The following day dawned bright and sunny. Unfortunately, the evening's thunderstorm did nothing to cool the temperature. Instead, as the sun heated up the damp earth, it just made it unbearably muggy, on top of being hot.
But despite the weather, Link and Zelda pressed on, and they made it across the highway without any more problems and without seeing another person.
Well, we're back in Hyrule, Link announced, as they crossed the deserted road. It seems like forever since we left.
It doesn't feel like we're really here, Zelda said. I mean, we're just going to be here, on the edge, for a few days, and then we'll leave again.
We'll be back to take Castle Town before long, Link promised. Then we'll be home for good.
I hope I never travel again, Zelda said passionately.
This from the woman who used to sneak out of the castle most nights, Link laughed. You'll get bored with castle life quick enough and you'll miss all this freedom.
But I guess when I'm queen, I'll never get to go anywhere again, so I better hope I want to stay home all the time.
You can go wherever you want. That's one of the benefits of being a queen.
I don't know. There always seems to be people hanging around, telling you what to do—and how you're going to ruin everything if you don't do what they say.
You're smart enough to make those sorts of decisions for yourself, Link said firmly. And if anyone gives you a hard time, we can always sneak out through the monastery.
It was her turn to laugh. Would you really sneak me out?
Of course, if that would make you happy. That's my job after all—making you happy. Well, that and protecting your life. But I can do two at once.
You've always managed to do both so far.
Link smiled inwardly.
The Northern Forest, which separated Hyrule's northern border from Erenrue, appeared on the other side of the Great Plain the following day. Zelda eyed it with distrust as they came alongside it.
Does the map show where we're supposed to go in? she asked. Is there a road or something?
I don't think so, but let me check.
Link dropped to the ground beside Zelda, transformed, and pulled the map out of his belt pouch. Zelda transformed too, and held one edge of the map, looking it over with him.
"It's kind of vague," Link said, pointing to the X marking the next major demon. "But there really aren't any landmarks to use as a guide, so… I don't know what to do, other than travel parallel to the woods and see if we see anything that looks like demon activity. If we get to the sea, then we'll know we've gone too far."
Zelda pointed to the smaller X that Link had made on the map long ago. "We know we have to take out that hyena-demon, and it looks like it is near or just past the big one. So, we can search around where we find it."
"Wasn't there a tree there? Out away from the forest?"
"Yes, we made camp under it."
He nodded, then folded up the map. "We'll keep an eye out as we go, but otherwise we'll make for the tree and take out the smaller demon first."
The narrow plain wedged between the mountains of Erenrue and the dense forest along Hyrule's border was just as lifeless and dull as it had been the first time they had trekked across it; the only difference was that it was sunny and hot instead of cool and overcast. Even the grass still had the same bleached-out appearance it had had at the end of winter. Apparently it never greened.
They traveled almost continuously for several days. One night, Link noticed little points of red glowing in the trees, watching as Zelda trotted past.
I think there are some bats or birds to your left, Link warned.
Zelda stopped and looked at them. But they didn't move. Why aren't they attacking? she asked.
Probably because you're not human.
I will be in a moment, she said defiantly. And a second later she was.
The demon-birds swooped down out of the trees with a chorus of screeches, but they were immediately greeted by the explosive light of the Arrows of Light, which were so powerful, they could take out two or three of the closely-grouped birds at once.
Link circled close over the scene, wanting to give Zelda a chance to tackle the demons on her own, but at the same time, he had no intention of letting them swarm her.
When a couple of them tried to outflank her, he swooped in, grabbing the monstrous ravens and savaging them in his claws before dropping them lifelessly to the ground. But Zelda took care of the rest of them herself.
"I love these arrows!" she said with delight, as she dispatched the two that Link had dropped.
"Now I can actually be a help."
You have been a help.
"I mean now I can really help; I can take out demons, just like you."
By the time the sun rose, Link could see the lone tree in the distance.
We're almost there, he told Zelda.
She suddenly skidded to a halt. I think we're there now.
Link circled back around and fluttered to the ground beside her. She was looking at the forest; in the midst of its dark, impenetrable tangle of trees and briars was a narrow tunnel of open space.
How do you know this is the entrance? Link asked, eyeing the opening in the woods carefully, looking for any tell-tale sign that there were demons around.
