Battling the Mountain
It was still a few hours before dawn when Link and Zelda made it to the other side of the plain.
Where were the bats? Zelda asked.
Link fluttered down beside her and transformed. He pulled out the map, and, in the light of the Master Sword, he squinted to see the "X". Then he looked around, trying to get his bearings.
"I don't know," he finally admitted. "All of this area looks alike; there isn't anything to use as a landmark."
Where's the next major demon?
"It looks like it's somewhere up in the mountains," he said, looking up at the rocky peaks looming above them in the darkness. "The fairy's mark shows me where the demon is, but since I'm not sure where we are, it doesn't really help."
Link studied the map for another minute.
"I think we should move forward, towards Pallis," he said at last. "I think we cut across the plain more or less straight from our last position"
And we ran into those bats after we left the lone tree and moved to this side of the plain.
"Right. So they should still be ahead of us. And the next demon looks to be just beyond them."
Link put the map back in his pouch and sheathed his sword, plunging them back into darkness; only the light of the stars kept the night from being as dark as a cave.
"I think I better stay human," Link said. "Otherwise, they might not come out of their hiding place; we know the bird-demons left us alone when we passed by them in animal form."
He hopped lightly onto Zelda's back. "Just don't throw me off, this time; I can get off on my own," he ribbed.
Just be quick about it, she sparred back. Then she glanced back at him. Have you gained weight? she asked seriously.
He looked at her in disbelief. "Do I look like I've gained weight?" They were both looking thinner than when they began their journey—Zelda more so than Link. Link had been used to rigorous exercise, whereas Zelda had led a largely sedentary life. But neither of them was prepared for the amount of walking and labor they had to do every single day. And not only that, but their meals were considerably smaller than they were accustomed to and wild game was much leaner. If they still had their old clothing, it would have hung loosely on their wiry frames.
You just seem heavier than I remember, Zelda said.
"You're just not used to carrying me anymore. I haven't ridden in weeks."
Well, that's true. And I haven't carried any loads, either. …I guess I've gotten used to the freedom.
"I can walk, if it bothers you."
No, no, she said hastily. It doesn't bother me. It just… feels different.
She set out at a slow lope and they stayed silent for a couple of hours, making steady progress. The sky was just starting to show some green in the east when Zelda skidded to a halt. I think I see something up ahead.
Link squinted in the dim light, wishing his vision was as good in human form as it was when he was an eagle. But, even so, he managed to make out a dark movement ahead of them.
He hopped off Zelda's back and she returned to her human form. "I think you'll be more help as a bird," she said, nocking an arrow to her bow.
"Probably," he agreed. He changed and took to the sky, just as the flock of bats got within range. Zelda began shooting them, causing little flashes of light, like lightening.
Although there were dozens of bats, each light arrow took out several in the tightly-packed cluster, so Zelda was able to finish them off even quicker than she had the first time; Link wasn't needed at all.
He came back to earth and transformed again. "Good job."
She grinned. He knew that she liked being able to handle things on her own. And, in truth, her fighting skills had improved greatly since they began their journey; he no longer worried about her nearly as much as he once did. He truly looked at her as his partner, not as someone he had to protect.
"I think I saw where we need to go to find our next big demon," he told her. "It's not far from here."
They walked along the base of the mountain for about fifteen minutes until they came upon a narrow trail that climbed sharply up the mountains and disappeared in the pre-dawn light.
"You think this is it?" Zelda asked.
"We're near where we should be, and I haven't seen another trail, so I think it's a safe bet."
They took a short break to rest and eat the cold rabbit meat and some hardtack. By the time they got to their feet, the edge of the sun was just peeping over the mountains in the east. But above them, in the northern sky, there was a dark cloud churning. The wind was starting to kick up, too, and it was unseasonably cool. It would feel good after so many days of heat, but it didn't bode well for their trip up the mountain.
"I'm afraid we might be in for some rain," Link said.
"But of course," Zelda said sourly. "When it doesn't matter, it doesn't rain. But now that we have something to do—something dangerous—it rains."
Link didn't say anything—although he felt the same way; he just took the lead and headed up the mountain.
