Link, Navi, and Darunia emerged from the tunnel to find themselves surrounded by eager Gorons. Seeing their big brother, the rock people threw up their arms and let out a hearty cheer.
Big Brother raised a hand for silence. Then he motioned for the Gorons to move down into the pit, saying, "Please, brothers, assemble yourselves down there. I have news to share." Immediately as soon as they began to herd down the stairs, he moved toward the prominence. Navi and Link started to follow, but then Link staggered with a sudden loss of balance.
His fairy darted to his side and asked in alarm, "Are you all right, Link?"
He shook his head and blinked dazedly. "Yeah. Sure. Just really tired all of the sudden."
Navi mused for moment before she said, "Well, you have almost gone an entire day without sleeping. I think it would be best if you rest before you do anything else!"
Link nodded. "Yeah. Good idea. I'll ask Darunia after he's…" he yawned, "delivered the news…"
His fairy scrutinized him. "Are you sure you'll be all right for that long?"
Link nodded… and then yawned again.
The Gorons were finally assembled below. Darunia spread his arms out. He called to them, "Brothers! I come to you with news! For what seems like many days ago, I had sent out a plea for help to my brother the king and then shut myself in my room, awaiting his answer. And you all waited with me."
"By the goddess, we did!" came a shout, and the gathering murmured in agreement.
Darunia raised his arms for silence. "Peace, brothers. Your wait has not been in vain, for today our plea has been answered." He waved his hand to Link, who stood beside him. "This boy and his wise companion have offered to rid us of the dodongos that infest our cavern!"
Link raised a hand feebly. The crowd swam in his vision and he teetered unsteadily on his feet.
The crowd was speechless for a moment. Then a voice shouted, "You're joking!"
Darunia frowned and folded his arms. "It is no joke. He intends to do this."
"But he is a mere boy! A human, no less! What can he do that we cannot?"
"We will see. The Royal Family trusts him, so I trust him. We are strong of body, but this boy is strong of heart. And maybe what we need isn't strength but cunning." He flashed a wink to Navi.
The gathering was silent as they considered Big Brother's words. Finally, a voice grumbled, "Well… what do we have to lose?"
"It's decided then!" Big Brother roared cheerfully, turning to Link, who was struggling to keep from nodding off. "You'll go into Dodongo's Cavern and take care of the dodongos!" He slapped the boy on the back.
The breath was knocked from Link and he went sailing forward off the ledge and down into the crowd of astonished Gorons. The last thing he heard before he cannoned into the rock men was his fairy screaming his name.
A blanket of blue sky stretched overhead as far as the eye could see. A multitude of clouds glided lazily across in their grand trek across the infinite expanse. The horizon was nonexistent - no land to cut the sky in half - just an all-encompassing wash of blue.
And yet, he had to be standing on something. It was solid underneath his feet. Experimentally, Link shifted them on the invisible ground. Oh, there it was, ripples. He was standing on a film of water that completely reflected the endless blue sky.
Link gazed around, looking for some sort of landmark, but there was not one single thing in sight - not one tree, not one rock, not one blade of grass. He swallowed though he wasn't sure if it was because he was nervous or excited. He called out, "Hello?"
He didn't expect an answer. He was mostly seeing if his voice would echo here. So he jumped and gave a cry of fright when a voice replied, "Ah! I was hoping to find you here!" He spun around and then gave another cry. "You!"
The Happy Mask Salesman gave him a sweeping bow, which caused an enormous pack on his back covered entirely in masks to rattle.
"What are you doing here? Where are we?"
"I will answer the second question as it will answer the first," said the Happy Mask Salesman, tapping his teeth. He winked. "Nice and succinct, wouldn't you say?"
"I guess…" said Link slowly unsure of what exactly he had said.
The strange salesman giggled. "Very well then. You want to know where we are? Well, no one knows for certain what this place is. Some say it is the leftover after the goddesses created our world. Others say it is the dimension between worlds. And yet others say it is a world of dreams. Whatever they say, it makes an excellent place for a chance meeting."