Can you not smell it?
He inhaled, then shook his head slightly. I don't smell anything out of the ordinary.
Maybe I can smell it because I'm a horse—a prey animal. With you being a predator, you don't have as much to fear as I do.
Possibly, he said. He trusted that she was smelling something unsavory, though, so it didn't really matter why.
He transformed into his human self and pulled out his sword.
He glanced to Zelda—who had also transformed—and she grasped her bow tightly in her hand, ready for action, and nodded her head.
Link slowly walked to the edge of the woods and peered in. Even though the sun was beginning to rise to their left, its light didn't penetrate the forest.
He repressed a shudder. He may not have been able to smell the monsters inside, but he knew, instinctively, that they were somewhere in there.
He looked around as he walked deeper into the forest. The tree branches laced together overhead, nearly as tight as the weave of a basket; there would be no getting out the top—not even in bird form. Along the edges of the path, trees grew so close together, it would be nearly impossible to pass between them—even if there weren't bramble bushes as tall as he was, blocking the way with their long thorns.
Everything felt artificial—from the density of the woods to the path conveniently winding through it. He had never walked into a more obvious-looking trap before. But there was nothing to be done about it; somewhere in the heart of this darkness was a demon that they had to kill.
They turned a corner and the last of the outside world disappeared, leaving them shrouded in twilight. The Master Sword glowed like a white-blue lantern in front of them; Zelda's quiver of light arrows put out a small amount of light behind them.
"I don't like this," Zelda whispered, looking from tree to tree. "It's almost as dark as a cave in here."
A moment later, they were interrupted by a black mass—dotted with glowing red eyes—screeching as it hurdled itself towards their heads.
Link instinctively ducked, but a second later, he cursed his stupidity; he was leaving Zelda unprotected behind him. Of course, she was busily shooting away, but still, it made him feel rather cowardly, and he sprang back up and began hacking the birds out of the air.
They were quickly dispatched, and Link continued down the trail, still feeling a bit flustered and embarrassed. Ducking and letting the birds miss him on the first pass wasn't wrong… if he was fighting alone. But he was going to have to get used to fighting with Zelda and not leave her exposed like that.
He was so busy chastising himself and scanning the trees for more birds, he forgot to look where he was going. He took a step and the ground suddenly gave way underneath him. He was pitching forward, falling into the void; he had no way to stop his fall….
Then he felt a jerk on his belt, stopping his headlong freefall.
A moment later, he was pulled backwards and his feet once again found solid ground.
Zelda put an arm around his waist and held him tightly. He could feel her chest rise and fall with heavy breaths; she was as scared as he was.
"Are you alright?" she asked.
"Yes. Yes, thank you."
She squeezed him a little tighter. "I thought I was going to lose you."
"You would have, if you hadn't been here." He shook his head. "I didn't have my mind on what I was doing and where I was going." He half-laughed. "I think I've forgotten how to be human. I'm blundering around like I don't know how to walk.'
"Should we wait to do this?" Zelda asked seriously. "We're not too far in; we could turn around and go back—camp outside for the night and get used to being in our bodies again."
He considered it, then shook his head. "I think I'll be alright."
"I would prefer you to be sure you're alright."
He laughed. "You're starting to sound like me."
"Well, you're starting to act like me. You're supposed to be the one who knows what he's doing, remember?"
"Are you kidding? I'm making this up as I go along." He unhooked the whip from his belt. "I trained to fight in single combat and in war and to survive in the wilderness." He leaned back and cracked the whip at a tree branch, wrapping it around several times. "Booby traps and mazes and demons weren't exactly in the training manual."
He tugged on the whip, testing its firmness, then swung across the pit, which was about six feet wide.
He started to swing the whip back to Zelda, but she gave him a scathing look. "Don't even think about it."
He laughed. "It's not far."
"To fall? Yes it is."
He laughed again. "Very well."
But before he could teleport her to his side, she gasped. She threw her arm out, pointing at something behind him, her mouth open, too horrified to speak
He immediately let go of the whip and armed himself with his sword and shield before he turned around.
Before he could even see what he was facing, it grabbed him by the shield—dear gods, it had the whole thing in its mouth!—and rose up on its hind legs, dangling him several feet off the ground.
It was an enormous black bear.