It didn't take long before his calves were screaming. The trail was steep, but unlike when they had traversed the eastern end of the range, there weren't rocks to climb up, like steps. The steep angle actually made it harder on the legs than climbing steps.
They moved slowly, panting heavily and having to stop to rest often. The rising sun was blotted out, almost as quickly as it dawned, by the heavy gray clouds billowing above them, and there came low rumblings of thunder. Not long after they began their climb, fat droplets of water began to splatter on the stones around them.
They pulled up the hoods of their cloaks and pressed on. But, in the end, the cloaks did little to help them. The sprinkles quickly turned into an all-out deluge and their cloaks were quickly soaked. Then their clothes underneath became wet until both of them were soaked to the skin. The only benefit to the cloaks was the fact that the hoods kept the rain out of their faces—but only if they bent their heads against the driving wind.
Water ran down the path, washing gravel out from under their feet and making gullies down the middle of the trail that made it hard to find a firm place to put their feet.
They resorted to using their hands to help them climb the treacherous slope, scraping and cutting their palms on the slivers of rock as they went.
The trail began to wend its way around a peak. The incline moderated somewhat and transitioned from rock dust and gravel to more solid stone, but it traded one treacherous element for another as the ground to their right began to drop sharply away until it disappeared into the rainy mists altogether.
Then the lightening came—awesome and terrible to behold—streaking over their heads so close, they could feel it building up in the air just before the strike, making the hair on their arms and the backs of their necks stand up. Link wouldn't admit it openly—because he didn't want Zelda to worry—but he was actually afraid. He knew people were more likely to be struck by lightning in high, open places, and they were terribly exposed.
They were utterly at the mercy of the gods. He could only hope that since they had set him and Zelda the task, they would not kill them before they could complete their mission.
The trail became dangerously narrow, until it was barely wide enough for them walk on; Link's shoulder brushed the rock face to his left while his right foot was mere inches from the edge.
"Have I told you lately that I'm scared of heights?" Zelda shouted at him over the noise of the storm.
"You climbed the oak tree with me one night," he pointed out. "And you climbed out of your window many times."
"Yes, then I figured out I could actually die, and I got a bit more particular about what risks I take."
"Are you saying you wouldn't sneak out of your window now?" he asked. He was trying to keep her talking, since that took her mind off her fear. …For that matter, it worked on him, as well.
"I might," she allowed. "Would I be sneaking out to spend the evening with you?"
He laughed, causing the rainwater running down his face to get into his mouth.
"Do you have less fear if you're doing something with me?" he asked.
"I'm here, aren't I?"
Link was about to make a quip when he felt the air go funny and the hair on his arms stood up. It was much stronger than before, though, which meant that the lightning strike was going to be even closer. But before he could say anything—or figure out what to do—a blinding-white flash just a few yards to their right sent him staggering back into the mountainside. At almost the same instant, the ground shook violently beneath his feet, causing him to fall to his knees with his hands barely on edge of the trail.
Zelda screamed, and before Link's horrified eyes, the trail beneath her crumbled away and she went feet-first into the abyss.
He did not make a conscious choice; he did not think. He just automatically grabbed the whip hanging from his belt and snapped it over the edge.
A second later, there was a strong jerk on the whip that nearly pulled him over the edge. Zelda screamed again.
"I've got you!" he shouted, hoping she could hear him over the storm.
He sat back on his heels and, with sheer strength and willpower, he began to pull the whip up, hand over hand.
And then he saw a pale, white hand appear over the edge—the whip wrapped firmly around the wrist. Then, bit by bit, the rest of a soaking wet, violently trembling, Zelda emerged.
She grabbed onto the ledge with her free hand, helping to pull herself up. As soon as he felt it was safe to let go of the whip, he grabbed her under the armpits and hauled her bodily onto the ledge. He ended up lying on his back with Zelda on top of him; they didn't have room for any other arrangement.
She hid her face against his chest, crying. And as the rain beat down on his exposed face, he couldn't be sure if he was crying too or not.
He felt little vibrations in the ground beneath him, and he grew afraid that more of the ledge was going to collapse.
He patted Zelda on the back. "We need to move away from here. Let's see if we can find a safer place."