"You mean meeting you here is just a coincidence?"
The Happy Mask Salesman who had his hands held together in front of his face now broke them apart. One hand swung away. "Coincidence…" Then the other hand swung away. "Destiny…" He shrugged. "Different names for the same face."
"Right," said Link, who was unimpressed. "So, how do I get out of here?"
"Ah, ah, ah," said the mask salesman, swinging his finger in admonishment. "I can't let you go yet. We still have business to settle. You sold a mask, and you remember what must happen after that?"
Link turned up his hands helplessly. "I don't have the money with me, so I can't pay you back yet."
"Now's not the time for games," the Happy Mask Salesman scolded him though he looked like he was enjoying his own game immensely. "This is a serious business. Just hand over the ten Rupees you owe me from that wallet at your belt."
Link glanced down to find that he did indeed have a wallet at his belt though he was absolutely certain it wasn't there just three seconds ago. Feeling stunned, Link dug into the pouch, counted out ten Rupees, and then tipped them into the strange man's outstretched hands. He snatched them greedily and then poured them down his collar. With the last Rupee that slipped down his neck, he flashed Link a dazzling grin and announced, "Payment received. Now then, for your next assignment…" He reached behind himself and sifted through the masks with a dexterity that seemed unnatural to Link - as though the man could actually see what he was looking for though he never took his eyes off him! Eventually, he pulled it forward and studied it for a moment before he held it up for the boy to see.
"A royal visage for one who craves the power of leadership."
Link wasn't sure if he should laugh or grimace. The mask was in the image of a fat man with bulbous cheeks and many wobbling chins. A sorry-looking mustache drooped from a potato-shaped nose and a speck of a white goatee peeped from beneath red, rubbery lips. It was an ugly mask and Link might have doubted he would find anyone who would wear it if it wasn't for the jewels inserted in the crown at the top of the mask, the largest of which was the size of an egg.
"The price for this mask," said the salesman, "is twenty-five Rupees. A considerable sum, but I'm sure you'll sell it." He offered the mask to Link.
The Kokiri shook his head. "I don't want it."
The Happy Mask Salesman blinked. "Pardon?"
"I'm not selling any more masks," Link said firmly. "I'm done with the business."
The strange salesman giggled. "My boy, don't be absurd. You can't back out of this business until we've completed our agreement."
"I never agreed to anything!" Link protested.
"On the contrary, when you agreed to sell the Keaton mask, you took on the responsibilities of a Happy Mask Salesman - to bring happiness to everyone, with masks."
For a moment, Link was speechless with shock. Then he shook his head furiously. "I didn't know that! I was only doing a favor for the guard at Death Mountain gate!"
"And now you are a Happy Mask Salesman!" the grinning man cried, throwing out his arms. Then he giggled, putting a hand to his lips as though holding back his ecstasy. "Life is funny that way."
"No, it's not! Let me go! Get me out of this nightmare!" Link spun around and started running to get as far away from the Happy Mask Salesman as he could. But the odd man's voice reached him clearly as though he still stood behind him, "Agreed. You've much to do and time's a'wasting!
Something tickled Link's nose as he shifted into a more comfortable position. He shook his head and swiped at it before settling back into position. As he did, his nose was tickled again.
"Agh!" He tumbled onto his other side to escape whatever it was that was tickling him and his knuckles struck a rock wall, inflaming them with pain. He hissed in reaction and cradled his knuckles to his chest. Gradually, the pain ebbed away and he relaxed his hand, stretching it more tentatively this time. He allowed his body to roll down and once again something crawled up his nose. Barreling onto his back and heaving out a sneeze, he opened his eyes.
The stone ceiling flickered with red light. Link followed it to where its color was the most concentrated and found a single torch burning next to the square Goron statue. He placed his hand down to push himself upright but was stopped when he felt something plush envelope his hand. Glancing down, he discovered he was lying on a white rug with black markings - the carpet that had been laid in front of Darunia's door to make guests feel welcome, which he was now using as a bed.