Link slipped his arm out of the shield strap just in time; no sooner than his feet hit the ground, the bear crushed the wooden shield in its mouth, showering Link with splinters and causing him to flinch back.
The bear was back on its feet in an instant, swiping at Link with a massive paw. He felt the bear's claws comb through his hair, as he just barely managed to duck.
He tried to thrust up, into the bear's unprotected jaw, but the bear pulled back, leaving Link unbalanced and stabbing into thin air.
Link had observed small bears in the forests of the East, and he had found them to be rather lumbering and slow. Not this bear. It was every bit as fast as a human—and maybe more so.
The bear swiped at the Master Sword and nearly knocked it from his hand. It rushed in, its jaws snapping, and it was everything Link could do to lean back and avoid the first snap. The bear lunged forward again, but Link managed to throw up the Master Sword and the bear clamped down on it instead. But that only seemed to enrage it, and it ground its teeth on the blade—to the point that Link was afraid the bear was going to snap it in two.
Zelda was yelling at him, but he couldn't hear what she was saying; it was everything he could do to hold onto the sword and keep the bear off of him.
He began to sweat—not from exertion, but from fear. He could never remember a time when he had no offense, and his defense was rapidly crumbling.
The bear still had the sword in his mouth, like a bit, but that didn't stop it from taking a swipe at Link again. Link barely managed to jump back, out of the way, but he had to pull the sword out of the bear's mouth to do so, and the bear was on top of him again in an instant; he almost didn't get the sword back up in time.
If the bear didn't kill him with a bite or crush him with a blow, it was going to drive him back until he fell into the pit.
None of those sounded like terribly attractive options.
Get down! Zelda shouted to him telepathically. I can't shoot it; you're in the way.
Link was incredulous. Are you MAD? The second I let go, I'm dead.
The bear was pushing him towards the pit. Even if his leather-soled shoes had more traction on the dirt trail, he would have still been helpless in the face of the bear's weight and strength.
You're going to die if you don't let me help you, Zelda said. And I can't very well shoot through you.
Link knew she was right; he was clearly losing to the bear and he had nowhere to retreat. Still, giving up and letting someone else take care of the problem went against every instinct he had; it just wasn't in his nature.
The bear swiped at him again. This time, he wasn't fast enough, and the bear's claws slashed across his left thigh like knives, cutting him open.
He cried out, cursing.
"Link drop! Drop so I can shoot it!" Zelda cried out frantically.
He dared to turn his head a little, catching a glimpse of her out of the corner of his eye. She had her bow raised and a light arrow fitted to it. She was ready to fire the instant she got a clear shot.
Alright, on the count of three, Link agreed. One… two… THREE!
He let go of his sword and collapsed to the ground like a rag doll that had been dropped. The bear, which had been straining so hard against him, took a step over his body before it knew what was happening.
Less than a second later, it reeled back, howling with pain as a light arrow struck it in the face.
It reared up on its hind legs, trying to wipe its wounded muzzle with its paw, as if it could wipe away the pain.
Zelda shot it twice more, in rapid succession, directly in the chest.
It gave a strangled roar, teetered on its feet, then fell forward, collapsing on top of Link.
He couldn't breathe; the weight was crushing him. The bear was going to win after all.
A moment later, Zelda was at his head. "Link! Are you hurt?"
He couldn't speak; he could only gape, his mouth open like a fish out of water, struggling for air.
Zelda grabbed him under the armpits and somehow managed to drag his body out from under the bear's weight. But even with the weight off of him, he still couldn't breathe. It was like his body—angry at the abuse heaped on it—refused to work—refused to operate his deflated lungs.
Zelda leaned down and put her mouth to his, blowing her breath into him.
And suddenly, miraculously, as his lungs flooded with air, he remembered how to breathe.
He began to gasp and wheeze, sucking the wonderful warm, muggy air into his newly-functioning lungs.
Zelda sat down on the ground and pulled him into her lap, cradling him as he caught his breath.
"Will you be alright?" she asked after a minute, brushing aside the sweaty hair that clung to his forehead with her cool hand.
"Are you sure?"
"Yes," he said, his voice still wheezy, as if he had been running. "Just… give me a minute."
After another minute, his panic began to fade as his lungs found their rhythm again and his body began to return to normal.