With a sniff, she pushed herself up with one arm and Link scooted out from under her. Link unwound the whip from her right wrist—there was an angry red welt rising around her wrist where the whip had slapped against it—then he helped her stand. He noticed that she cradled her right hand against her belly, but before he could ask her about it, he felt another tremor under his feet.
"Hurry," he said, gesturing to her to follow him up the trail.
Just around a bend, Link was surprised to find the one thing they needed more than anything: a small cave set into the rock wall.
"In here," he called behind him, before ducking into the cave.
It was barely higher than he was tall and it was only about twelve feet deep. But it was dry and considerably quieter, despite the thunder and lightning that still tore at the sky outside.
It was perfect.
Link threw off his soaking-wet cloak—it felt like it weighed twenty pounds—and turned to Zelda.
"Are you alright?"
She shook her head. He noticed that she was terribly pale.
"I think my wrist's broken," she said, her voice high and pained.
"Let me look," Link said, holding his hands out.
Reluctantly, Zelda held out her right hand.
Link let her hand rest gently in his, but even so, she winced when he touched it.
"Can you move your fingers?" he asked.
She managed to twitch them a little, but even that caused her to grit her teeth in pain.
"Yes, I think it's broken," he said sadly. "I'm sorry."
"Sorry for what? For saving my life?"
"For hurting you in the process."
"Better a broken wrist than a broken body," she said practically.
He looked up at her. "You need to go see the fairy."
She frowned and Link could immediately see her mind working up excuses for why she shouldn't go.
"You can't draw your bow with a broken wrist," he hurried to point out. "And you can't use your sword, either. You can't help at all unless you get it healed."
He saw the resignation on her face. "You're right," she conceded. Then she pointed a finger at him. "But you are not to go on without me. You're to wait right here until I get back."
He grinned. "Yes ma'am."
She looked torn between fussing at him some more and laughing at him. But instead, she closed her eyes. A minute later, she blinked out of existence.
Outside, thunder rolled across the sky and Link was suddenly struck by how alone he was.
He tried to tell himself that he was being silly—how could he feel lonely when Princess Zelda had been gone less than a minute?—but there was something mournful about the place or the situation that made him feel instantly depressed.
He picked up his cloak and wrung torrents of water from it. When it was as dry as he could get it, he spread it out, fur side up, on the cave floor. He debated whether he would be more miserable wearing wet clothes or being mostly naked in the cool air, then he finally decided he'd rather be cold than wet, so he stripped off everything but his underwear and laid it around the cave. He didn't really expect that it would dry, but it might become a little less damp, and that might be an improvement.
Of course, if the rain didn't let up—and it was showing no signs of doing so—then all his attempts to un-wet his clothes would be for naught anyways.
He laid down on the wet fur—it was only marginally better than lying on the cold stone—with his back to the cave wall and his sword in his hand. He watched the entrance to the cave for a little while, feeling suspicious, but his exhaustion caught up to him, and when he blinked his eyes closed, they didn't open again.
He was lying on his stomach, looking over the edge of the cliff into the mist.
"Zelda!" he screamed. "Zelda!"
His voice echoed on the mountainside, but only the thunder answered him, mockingly.
Tears—hot, compared to the cold rain—began to spill down his cheeks. She couldn't really be gone. It was impossible.
As the minutes stretched on, and he got no response, he slowly came to the realization that there was going to be no miracle this time. Princess Zelda was gone and she was never coming back.
His heart was seized with a terrible pain, incapacitating him. He could barely breathe. He couldn't think. He didn't even remember why they were in that gods-forsaken place anyways.
Her death was a waste—without purpose.
And in an instant, he made up his mind to throw himself off the cliff. If he couldn't have her in this world, then he would join her in the next.
He pushed himself to his feet, then threw himself off the cliff, falling weightlessly into the fog.
He looked around, wondering where that sweet, familiar voice was coming from.
"Link, call me back."
His heart fell to his feet. He was an idiot! Why hadn't he thought to teleport her back to him? He could have done that before she hit the bottom and she would have been saved. But, like an idiot, he had thrown himself to his death, and now he couldn't save either of them.
"Link, can you hear me?"