Did Darunia do this? Link wondered as he absentmindedly rubbed his hand through the fur.
The sound of heavy treading brought his attention to the tunnel behind him. Big Brother emerged from the shadowy entrance. Seeing Link, he brightened. "Ah! You're awake!"
"Guess so." Link shook the last remnants of sleepiness from his mind. "How long was I asleep?"
"It is nearly noon now, which could prove advantageous to you. Dodongos prefer to sleep during the day and scavenge for food at night. They're sensitive to light."
Link nodded. "I see." He glanced over at Navi, who was now emerging from his cap, which she had been using as a pillow.
The big Goron leaned close to Link and said in a low, gruff voice, "Do you still want to do this?"
The boy really wished people would stop asking him that. It made it too tempting to quit just to get them off his back. But instead, he pressed his mouth together firmly and nodded.
Smiling, Darunia straightened and crossed his arms. "Then we shall meet you at the entrance to Dodongo's Cavern. Do you know where it is?"
"I think so," Link answered, glancing over at his fairy. "We passed it on the way up here."
The Goron boss nodded. "Prepare yourselves well. You've got a mighty challenge ahead of you."
Even if Link had forgotten where the cavern was, he would have found his way there very quickly, for the moment he stepped out of Darunia's room, he was surrounded by Gorons eager to see him take back their cave. They provided him with an unofficial and chatty escort down the mountainside all the way to the bend where the rocks barricaded the cavern entrance. Darunia were already there, waiting for him with a smile that was slowly growing.
"Are you ready, boy?" he asked once Link's escort had quieted down.
The Kokiri's heart was racing and his palms were slick with sweat. He gave a dry swallow and then said in a determined voice, "I'm ready."
"We're not going to completely unblock the entrance; we're going to move the rocks from the top to give you just enough room to crawl in. We can't risk the dodongos escaping," said Darunia. As he spoke, some Gorons climbed over the boulders to shift the rocks on top.
Link clenched his clammy fists. "Okay."
Darunia waved to his second-in-command who stood beside him. "Ubaro will boost you up."
Ubaro gave him a wan smile. He turned and braced himself against the lower boulders, separating the crags protruding from his back. "Climb onto my shoulders."
Link hastily wiped his palms against his tunic and then reached for the crags. It turned out climbing was surprisingly easy, the diplomatic Goron as solid as a mountain. He was soon pulling himself up to the opening that the Gorons had made, who leaped off to give him room. Link crouched to peer into what was really nothing more than a large crack and saw a faint red glow. He turned to his fairy companion, who hovered beside him, her expression one of concern.
"Are you ready, Link?" she asked in a low voice so that only he could hear.
He took in a deep breath that came in shaky and then released it in one solid puff. "I'm ready."
He turned himself around and wriggled his back end through the opening. As his weight shifted to the other side of the blockage, he used his arms to control his descent. Once he had his head through, he allowed himself to drop, bending his knees to cushion the impact.
Above him, he heard the sound of stones shifting as the Gorons moved the rocks back in place, and the stream of light coming through the opening shrank in half then into a needle and finally was cut altogether. Now it was Navi's light that held back the dark and the faint red glow coming from deeper within the cavern beckoning them into its belly.
Link fingered the scales on the gift Darunia had given him, clenching the hard, round shapes inside. He took in a deep breath and then let it out slowly.
"All right," he said quietly. "Let's go." He started forward, and after a moment's hesitation Navi followed.
They quickly discovered the tunnel wasn't nearly as deep as it appeared. After taking approximately ten steps, they entered an enormous chamber. The light in here was dim and hazy - patches of walls shimmering behind a red glow caused by the magma pools beneath them and twin falls at the far end of the cavern - but it was enough to see what was in here.