"How did you know to do that?" he asked Zelda.
She smiled a little. "When I was little—not more than five or six—I was running up and down the steps on one of the outer walls—you know they don't have any railings—and I fell off and landed flat on my back. I was like that—I couldn't breathe and I didn't know what to do. Horace ran over and breathed into me and then I was able to breathe again.
"Master Ryu told me once that it's like priming a pump. If you knock all of the air out of your lungs, it's hard to get them to start again—just like it's hard to get water from a dry pump. But if someone gives you a little air, that's like priming the pump and you can catch your breath faster," she explained.
"He said that you will start breathing on your own again—once your body gets over the shock and figures out what it needs to do—but it's so scary, not being able to breathe, that I don't see the need to wait if you don't have to."
"I don't either," Link agreed.
He looked at the bear carcass bleeding in the path. "Odd that it didn't disappear like all the rest."
"I think it was a real bear. I noticed it didn't have red eyes."
"I've never heard of a bear acting like that before—not unless it was a female with cubs; they get dangerously aggressive. But it was fighting like it didn't feel pain—or, rather, that killing me was more important than its pain."
"I don't know," she said, shaking her head helplessly. Then she looked down at his leg and tugged on his torn pants, squinting in the dim light to see how badly he was wounded.
"How bad is it?" he asked.
"I… can't tell," she said hesitantly. "But I don't think it's very deep." She looked up at him. "Does it feel deep?"
"I don't know; it just burns."
He managed to get to his feet, although his knees still felt a little weak and his leg burned even more when he put weight on it.
He unbuckled his belt and set it on the ground, then began to untie the drawstring of his pants.
Zelda hurriedly looked away.
He grinned at her. "Don't worry; I have on underwear. The Great Fairy thinks of everything."
He pulled down his pants, revealing linen shorts. On his left leg, just below the hem of his underwear, were five long, bleeding claw marks. Blood was smeared on his leg where it had run down to his knee.
"Can you hold the Master Sword up so I can look at it better?" Link asked.
Zelda picked up the sword and held it up close to his leg and studied the wound more closely.
"It's not that deep," she pronounced. "Just deep scratches."
"Would you wash it off for me?" he asked, taking the waterskin out of his haversack and offering it to her.
He sat down on the ground and she proceeded to pour a little water over his leg, washing the blood away.
He sucked air through his teeth and gritted. "That burns!"
"Do we have anything we can use as a bandage?" she asked, pouring more water onto the wound.
Link considered their options; it was really just a matter of which article of clothing to sacrifice.
"Cut a length of wool off one of the cloaks," he decided. "It's soft enough, it shouldn't be a problem."
While the cuts were drying, Zelda took his knife and sliced a strip off the bottom of her cloak. Per Link's instructions, she roughly tapered either end of the long rectangle.
"Now, put the middle here," Link said, guiding her to place the bandage over the cut. "Now, we wrap it around…." He wrapped the ends of the bandage around the back of his leg, then crossed them and brought them back to the front. "And tie it," he said, completing the process by tying a small knot in the ends.
"Ah, I see why you taper it," Zelda said, as she watched. "It makes tying the knot easier."
She helped him to his feet again, and he pulled up his pants and put his belt back on.
"I'm not sure if I should be worried that the day is starting off so poorly, or if I should consider this our requisite one-wound-per-encounter and expect the remainder to be smooth sailing," he said.
"I don't think we're limited to one wound per encounter," Zelda said.
"I'm going to pretend I didn't hear that."
He turned back to get the whip, which was still hanging over the pit, when something struck him.
He looked at Zelda. "How did you get over here?"
"I swung across."
Link looked back at the whip dangling over the center of the pit. Zelda would have had to jump several feet across the pit just to reach it.
"You did that for me?" he asked, a little amazed.
"Yes, but only because I was afraid I had killed you."
He looked at her in confusion. "You didn't touch me."
"I told you to get down, then I dropped a huge bear on top of you."
He laughed a little. "Yes, well, that was just an unintended consequence—not your fault. And, still, in the end, it was better than the alternative, which was get pushed into the pit or be mauled."
Link used a long stick to hook the whip and pull the end across the pit. Once he had tugged it loose from the tree branch, he put it back on his belt, took up the Master Sword, and they proceed further into the woods.