"Call me back."
"What?" she asked in disbelief.
"I'm falling. I'm going to die. …I'm so sorry." He began to cry again. "I'm so sorry."
"Link, what are you talking about? Where are you? Did you leave without me?" Her voice was panicked. "I'm going to bring you here. Come to me."
Suddenly, he woke up. "Zelda?" he called out, looking around, momentarily confused as to where he was. It took a moment for his brain to recognize the little cave where he had taken shelter. Zelda wasn't dead; she had left to go to the fairy.
Link, teleport to me, she commanded. Right now.
There's no need, he replied calmly, as he wiped away the tears he had cried while he slept. I'm fine. I was just having a dream when you called to me, and I couldn't tell your voice from the dream.
Are you sure you're alright? she asked warily.
Yes, I'm fine. I'm right where you left me.
I'm ready to come back.
He closed his eyes, concentrating on her. A moment later, he heard the rustle of fabric and the sound of her breath. He kept his eyes closed for an extra second, just savoring her. Even without seeing her, he could feel her presence filling the cave, driving away the lonely emptiness of it.
"Are you sure you're alright?" she asked doubtfully.
He opened his eyes and looked up at her. "Yes."
She moved closer and he saw, in the pale light of the Master Sword, that she had two bowls of steaming hot soup in her hands.
"Lia made us some soup while I was getting healed at the fairy's cave," she said, sitting down beside him and handing him a bowl.
"Thank you," he said gratefully. The first bite was a taste of heaven—warm and comforting, like Zelda's presence.
He was suddenly struck by how much he needed Zelda. He had long loved and worshiped her in turn. But there had been a subtle shift in his feelings at some point. He no longer felt a need to protect her because it was his duty; in fact, his duty was a distant concept now. He wanted to protect her only because he loved her… and because he couldn't live without her.
Dear gods, what was he going to do when they got back to Hyrule and she took the throne? How was he ever going to go back to being formal and distant with her?
He thought he had been keeping a little wall of separation between them—he thought that he was maintaining it when he reminded her that they would have to separate when they went back to Hyrule—but he was just lying to himself. There was no wall anymore, and he wasn't sure when he had lost it.
He was no longer acting as he was supposed to. But, for that matter, she wasn't acting like a princess anymore, either. She took care of him, joked with him, complained with him, cursed with him, suffered with him. She took her lumps, the same as he did. She put her all into their mission, just as he did.
She was his companion, his partner, his brother-in-arms. And he had irrevocably changed. He could not go back to the person he once was—to the person who loved, but from a distance. It was all too personal—too intimate—now.
He closed his eyes, and in his mind's eye, he saw a little blonde-haired girl running across the courtyard of the castle, trying to fly a kite.
"She is your destiny," Master Ryu had said. "But you have to prove yourself worthy of her."
He had thought that meant proving himself worthy to Zelda. But now he realized that he had a much harder task: he had to prove to Hyrule that he was worthy of their queen.
He wasn't sure how to go about doing that.
"Link, are you sure you're alright?" Zelda asked, interrupting his thoughts.
He opened his eyes and looked at her; she was looking back at him with concern.
"Yes, I'm fine," he said with a sigh, turning back to his soup.
"Don't lie to me. You're a terrible liar."
He smiled a little. "That's because I never learned how to."
"Now you're trying to avoid the question. Don't."
His smile broadened and he felt his gloomy mood lifting like a fog rising ahead of the dawn. "Yes, ma'am."
"Stop that," she snapped, growing more agitated, even as he grew more cheerful. There was something about seeing her in a temper that he liked… although he had no idea why. Maybe it was because it made her gray eyes snap. She was beautiful in her rage, like the ocean as a storm rolled in.
Or maybe he just liked having an argument—silly and inconsequential as it was—with someone who was his equal. It was a challenge—a battle of wits—and he liked being clever as much as he enjoyed hearing Zelda's equally-clever rebuttals.
"Tell me what's wrong," she insisted.
He sighed. She was possibly more stubborn than he was (and he still hadn't decided if that was a good thing or not). "Well," he said, "you had a near-death experience today, and when I laid down to rest, I had nightmares about it. Does that satisfy you?"