And it looked pretty sophisticated. Areas around the chamber were outfitted with strange and complicated machines - most of which seemed to require magma pools to work. On the right side of the chamber was a network of iron pipes that slithered from high up the wall and twisted around each other as they descended until they connected to a large tank. From this came a spout that hung over a magma pool where water dripped, causing the magma to hiss and steam in regular intervals. Next to the contraption was a cable as thick as Link's arm that looped from the ground all the way up to a ledge close to the ceiling. On the loop of cable were two wooden platforms - one on either end of the loop. After a minute of studying it, Link guessed that it was some sort of transportation mechanism that was meant to take passengers up to the ceiling and down to the ground. To the left was what appeared to be a giant grindstone though the stones were disproportionally thick, with chimneys sticking from the top and four thick cables running all the way up to a pulley near the ceiling. Beyond this device was what appeared to be a rack dangling from the ceiling with meshwork panels inserted into it. Crystals glittered from the panels.
Navi's mouth was open in awe. "Amazing!" she breathed. "To see such a feat of engineering is an experience no words can portray."
"Just imagine if they were working," Link told her, his own excitement bubbling over.
"It's a shame to have it all abandoned because of a dodongo infestation," his fairy said, gazing sadly around the chamber.
"Oh yes," Link agreed with a nervous gaze, her statement bringing him thumping back to reality. "Where are they all?"
"Likely sleeping," Navi answered, although she dropped her voice. "They burrow under the ground during the day. But if they sense an intruder in their territory, they will come up and attack."
"What about King Dodongo?" Link whispered. "Does he burrow underground too?"
"Only if he feels threatened, and that almost never happens. His size is often enough to protect him from any would-be predators."
So that meant that they should see King Dodongo somewhere in here, but wherever Link looked, there was no sign of the monster. Then again, there were plenty of shadows in the chamber for monsters to lurk in and the haze was probably distorting his vision.
He cautiously moved forward, keeping his eyes peeled for any sudden movements or suspicious shapes. He strained his ears for any strange sounds that might be dodongos swarming or King Dodongo moving around but there was only a steady, "Gloop, glup, glorp" of the magma bubbling in the pools.
"Just a moment, Link," Navi hissed suddenly. "I think I see tunnels over this way." She pointed to the right. He squinted in that direction and realized that there - through the shimmering haze - did appear to be a dark opening in the wall. He turned and made his way toward it, avoiding the magma pools along the way. When they reached the opening, Navi warned him, "Careful, Link. Let's proceed with caution. Who knows what's waiting for us at the end."
Her Kokiri nodded to show he had heard and then they proceeded through the tunnel, with caution, as Navi suggested.
The tunnel proved to be fairly deep. The temperature dropped noticeably as they ventured further in. Since his climb up the mountain, Link's clothes were soaked in sweat, and now they were absorbing the cooler air, raising goose pimples on his skin.
And then he heard something that sent a fresh wave of chills down his spine. A high-pitched wheezing coming from something big.
"With caution, Link," Navi reminded him in a strained voice.
He nodded and moved forward at a tiptoe. Navi instinctively dimmed her light as they approached, which only made it more difficult for Link to see where he was going. "Make yourself brighter!" he hissed at her. After a second's hesitation, she did as he said, and they nearly gasped out loud.
Not ten paces in front of them was a huge lizard. It was about the size of a pony with a stocky body and a large arrow-shaped head. Its scaly skin was slate gray with patches of green that looked like moss. Tiny eyes on either side of its head were yellow with slit pupils, and one of them was looking directly at Link!
He locked himself in place and even tried to hold his breath but his heart was pounding so hard it was as though it was knocking against his lungs to get them moving. Navi's first instinct was to dim her light to hide themselves from sight but a small part of her knew that the dodongos didn't need sight to catch them.
But aside from its belly swelling out then in as it breathed, the dodongo didn't move. Even its eye was motionless, never wavering from Link even with his fairy's light dazzling it. After what seemed like hours of standing there, Navi finally spoke, "I think it's asleep."
"With its eyes open?"
"The Great Deku Tree informed me of various strange sleep habits of certain creatures, including those that sleep with their eyes open. I remember he said it was because they had no eyelids. There are other creatures too that sleep standing up."
Link gaped up at her. "No joke?"
