Scorpions and Stars
On their fourth night, Link spotted the end of the desert. It looks like we're coming to the lava fields, he told Zelda.
In the far distance, there was a slight orange glow that indicated the presence of the volcano. But between that and the desert, there was nothing but a dark expanse. It took Link a moment to figure out why the world seemed so much darker: the desert sand reflected the starlight and moonlight, creating a pale glow; the black, hardened lava fields had no such reflective properties. Instead, they seemed to absorb all the light until they were blacker than the night.
Link circled the edge of the volcanic field a few times until Zelda caught up. He flew down to the crest of the last sand dune, where she stood, and retook his human form.
"I think you're going to have to walk across as a human," he warned. "There are a lot of fissures in the lava—like Hols warned us about—and I'm afraid it will be easier for you to step in them if you're a horse. Certainly you have twice as many feet to worry about."
He took the pannier baskets off her back and she transformed, too. "How will we carry supplies, though?" she asked.
"The baskets aren't too heavy now; we can each take one."
With a bit of work and some of the spare rope, he was able to re-rig the baskets so they could wear them on their backs.
He consulted the map and stars and decided on the path they needed to take. Together, they hiked down the last dune. Near the edge of the lava field, the sand began to sparkle and it crunched underfoot.
"Careful," Link warned, before he leapt across the strange sand and onto the hardened lava. Then he turned around, offering Zelda his hand.
She took it and gingerly jumped over, too. "What is that?" she asked, looking back at the glittering substance.
"Glass?" she asked, looking at him in confusion.
He nodded. "Glass is made from sand, you know."
"Yes… but why is there glass here?"
"The heat from the lava melted the sand into glass."
She grimaced. "Let's hope it's not that hot where we have to go."
"If it is, we won't get far," he replied.
They began picking their way across the rough, uneven terrain. Despite their best efforts, they constantly stepped into low spots and fissures—to the point that if someone had been watching them from a distance, he might think them both drunk because of the way they stumbled about.
"I think we need to wait and do this in the daylight—before we get hurt," Link eventually said.
"I think that's a good idea," Zelda said, gingerly flexing the ankle she had already twisted.
They found the surface of the lava rough as a rasp and they had to be careful not to touch it because it would scrape their bare skin. All they could do was put down Tarsus's pelt and sit, careful not to get off of it.
"Hmm," Link said worriedly, looking around. "I don't how I can pitch our tent on this," he said.
"We'll just have to go without," Zelda said.
"Easier said than done when the sun comes up," Link replied. "I have a feeling it's going to be just as hot here as on the sand."
His words proved true. They slept until the sun came up, and as soon as it did, it began to bake them on top of the hardened lava like two fish laid out on a tray.
"Time to move on," Link said, hurrying to get up.
They ate quickly, then he packed up the pelt and offered Zelda one of the cloaks from the basket.
She looked at him in confusion. "What?"
"Put this on."
She recoiled. "Are you crazy? I'll melt!"
"You'll burn if you don't. Remember what it was like the day we went out on the ship with Lars and the others? We came home red as beets."
She looked grumpy, but she took the cloak from him. He put on the other one and they pulled up the hoods to keep the sun off the back of their necks and shade their faces. Then they hoisted the baskets onto their backs and began to slowly pick their way across the pumice.
It was miserable and only became more so as the day grew hotter and heat began to rise from the dark surface underfoot, as if the stone had liquefied into lava again.
The sun quickly drained them of strength, and by mid-morning, they were plodding along as if was late in the day.
Link was the first to stop. "I'm going up… to look around," he panted.
"Alright," she said, losing no opportunity to doff her pack.
They both drank deeply from one of the waterskins, draining it. Link cast it aside; there was no need to carry the weight when it was of no more use to them.
"How much longer can we stay out?" Zelda asked, glancing at their supplies in the bottom of the baskets.
"Four or five more days," he replied.
"Will it be enough?"
"If we haven't found the star by then, it can't be found."
He transformed and went aloft. He was surprised when he went much higher, much faster than he intended to. It took him a moment to realize that the black stone below was radiating heat with such strength, it was able to push him high into the sky.
He spent a few minutes circling around the top of the thermal updraft, enjoying the cool breeze in his face, then he forced himself lower, scanning the lava field.