"Keep your eyes on the trees and I'll keep mine on the road," Link said, not wanting to get caught looking in the wrong direction again.
His plan paid off. Zelda was frequently able to get off a shot before the demon-birds in the trees swooped down on them. And there were a lot of them. It seemed they could hardly go a few feet before there was another flock, waiting to attack.
One group was particularly large—more than Zelda could take out alone—and Link knocked a dozen or more out of the air by himself.
He took out the last straggler, then started to move down the trail again, when he was nearly tripped up by something caught around his left leg.
He looked down and saw that he had a vine wrapped around his ankle. He tried to tug it free, but the vine was tightly twisted around him. He bent down to unwrap it, but suddenly another vine shot out of the underbrush and wrapped around his right hand.
At the same moment he heard a scream, and when he looked up, he saw Zelda on the other side of the path with both of her legs and her left arm tangled in vines. More vines were poised to strike, and she was trying to beat them away with her bow.
"They're alive!" she shouted.
In the three seconds it took him to witness this, more vines had already attacked him, trussing up his arms and legs. He still had the Master Sword in his left hand, but it was useless because the vines wouldn't let him move, even a little bit.
Then, to add to their terror, another flock of demonic ravens came hurtling down the path towards them. Link turned his face away, trying to protect his eyes from the sharp claws and poking beaks that were scratching up his face. He could hear Zelda screaming.
His mind raced, trying to come up with a way out. But even as he tried to think, vines were wrapping around his waist and beginning to squeeze. If the birds didn't peck them to death first, then the vines were going to squeeze the life out of them.
There seemed to be no alternative: they were going to have to teleport back to Hols. Weeks of travel were going to be wasted, and they were still going to have to come back to the same place and fight the same damn problem.
And then he had an idea.
Teleport me to you.
Teleport me to you.
What good will that do? OUCH!
Link concentrated on Zelda with all his might. A second later, he was on the trail beside her, mercifully free of the vines.
He threw his free arm up, to shield his face from the birds, then began hacking away at the vines that were ensnaring Zelda. He felt the vines were a much worse problem; if they could get free of those, then they could take out the birds easily enough.
He had to dance around to avoid getting caught by the vines again, but at last, he got Zelda free.
She ran down the path, back the way they came. Some of the birds broke off and followed her. Link ran the opposite direction, trying to get out of the reach of the vines so he could deal with the birds.
When he felt he was safe enough, he turned around and began to bat birds out of the sky. Farther down the trail, he could see little explosions of white light as Zelda shot the birds around her.
And then, just as suddenly as the crisis had begun, it was over.
Link bent over, resting his hands on his knees, and panted. Zelda ran back to him as fast as she could—just barely dodging the section of vines, which tried to reach out and grab her—and then she, too, doubled-over with heavy breathing.
"Good… idea," she said, as she tried to get her breath back.
"Thought about… leaving… to get out… then… thought about not… going so far," Link replied, barely capable of forming a coherent sentence.
Zelda nodded, then gave him a congratulatory pat on the back. "See… you're… getting better… at this."
Link laughed in between gasps for air.
When they had recovered, Link took out the waterskin and drank a little, then splashed the water on his face. The scrapes and cuts the birds had inflicted burned, but not as much as his leg; they were all superficial.
He passed the water to Zelda, who did the same thing. He used the corner of his cloak to help dry her face. She had a few scrapes that were threatening to bleed, but nothing serious.
They pressed on.
Birds began to come at them in a near-continuous stream. But they were easy compared to the vines. Link and Zelda both began to openly curse them. They seemed to come from nowhere and, from a short distance away, could strike as fast as a snake. They appeared to be sentient, too, because they always seemed to attack from behind, no matter which way Link and Zelda turned.
Zelda and Link learned the tell-tale sound of rustling leaves and vines slithering over the dirt, but the sounds were so faint, they couldn't hear them when the birds began to attack—and that seemed to be the vines preferred time to attack, too.
"I will hate vines for the rest of my life," Zelda complained, just after Link cut her ankle free from a green tendril. "I'm going to have all the ivy ripped off the castle walls when I get back."
"It is a pain in the ass," Link agreed as he took her by the hand and pulled her up the trail and—hopefully—out of the reach of the vines.