"No, I don't believe so," she answered. "But I can tell you of stranger things…" Then she shook her head. "No. I'll tell you some other time. We must remain focused, Link."
"Oh, right." Link turned his attention back to the huge monster wheezing in front of them. "That's King Dodongo, then?"
"No, a queen. But the king may be close by." She turned to her Kokiri and gestured at him with her palms. "Stay here, Link. I'll scout ahead. There's no need to risk waking the Queen Dodongo." Then before he could argue with her, she turned and flew off, angling herself toward the ceiling. She cast her light farther as she hovered and suppressed a gasp at what she saw.
More Queen Dodongos were scattered about, ten paces apart from each other, here in this section of the tunnel, which had widened considerably. As Navi studied them, she noticed a few of them with bellies that were noticeably larger, which could only mean one thing: baby dodongos.
It was a bad situation, but then things got worse. A screech above startled her, causing her to drop and turn to the sound. Then she let out a strangled scream as she found herself staring at a pair of beady eyes and sharp fangs diving straight for her in a flurry of red flames!
She clamped her wings tightly to her back and dove toward the ground. At the last second, she pulled out of her dive and leveled off, streaking straight for a Queen Dodongo. She veered upward within an inch of its eye, arced over its head and then dove down the other side. She was hoping to throw off the creature's pursuit this way but she could feel the heat of its flames close behind her the entire time.
I need to get to Link, she thought. He could take care of the creature easily but that was if she reached him before it caught her. If she tried to race it outright it was with certainty that she would lose, but if she could keep her flight unpredictable then she might have a chance.
She veered to the left and the fiery beast followed. She flew upward and into a loop, ducking right under it. The creature lost some distance with that move but she continued her erratic flight to keep it confused as she gradually made her way back to her Kokiri. She swerved to the right toward another Queen Dodongo and then zipped to the right again before streaking upward and then diving toward the other side of the queen.
As she dove, she spotted the silhouette of her charge waving to her. This gave her a surge of determination. She only had to reach Link and then she would be safe. She only had to evade this nasty, little vermin long enough…
The ground burst in front of her and a gaping maw shot for her with an animalistic screech. She careened to the left, only just missing being swallowed alive by a hair's breadth. In her place was the fiery monster, which screeched in pain and terror before both it and its predator plunged back into the ground. Then there was silence.
Navi trembled and chills ran down her spine as she thought about how close she had come to being eaten. She rose shakily into the air and then glided forward until her Kokiri's relieved expression was visible.
"What happened, Navi?" Link asked her breathlessly. "What was that thing that was chasing you?"
She collapsed onto his shoulder, still trembling. Though her voice shook, she managed to answer calmly, "A fire keese. A flying vermin that ignites its body when it's threatened. It was fortunate for me that there was only one. Keese usually fly in colonies."
"I'm glad you're okay, Navi," said Link sincerely. Then he asked, "Did you find King Dodongo back there?"
His fairy struggled to her feet, using Link's neck for support. "No. It appears this is only a den for Queen Dodongos. Some of them are ready to birth dodongos, so we need to find the king as quickly as possible before this cave is overrun with those scaly pests."
So Link turned back, walking carefully so he wouldn't accidentally tip his fairy off his shoulder. The temperature rose again and soon they were back in the central chamber.
"Let's look around," Navi suggested, now recovered and hovering in the air again. "But again, watch your step. Those lizards could be lurking beneath our very feet."
Which was not very encouraging to Link. Now he couldn't stop himself from imagining his every step winding up with the ground exploding beneath him and a giant mouth swallowing his leg. He silently drew his sword and held it in front of him - just in case a dodongo popped out of the ground.
With his nerves so set on edge, it didn't take him long to spot something suspicious near the back of the cave, between the two streams of magma flowing down the wall - a dark profile of an enormous snout that appeared to be snuffling in the shimmering heat.
"Navi," said Link in a low and hoarse voice. "I think I see something over there."