A minute later, he noticed something out of place, and he hurried forward to get a closer look. There was a long gash cut through the lava, which ran across the normal fissures. He followed it, and soon he began to see things which did not look like broken pieces of pumice. And then, he saw it: a large ball of something hard and glinting; it was clearly some sort of metallic rock.
I found it! he declared in triumph, his lingering doubts overcome by his excitement.
Link! Zelda said a moment later—not in congratulations, but in fear.
His heart beating faster, he wheeled and shot back across the sky. Far in the distance, he could see something attacking Zelda. He tried to fly faster, but the heat kept lifting him higher into the air, so he had to waste precious time fighting to stay on an even course.
Long before he could reach Zelda, he saw that it was a scorpion that she was fighting. The ugly, pale thing was as big as a small pony, and Link's mind raced to come up with some advice on how to fight it, but he had nothing. He wasn't even sure how he would fight it, except to try and get behind it; it couldn't fight him and Zelda both from opposite ends.
He swooped down close to the ground and changed mid-air. His sword was already out of its scabbard by the time his feet hit the ground, but before he could run in to help, Zelda managed to thrust her sword forward and hit the monster in the eye. Her sword went deep into its brain—if it had such a thing—and it began to thrash. When she pulled her sword out, it skittered around a little, then fell over and drew its legs up, like a dead spider. Its tail—with a stinger on it nearly the size of a knife blade—continued to twitch ominously for a few more minutes, then, at last, it was completely still.
Zelda let out a deep breath and sagged, looking ready to collapse. Link hurried to her side, putting his arm around her. "Are you alright?" he asked anxiously.
"Yes… I think so," she replied, her voice trembling.
He noticed a gash on her left arm. "You're bleeding," he said.
He put down the tiger skin and made her sit down. He poured a little water over the wound, washing the blood away so he could see it more clearly. Thankfully, it didn't look deep enough to need stitches, but it was rather nasty all the same.
"It came up out of a crack," Zelda said, as Link tore a strip of fabric from the bottom of his undertunic and began to wrap it around her arm. "It lunged at me with a claw and… I think I threw my arm up."
He nodded. If she had had a shield, it would have been the correct move. Even without one, it was the right thing to do; better a wound in the arm than one to the chest or face.
"I guess that's when it cut me," she continued. "When it pulled back, I got my sword out and tried to hit it, but it had skin like armor; I hit it several times without making a dent."
"I believe it."
She shuttered. "I don't want to face one of those things again."
"Well, hopefully we won't," he said, as he tied the bandage off. "I think I've found the star."
She looked at him, her eyes wide. "Did you?"
"Yes." He stood up and offered her his hands. "Let's get it so we can get the hell out of here."
They made it to the meteorite without further incident.
"This is it?" Zelda asked, looking at the round chunk of metal half-buried in the pumice. It was no bigger than a ball a child might kick around the streets.
"It certainly doesn't match anything else around here," Link said. Then he pointed to the gouge that had been cut across the lava. "See, there's where it came down."
She nodded. "Well, let's take it back to Hols."
"I've been thinking about that. I know we can't transport other people; what if we can't transport this, either?"
"But we always get to the other side with all of our stuff—clothes and weapons and things."
"Yeah, I know. But we're not exactly going to be wearing this. And everything is for naught if we get back with nothing in our hands."
She paled at the thought.
Link looked around a little more, then came up with a small, broken-off chunk of the metal—barely enough to fill the palm of his hand.
"Why don't you take this and go back to Hols?" he told Zelda. "If you get back there with it, then I'll bring the larger piece back. If it doesn't make it, then I guess we'll just have to carry it out."
"We don't have supplies enough to last that long."
"We could take turns going to Hols to eat and rest." She frowned, but he just shrugged. "It's the only option we have at this point. But let's see if the easier way works first." He suddenly laughed. "Not that that's likely to happen," he added. "We're not that lucky."
Zelda took the small piece of metal from him, and a few moments later, she vanished without a trace.
It worked, she told him.
He was honestly surprised. Let's hope it works as well with a big piece, he said, as he tried to loosen the meteorite from the ground. It was exceptionally heavy for its size.
With a grunt, he at last pulled it up.
I'm ready, he told Zelda. He concentrated on her with all his might and a second later, he was flying through a golden tunnel.