He was so busy looking out for vines, he very nearly stepped into a pit again. Only at the last possible second did he noticed that there was an odd variance in the path; the dirt didn't seem to be laying quite right.
He stopped so suddenly, Zelda ran into his back, causing him to stagger forward a step. As soon as his toes touched the odd spot, the dirt crumbled away, revealing the pit.
Zelda put her arm around him and jerked him back, even though he wasn't in danger of falling this time.
She let out a deep, shaky breath. "Gods, that was close."
"It wouldn't have been quite so close if you hadn't run into me," he said, grinning at her over his shoulder.
"Well, if you had given me a little more warning that you were going to stop…."
"Yeah, I know. I didn't see it until—shit, there's another damn vine," he said, pulling Zelda just out of the reach of the green tendril. He started towards it with his sword, but it seemed to sense that it had been caught, and it hastily drew back.
"Keep your eye on it," Link warned, before turning back to the pit.
He unhooked the whip from his belt and snapped it onto an overhanging branch. "See, I told you this thing would come in handy," Link said, as he tugged on the end, checking to make sure it was secure.
Zelda had her sword out, stabbing at the vine as it tried to inch closer again. "Yeah, yeah, you're a genius," she said sarcastically. "Now, get your ass to the other side before this vine gets an idea."
Link sheathed his sword. "I worried about what people would think if I brought you home scarred," he said, even as he got a firm grip on the whip. "I should have worried about bringing you back with a sailor's mouth."
He swung across the gap and landed lightly on his feet on the other side.
"Yes, you're a bad influence," she said, still fighting the vine as it just barely managed to dodge out of reach every time.
"Watch out behind you," Link warned.
She turned around and saw another vine trying to sneak up on her from behind while the first had her distracted.
"Godsdamn them all!" she said, turning to stab at the new one. She had to alternate between the two to keep them both out of reach.
"I'm ready whenever you are," Link said.
"If you hadn't noticed, I'm a little busy," she said hotly. "I can't very well concentrate on teleporting when I'm trying to concentrate on not getting caught."
"I can teleport you out of it," he pointed out.
"I would rather not be caught in the first place," she said, taking a swing at one of the vines.
"So… how, exactly, were you planning on getting out of this problem?"
"Throw me the whip."
He was surprised, but he didn't argue; he swung the whip back across the pit.
Zelda caught it with her left hand and, without taking her eyes off the vines, she pushed off, swinging back towards Link.
She didn't jump off hard enough, so she had very little momentum going into the swing. Link had to lean out, rather dangerously, to grab onto her and pull her to the other side.
She let out a deep breath as her feet touched earth once again. "You know what?"
"What?" Link asked, as he jerked on the whip to get it to unwind from the tree branch.
"I don't want to be an adventurer when I grow up."
Link laughed, as he coiled up the whip.
"Truly, it's making being a queen look like a holiday," she said.
"I'm going to remind you that you said that when you get bored," he said with a wicked grin.
"Just remind me of this and I'll shut up."
They went around a bend in the trail and suddenly vines sprang up behind them, weaving themselves into a tangled, impenetrable net that blocked the path behind them.
"Careful…" Link whispered to Zelda.
She nocked a light arrow to her bow and nodded, ready to go.
They carefully crept down the trail, which ended in a huge clearing. The tops of the trees were nearly lost in a low-hanging fog so thick that the sun couldn't be seen. The clearing was barely less dim than the woods.
A rumble on the other side of the clearing caught Link's attention. His eyes widened as he saw a massive rhinoceros—easily three times the size of a normal one—get to its feet and shake off dust.
"What the hell is that?" Zelda whispered out of the corner of her mouth.
"A rhino," he replied.
"A rhinoceros. They used to live on the plains in the western portion of Shi-Ha and south of the Lost Woods. They're very rare and may even be extinct. No one really knows, since you don't exactly go looking for them. They're very mean and very dangerous and extremely hard to kill."
"Are they all that big?"
"No, that one is an exceptional size."
"Which means it will be even meaner and even harder to kill. Great."
The beast turned towards them, looking at them with red, beady eyes. "You are strong to have made it this far, but not strong enough for me!"
The rhino lowered his head and charged at them with its horn out. The ground trembled as it galloped across the clearing.