"Why not say so in the first place?"
"I thought it might be rather morbid to say, 'Guess what? I was just having dreams about your death. But, never mind that; what's for lunch?'"
She looked at him critically. "You're a real smart-ass, you know that?"
He grinned impishly. "And you're just now figuring that out?"
He went back to eating his soup, feeling much better, but his pensive mood seemed to have transferred to Zelda; she picked at her soup with a frown on her face.
"So, if you were dreaming about me dying," she said at last, "why did you tell me that you were going to die?"
"What?" Link asked, looking up at her.
"When I told you to bring me back, you told me that you couldn't—that you were dying. Actually, I think you said you were falling and were going to die."
Link looked away, feeling a little embarrassed.
"So which was it?" she demanded, looking at him as if she thought he was lying.
"Both," he admitted. "I dreamed you fell over the edge and I wasn't able to rescue you. So… I jumped over the edge."
"Oh, Link," she said, sounding pained and a little disappointed.
"It was just a dream," he said defensively.
"Yes, but I hope that's not what you would have done in real life."
He didn't respond. In truth, he didn't know what he would have done in real life.
"This is when you're supposed to say, 'No, of course I wouldn't have been so foolish; I would have carried out our mission by myself,'" she said.
"You just pointed out that I'm a terrible liar."
She slammed her bowl down on the stone floor with a loud bang."Link, don't tell me that if something happened to me, you would commit suicide."
"I don't know that I would… but I also don't know that I wouldn't; I can answer if I don't know the answer." He cut her off before she could say anything else. "And if it had been me—if you had lost me—what would you have done?"
She paled, her anger visibly draining away. "I… don't know," she admitted. "I don't think I could do this by myself."
"But that doesn't mean that it shouldn't be done," she argued. "We're not here for ourselves, after all; we're here for everyone else—because we promised we'd help free Erenrue—because your family and mine and our friends are being held hostage. We have to finish for them, no matter how much it might hurt us."
He smiled a little and leaned back against the wall of the cave. "You're wiser awake than I am asleep."
"Is that supposed to be a compliment? Because it didn't sound like much of one."
He laughed. "It was supposed to be, but maybe it didn't come out that way," he allowed. Then he grew more serious. "Let's make an agreement: if something happens to either one of us, the one who survives will bring Hols along to help. Because you're right: this is too much for one person alone. That… and I think we would need another person to hold us together. Agreed?"
"Now, let's also agree that neither of us is going to die, so we can quit discussing morbid topics and get back to what we were doing."
"I'm ready to go whenever you are."
He put down his empty bowl. "Let me get dressed," he said.
She finished the last of her soup while he put on his clothes. He couldn't tell that they were any less wet than before, and now they seemed extra cold, since they had lost what body warmth he had imparted to them.
He wished he hadn't gotten undressed after all.
"I have an idea," he said, as he threw his cloak over his shoulders; it was the only thing that seemed improved, now that several pounds of water had been removed from it.
"What's that?" Zelda asked, getting to her feet. She handed the soup bowls to him, and he tucked them into his haversack and pulled out a length of rope in return.
"I think we should tie this around us—like we did when we were crossing the mountains out of Erenrue."
She frowned. "I'm not sure that's a good idea here. If we had done that before, I might have dragged you off the ledge with me."
"I don't think so," he countered. "Besides, that nightmare I had reminded me that I could have saved you just as easily by teleporting you back to me. That's all we need—enough time to think clearly and save the other person."
"But if I drag you over the side, you won't be able to save either of us."
"You're not going to drag me over the side," he argued. "And even if you did," he hurried to add, "I could transform, grab the rope or you, and float us down to safety."
"See, we weren't in as bad a position as we thought we were," he pointed out. "It was just that we were surprised and it made us think like humans, not like Hylians."
"I suppose that's true."
He tied one end of the rope around his waist and then tied the other around Zelda's.
"Ready?" he asked.
He took the lead and headed out of the cave. Outside, the storm raged as hard as ever, showing no signs of letting up. With the exception of typhoons in Shi-Ha, Link didn't think he had ever seen such a powerful storm last so long.
