inky blackness of the night. Saria’s gaze darted between the bed rolls before stating the worst, “Zelda and Nabooru, they are gone!”
Link released his hold on Saria before dashing up towards the campsite, within moments he noticed two trails leading away from the scene towards a rocky crag further up the mountain. The spiders had dragged Zelda and Nabooru into their lair and would soon be gorging on them.
Looking down at Saria, he wrapped a single arm around her shoulders as he whispered warmly, “You ready to go after them?”
Her eyes still locked onto the dead carcasses of the Skulltulas, she nodded her head absently, “Uh huh...” She murmured.
Smiling, he turned around to shout back to Xavier who was blissfully feasting, “Xavier! We’re going after them, get over here!”
Do you think this is wise? We’re already lost with no way of figuring out where the Gorons are and you want to get us in deep further by traveling knowingly into a Skulltula nest? Navi warned apprehensively.
“I’m positive. The way I see it, we’re lost anyway, so following them isn’t going to change anything. Besides, I hate being lost alone.” Link sported a crooked grin as he shouldered his backpack before grabbing Zelda’s. Without looking back, the three of them began tracking the trail through the cragged, rocky spires.