She turned to him and then twisted in the direction her Kokiri was looking. She studied it with a thoughtful frown for a moment and then said, "I think you're right. Stay here and I'll investigate."
"Oh no you don't," said Link, surprising Navi. "Remember the last time you went to investigate something? You were attacked by a fire keese!"
"A mistake I won't make again, of that you can be certain," Navi replied. "I'll exercise more caution this time."
"Not without me," said Link stubbornly. "I mean, who's the hero here?" and without giving her a chance to argue, he moved forward. His fairy sighed and drifted after him.
They edged closer to the suspicious shadow, and the closer they got, the more suspicious it became. They could see that it did indeed look like a pointed snout. A little closer and they discovered a jagged line close to its base traveling around it that made it look like sharp teeth. Closer still and they could see at the top what appeared to be eye sockets. And finally close enough to touch, Link cautiously used the tip of his sword to prod it.
A section of its black surface sloughed off and hit the ground with a solid "plop," making Link jump. He hesitantly leaned forward to look at it and then prodded it with his sword. It disintegrated at his touch. He immediately looked at the patch it had left behind and noticed it was ghostly gray.
Navi circled over it, studying the snout. She remarked, "It does appear to be a creature of some sort. But only its remains. It's not alive."
"It's not?" said Link. He took his sword and slapped the flat of its blade against the side of it. This brought down a cascade of black slough, revealing more of the death-gray beneath it. He coughed and blinked his eyes, which were stinging and watering quite badly. But a thought occurred to him then that cheered him despite the pain. "Do you think this is King Dodongo?"
His fairy didn't answer immediately. She swooped down to its black skin, scooped it between her fingers, and rubbed them together. Her fingers became streaked with black.
"It's covered in soot," she announced, "so it's been dead a while… but for how long?" She swooped down to Link's side of the snout and scrutinized the gray surface. She pressed in close and knocked on it with her fist. Then she placed her palms against it and walked them along as though feeling for something. Link watched her curiously.
She inspected the skull from top to bottom, darting into its eyes - her light making it appear to come alive for a moment - and then inspecting the nose cavity. Then she studied the teeth, running her hand along the sharp edges, to Link's consternation. Then at last she turned to her care. He gave her a hopeful look, but she shook her head. "It can't be King Dodongo - at least, not the one that's causing the Gorons problems recently. It's much too old."
"How can you tell?" Link asked, his face falling at the news.
"The bone's been petrified and all of its organs have been reduced to dust."
Navi explained, "It's a process where the bone is gradually replaced with minerals, turning it into stone. It takes many years for bones to completely petrify, especially one of this size. Thus, this cannot be the King Dodongo we're looking for."
So then where was he? A lizard as big as a mountain couldn't just vanish! Even if it had burrowed under the ground…
Wait, could King Dodongo be hidden underneath their very feet? Sheathing his sword, Link glanced down at his boots and then cast his gaze across the floor of the chamber, his eyes roving to each dark corner. The cave was actually quite big; was it possible?
But if it was, he didn't want to just lure the monster up just so it could eat him. He needed a plan.
"Let's keep searching," his fairy spoke. "King Dodongo must be hiding somewh… Link, where are you going?"
"Up," he answered simply as he made his way to the cable with the two platforms.
His fairy shook her head. "I don't understand. Dodongos can't climb and the cave's too dark to get a good look at it all, even from a higher vantage point. What are you planning?"
"I think I know where King Dodongo is," Link replied as he stepped onto the platform.
"And where is that, pray tell?" his fairy asked a little curtly. She was not in the mood for her charge to be mysterious, considering the danger they were in.
He must have sensed the tone for he answered, sounding a little meek, "Beneath our very feet."
She turned to the ground, her eye wide in realization. After a moment, she said slowly, "And you're going up to stay out of his reach when you draw him out of the ground! That's brilliant, Link!"
He blushed at the compliment, grinning.
Then Navi burst his bubble. "But how are you going to destroy him?"
"Ah," said Link uncomfortably, "well…" He scratched his head. His other hand brushed against something at his belt, drawing his attention. When he saw what it was, he brightened. "With bombs!"