He was beginning to wonder if it was natural or if it was being manipulated by the demon, like the unnatural cave and the false forest of the previous two demons.
They began to climb. The wind had grown stronger since they had taken shelter, and Link bent his head as they tried to trek into the very teeth of it. Sometimes it blew against him so strongly, he could feel the wet leather soles of his boots slip on the smooth rock. A couple of times, Zelda had to put her hand against his back to stop him from being blown backwards into her.
"I don't think this is natural," he shouted back to Zelda after a while. "I swear this wind is trying to blow us off the mountainside."
No sooner had he said that then there was a rumble and the ground beneath his feet gave way. He panicked for a moment as he felt himself floating free in the air, hundreds—if not thousands—of feet above the ground.
Then there was a hard, painful jerk around his waist. "Ow!" he yelled. But his fall had been stopped.
He looked up and saw the rope—meant to save Zelda—saving him instead.
But a moment later, he noticed that she was being pulled towards the crumbling edge; his weight was going to drag her into the abyss with him—just as she warned.
"Cut the rope!" he shouted to her frantically. "Cut the rope."
She drew her sword, but instead of cutting his lifeline, she thrust it hard into the ground in front of her. She was pulled right up to it, but then stopped. It acted as an anchor for her.
"You can teleport up here any day now," she called down to him, her voice strained by her effort and his weight.
Instead of teleporting, though, Link transformed and flew back up to the path—intending to land on the other side of the gap. But a sudden gust of wind—it seemed to have been waiting for him—came zooming down the path and it sent him tumbling back through the air, ass over tea kettle.
Zelda reached up with one hand and grabbed him. It took him a moment to reorient himself, but once the dizziness receded, he returned to his human form.
"Next time, just teleport," Zelda said.
"I was trying to fly to the other side," he explained. "There was method to my madness, believe it or not."
The wind interrupted them again, blowing harder than ever. Zelda clung to her sword and Link clung to her.
"This is intolerable," he shouted over the sound of the wind.
"Tell me about it. Maybe we should wait and come back once the storm's passed."
"That's just it; I don't think it will pass. I don't think this is normal."
The wind calmed down some—back to normal levels.
Link took the brief window of opportunity to look around, but he didn't see anything he could work with. There was nothing he could wrap the whip around to swing to the other side, and he obviously couldn't fly over. There was no way over the gap.
The wind came back, threatening to blow them away again. They clung tightly to each other until it passed a minute later.
"It's regular," Zelda said, once the roar had calmed down.
"I just noticed—the really strong wind—it's coming in regular bursts, not at random."
Link thought about what she said for a moment. "We could time our movements," he deduced.
She nodded her head. Before they could say anything more, the wind came roaring down the mountain again.
I have an idea, Link told Zelda. Be ready to teleport to me and then run.
She didn't ask him what he had in mind; she just agreed. Alright.
As soon as the gust slacked off, Link transformed. Although the normal wind was difficult to fly against, it wasn't impossible. And he only had a short way to go.
Once he landed on the other side of the gap, he transformed. "Come to me," he shouted to Zelda.
A moment later, she was at his side with her sword in her hand. "Run," he said, drawing his sword as he did so.
They made it a few yards when the gale started again. Link thrust his sword into the rock and Zelda—behind him—did the same. They held on while the wind lasted, then when it quit, they pulled out their swords and ran as fast as they could.
Link didn't know where they were running to, but surely there must be some sort of end to the trail. Or maybe they would find the source of the wind—something. All he knew was that he wanted to get out of the wind as quickly as possible before it sapped all of his strength.
They rounded a corner and saw… nothing. The path dead-ended into a jutting rock and there was clearly nothing beyond it.
Link froze. He had been so sure this was the path to the next demon. How could all of their struggle and near-death misses have been for nothing?
Then Zelda pointed over his shoulder. "Look!"
That's when he noticed the dark opening in the rock wall next to the end of the path.
They hurried to it and just managed to dash in before another gust of wind came roaring over their heads.
Inside, they found not a cave, but a tunnel. The floor sloped gently downwards and disappeared into the dark.
Link looked at Zelda and she nodded.
Together, they walked into dark once more, confident that somewhere below lurked another demon.