Zelda shot at it repeatedly, but the light arrows either deflected off of its armored hide completely—bursting into empty air like miniature fireworks—or they exploded against its skin with no visible impact at all.
Link shoved Zelda away. "Go that way!" he said, as he made eye contact with the rhino and got its attention on him.
He had to dash to sidestep it—luckily, it was so huge, it was very slow to react—and he hacked at its front leg and belly as it passed by him. But for all his hits, he might as well have been striking a rock. The Master Sword made no more impact against the rhino's hard skin than the light arrows had.
The rhino laughed—a deep, raspy sound halfway between a cough and a laugh—as it galloped around the perimeter of the clearing and came back to its starting point.
"I told you that you weren't strong enough for me."
It charged again—this time, making for Zelda.
Teleport to me when I say, Link said, watching the rhino taking aim at Zelda. His chest felt so tight, it was hard to breathe.
Zelda fired several more ineffectual shots, staying, unflinchingly, in the rhino's path.
Now! he told her, concentrating on her with all his might, desperate to get her to safety.
She appeared at his side a half-second later. The rhino skidded to a halt in surprise, then roared his rage.
He saw Link and Zelda out of the corner of his eye, and he turned and ran at them even faster than before.
"We split up," Link commanded in a hurried, quiet voice. "Whoever is safe will teleport the one who is being chased."
There was no time to say anything else. They both jumped out of the way as the rhino came charging between them. Link didn't get far enough out of the way, though, and he got kicked by one of the rhino's feet. He went rolling across the ground.
It took him a moment to recover his senses and look up. The rhino had followed Zelda and she was struggling to stay out if its reach. It could easily outrun her, but she kept darting back and forth, changing direction, and it wasn't able to respond very well.
A little help here… she said.
Link concentrated on her, and an instant later, she was standing over him.
"Oh, Link!" she gasped in surprise; clearly she hadn't seen him go down. "Are you alright?"
He pushed himself to his knees, wincing in pain. "Just bruised up, I think."
She put her arm around him and helped him stand. The rhino, momentarily confused by Zelda's disappearance, spotted them again and began running towards them.
"He's going to run us to death," Zelda said.
"I have an idea."
But before he could say anything, they had to separate again. This time, the rhino followed Link.
He ran as hard as he could—his bruised body aching in protest—then he suddenly cut back sharply to the left, intending to get behind it. But he either mistimed it or misjudged the distance, because he ended up running under the rhino's belly. He just barely managed to miss getting trampled by its back legs.
Get me out of here! he said desperately. He was beginning to scare himself.
A moment later, he was standing beside Zelda, trembling from fear and exertion, and breathing heavily.
"What on earth were you thinking!?" Zelda demanded, scared and angry.
He shook his head and bent over, trying to hurriedly catch his breath.
"You could have been killed!"
"Tell me about it," he wheezed.
The rhino turned around and started to come after them again.
"We need to hit it where it's vulnerable," Link said quickly, before they ran out of time. "An eye or an open mouth."
"It's eyes are awfully small for its size," she pointed out. "Even I have trouble hitting a small moving target—especially when I'm also moving."
"I'll create a distraction," he said.
An instant later, he turned into an eagle and took off. He made straight for the rampaging rhino, shrieking as he did so. The rhino didn't seem to notice him—or care—until he flew towards its eye with his claws out.
The rhino skidded to a stop, just a few yards away from a very anxious Zelda, and swung his head at Link.
Link just barely managed to dodge getting broadsided by the rhino's horn, but the turbulence it created sent him rolling around in the air.
He quickly righted himself and started to fly around the rhino's face again, keeping its attention. It tried to spear or swat him with its horn, but it was so big and cumbersome, and Link was so small and fast, it couldn't catch up to him.
Shoot it, Link told Zelda.
He could see her trying to aim—her bow darting around as she tried to follow the rhino's bobbing head.
Link flew down and landed on the bridge of the rhino's nose, just above the horn. The beast couldn't hit him or shoo him away from there, and it roared angrily.
A moment later, there was a burst of light in its left eye and its roar of frustration turned to one of pain.
It shook its head so hard, Link was flung off. The next thing he knew, he was flat on his back, looking upside down as the rhino careened randomly around the clearing.
"Link, are you alright?" Zelda asked, kneeling beside him.