He thought it was a plan that was coming neatly together. But Navi didn't share his view. She said, "I'm not certain that will work. King Dodongos have thick hides that are impervious to just about everything; I don't think a tiny little bomb will do anything more than annoy him."
"But I thought you said dodongos explode if you attack them."
"The young ones do, and possibly the Queen Dodongos, too, but you'd have to get past the hide of the King Dodongo to do any real damage."
Link was getting annoyed. All his brilliant plans were being shot down by Navi, as usual. She wasn't coming up with any plans! With a huff, he told her, "We'll find a way." Making a point not looking in his fairy's direction, he turned his attention to the pulley far above him.
Looks like I can make it go up by grabbing this rope… He grabbed the rope on the other side of the pulley with both hands. It was as thick as his arm, with knots just a little smaller than his head at regular intervals along the length, which would make pulling it down easier.
At least, that's what he thought. But when he tugged, he found it stuck fast and he pitched forward from the force of his tug, winding up dangling his back half toward the ground. He tugged himself back to his feet, and with an irritated "harrumph!" he braced his legs against the platform and strained at the cable with all of his might.
It budged upward. But when it did, the pulley above gave a horrendous screech that echoed inside the cave. Link froze in place, his blood flowing with ice, certain that he had just woken up the entire cavern.
Certainly, that's what it sounded like; even before the echoes of the screech faded, the cave began to rumble with a different sound, like sand flowing but magnified by one hundred. The cavern floor was churning, roiling, and bubbling. Then something burst from the tumultuous ground with a high-pitched wheeze, sailing into the air like a flailing arrow before it plopped onto the ground and began wriggling its way toward Link. It was almost immediately joined by a dozen more flailing arrows that wheezed into the air, bounced on the ground and then wriggled toward him. Then the air came alive with the deadly missiles, hitting the ground, swelling the mass as it surged forward.
He had woken a nest of dodongos.
"Run, Link!" Navi screamed. "Get out of here!"
Link desperately tugged on the rope to budge his platform up, but it barely moved. With no other choice, he leaped up the rope and climbed as fast as he could, feverishly whispering a prayer of thanks to Saria for teaching him how to climb trees. Below him, the dodongos threw themselves at the platform as though they could knock him down, but the rope was heavy, barely swaying even with the tide crashing against it. Link kept his grip on it tight.
Navi remarked as she observed the swarm, "You've certainly stirred up the nest though I'm afraid King Dodongo hasn't made his regal appearance. Your idea to use this lift to stay out of reach seems to be working well…" Then she frowned and looked closer.
The surge of the reptilian pests flowed to the wall but did not pile up. What she observed instead was a wave rippling up the wall, dirt showering to the ground.
She screamed, "Link! They're burrowing up the wall! Climb!"
"They're what?!" He glanced down, cried, "How is that fair?!" and then scrambled up the cable as fast as he could, hand over hand, his legs dangling uselessly in his haste. He hadn't even gone three strokes of his arms when dodongos shot out of the walls with wheezy screeches, missing him by a breath.
"Navi!" Link gasped as he continued his feverish climb. His arms were screaming in agony. Though he had decided to leave some of his equipment behind in Darunia's room, including his wooden shield, he had a considerable amount of weight dragging him down. "How big is the explosion when you attack them?"
"Don't worry about that now! Just focus on climbing! We'll escape them somehow! Just keep climbing!"
"How big is the explosion?!" Link screamed.
"Enough to kill you!" Navi answered, her pitch high with fear.
He kept climbing. At each knot, he used his feet to push himself up to give his arms a brief but much needed break. When he finally was able to jump onto the ledge at the top, he almost fell, his arms being so tired and shaking so hard from the exertion that he almost lost his grip before he could get a proper stance to make the jump.
"They're still coming, Link, we can't stop now," Navi urged him.
He staggered forward across the ledge. Ahead, he could see the mouth of a tunnel leading into the wall. Behind him, he heard the wheezes of hundreds of dodongos launching from the ground and then their scurrying. He staggered faster, placing his hands against the wall to help steady him.