He flopped over and got to his feet. I'm fine, he said, only half-lying; he was going to be black and blue tomorrow. We need to do that again.
"How?" she asked, as they watched the rhino blunder around.
When it comes at us again, then we'll do the same thing.
A moment later, the rhino stopped and shook its head again, as if it was shaking the pain away. It turned its malicious gaze on Link and Zelda.
You shot out its left eye, Link said, noting the red light was gone. Now you need to do the other one.
"Blind it," she said, catching on.
The rhino scraped its foot on the ground, like a bull, then charged at them again. It was much faster this time, though, as if its pain and anger gave it speed.
Link flew up, aiming for its face, but it was ready for him this time, and it tossed its head viciously, smacking him with its horn.
Link flew—and not of his own power—across the clearing. He blacked out somewhere between the actual hit and landing on the ground, because the first thing he was aware of was rolling over the grass in his human form.
When he came to a stop, he could do nothing but groan. He had only thought he was bruised before.
"Link!" Zelda cried out from the far side of the clearing. He wasn't sure if she was calling to him because she was afraid for him or for herself.
He weakly lifted his head, trying to blink his blurry, double vision back into a clear picture.
Zelda was trapped under the rhino, dodging its legs this way and that, never able to get clear of it.
The rhino chuckled meanly as he continued his dance, trying to stomp Zelda.
Come to me, Link said.
A moment later, she was at his side again.
"Oh, Link, are you badly hurt?" she asked, kneeling down beside him. Across the distance, the rhino was still dancing, having not yet noticed she was gone.
Link wiggled his toes and fingers and found everything worked—albeit painfully. "I don't think anything's broken," he said, as he tried to sit up.
Zelda helped him, although he yelped when she touched his ribs.
"I take that back," he panted. "I might have some broken ribs."
At that moment, the rhino noticed that she was missing. He looked around, then saw her on the other side of the clearing with Link. He roared angrily, then charged.
"Not again," Zelda moaned. "Maybe we should leave and come back again… after you heal."
"No," Link said firmly, thinking about the weeks it would take them to travel back. "We can do this. We're going to do this."
He somehow managed to push himself to his feet. "Take out the other eye," he said, before transforming and taking flight.
He flew towards the rhino again, just as he had the first time, but he knew that the rhino would do the exact same thing—they weren't exactly known for their intelligence—so he was ready.
When the rhino pulled its head back to swing at him, he darted around to the off side and flew at its good eye with his claws extended.
The rhino stumbled to a stop, roaring and tossing its head. Link knew he had done some damage when he saw blood running down the beast's face.
I've got him! Zelda called out to Link.
He quickly broke off his attack, flying up and out of the way. Before the rhino had a chance to figure out what was going on, Zelda shot it square in the eye.
The rhino roared louder than before and began tearing blindly around the clearing.
Link fluttered down beside Zelda and changed shape—his eagle-form useless against a blinded and enraged rhino.
"What does it take to kill this thing?" Zelda complained, having to yell over the noise of the rampage.
"The dark-demon took three shots."
Zelda shot at the rhino, but the arrow smashed uselessly into its armored skin, just as before.
"Hit it in the mouth," Link yelled. "That will have to hurt it."
Zelda held up her bow, trying to track the rhino. It did have its mouth open, bellowing in pain, but it was moving so quickly, it was hard for her to get a clear shot.
Then it blindly galloped in their general direction. It was Zelda's best chance to hit it, but it was tossing its head as it ran, making the shot as difficult as ever.
"Get out of the way," she told Link, as she tried to aim at the rhino's mouth.
"Get out of here!" she ordered loudly.
"I won't leave you here alone."
"It doesn't do any good if we both get hurt!" she shouted at him.
The rhino's ears flicked forward, hearing their voices. It steadied its erratic path and lowered its head, bellowing in anger as it sought to gore and trample them to death.
But it only succeeded in putting its open mouth right where Zelda could hit it.
The light arrow went in and disappeared into its gullet. A second later, light began to emanate from its mouth and in the next instance, it exploded from the inside out. Link and Zelda were so close, the black smoke and sparks washed over them like a phantom wave, before fading away.
Zelda and Link glanced at one another, then they uttered the same sigh of relief and sank to the ground in exhaustion.