They swung into the tunnel and hurried onward, with the sounds of the swarm behind him swelling into a frightening cacophony within the confined space. The way ahead was too dark to see and as they hurried through it, Link kept thinking, We're going to hit a dead end. We're going to run into a dead end and then we'll be dead in a dead end…
But it wasn't a dead end that greeted them. The tunnel abruptly opened into a magma lake, its surface darkened by large, floating chunks of molten rock. It didn't look to be at all safe but with the swarm right behind him, he didn't have time to plan. He put on a fresh burst of speed and then leaped.
The rock surfed forward, almost throwing Link backwards into the hot liquid. He managed to save himself by flailing his arms and crouching low. The swarm of dodongos attempted to pursue him, leaping into the air like ugly fish, but only splashed into the magma, keening in agony before they were slurped up.
Seconds later, the surface swelled into an enormous boil before it popped and sprayed molten rock everywhere, including on the dodongos back on shore, who shrieked before exploding in a series of deafening booms. Navi shrieked as a wash of it sailed toward her, but she veered up at the last moment, avoiding being burned alive. Link was still crouched on his bobbing rock and was thus saved by his shield when the burning liquid fell on him. He slowly stood up, letting the magma drop off his shield, which left pockmarks in it. He turned back to the shore, decimated by all the dodongos' blasts, and found it a fair distance away.
"We seem to have escaped them," Navi said. "I recommend you find a way off this rock before you fall into the magma. I don't think it will remain floating for long."
The most obvious way was forward across each of the floating rocks, so that's the way Link went, making his jumps carefully so as not to tip them over and send him into the hot slag. Sometimes there were large gaps between rocks, but with Navi to point them out to him, Link could plan his jumps to give the rocks forward momentum and close the distances. It was intense work, and with that combined with the heat, his tunic became damp with sweat.
Then Navi gave him encouraging news. "I spy a bridge up ahead, Link!"
He looked up and spotted a wooden bridge propped just above the molten rock by an arm's length with stout metal poles. It was just out of reach but Link resisted the urge to hurry across the rocks, knowing how fatal one false step could be. Quelling his anxiety, he carefully planned his moves, hopping across each rock with agonizing precision.
Then there it was, just a single hop away. But to make a jump like that, he had to make sure his entire body landed on top of the bridge. The bridge was too close to the magma for Link to allow any part of his body to hang off of it. But as he prepared himself to make the jump, Navi interjected, "Wait, Link. Rather than jump onto the bridge, let me tow you to it."
Link gave her a look of surprise. "You think you can?"
"It shouldn't be too difficult. This magma should provide little resistance. Just keep your feet planted firmly." She sank down to his level and then gestured. "Give me your hand."
The Kokiri wasn't certain it would work. She fit into his hand and if he gripped her too hard, he was sure he'd crush her bones. But he did offer his hand to her, curling his fingers the tiniest bit. She grabbed his finger behind the knuckle and then looked up at him. "Ready?"
He bent his knees slightly, bracing his feet against the rock. He nodded. "Okay."
She pulled. Link was taken aback at how strong she was. The tug at his finger was quite solid and they were sailing toward the bridge at a respectable clip. Within moments, they were at the bridge. The rock started to slide under it. Link immediately dropped onto the bridge and then swung his lower body up. He had been worried that the sudden movement would bring Navi crashing down, but she immediately let go of his finger and darted out of the way. She wiped her forehead as her Kokiri lay on the bridge, taking in deep breaths of the muggy air.
"Are you all right?" she asked him.
He nodded and then remarked, "This heat's really starting to get to me though."
"Let's move on then. There should be cooler sections of the cavern. Dodongos prefer cooler climates."
Link rolled onto his front and then pushed himself to his feet.
Suddenly, there was a hair-raising shriek above them. Navi looked up and then screamed, "Link! Look out!"
But he didn't even have time to react before something slammed into his back, sending him crashing to the ground.