The Storm Demon
As Zelda and Link walked down the sloping tunnel, it began to gradually grow lighter until they emerged onto a wide ledge in a large, bright cavern—not lit by any obvious means—that was completely flooded; the ledge was only a foot above the water.
The water was so clear, it was easy to see all the way to the bottom, but there wasn't much to see—save a dark spot at the bottom on the opposite side.
"Hmm," Link said, as he looked around.
"What are we supposed to do?" Zelda asked.
"I don't know," he said slowly, still looking around, analyzing. "But this is the only place we can go, so there must be a way through it."
He looked out over the water. "Let me go see what's over there," he said, pointing to the dark spot.
"What if it's a trap? What if something's in the water?"
He bent down and put his hand in. Then he splashed it around.
He stood up again. "I think it's fine," he pronounced. He took off his cloak, haversack, and sword and shield, then dove into the water still fully-clothed. Of course, they were already so wet, it really didn't matter much anyways.
He swam confidently across the cavern. When he reached the far wall, he took a deep breath and went under the water. Zelda waited anxiously for him to return.
He came up for air briefly, then dove back down again. Zelda began to tap her foot impatiently, wanting to know what—if anything—he had found.
He finally came up again, gasping a little, as if he had stayed down too long. "There's a door down here," he called out, his voice echoing in the large room. "But I can't get it open. There looks to be a keyhole in it, though."
"Where on earth would the key be?" Zelda called back.
"I don't know."
He began to swim around the room, ducking down occasionally to check the bottom. Zelda looked around at the walls and even took the Master Sword and walked back up the passageway, looking for a key.
But when they regrouped on the ledge, neither of them had anything to show for it.
"Damnit, where's the key?" Link said, sitting on the edge of the ledge, his legs dangling in the water.
"What if the demon locked itself in so we couldn't get to it?"
He considered her words for a moment. "The first demon made it sound like they were waiting for us—that they want us to come to them and challenge them," he reasoned. "They want to kill us as much as we want to kill them."
"If that's the case, then why don't they come to us?" Zelda asked. "We keep going to them."
"Yes, and look at the trouble we have doing it. It's like assaulting a fortification and having to get past the moat and the caltrops and the abatis. If the defenses don't kill us, they'll at least weaken us—tire us out or hurt us—and that will make it easier for the demon to kill us.
"They may want to kill us, but we have to kill them. That's what allows them to take a defensive position."
"That's what I'm saying, though," Zelda argued. "Maybe this one has locked himself up in his 'castle,' if you will, and he's trying to keep us out."
Link shook his head. "No, they don't want us to be completely unable to get in, otherwise they'd have no opportunity to kill us. They just want to make it as hard as possible."
"Well, hiding the key certainly works," Zelda said, sitting down next to him, cross-legged.
They sat in silence, both of them trying to think of a way around the problem.
"Can you pick the lock?" Zelda asked after a minute.
"I've already thought about that," he admitted. "That's not easy to do when you're above the water; I don't think I would be able to do it at all underwater—even if I had the tools."
"What do you need?"
"Picks. That's why they call it 'picking a lock,' oddly enough," he said, grinning at her.
She made a face at him. "Could you get some from Hols?"
"I doubt he has any on him. He could probably make some… if he had access to his forge. Which he doesn't."
They grew quiet again.
"Can you destroy the door?" Zelda offered after a few minutes.
He shook his head. "No, it's metal; I can't hack through it."
She fell silent once more.
She eventually got tired, took off her bow and quiver, then laid back and stared at the ceiling, trying to think about where a key might be hidden or how they could get through the door without one.
"Maybe we passed the key on the way up here," Link mused. "It might have been hidden in some crevice or little cave we didn't see."
Zelda shuddered to think about either of them going back out into the raging storm.
Her mind was so occupied, it took her a good ten minutes to realize what her eyes had been seeing all the time.
She suddenly sat up, still looking at the ceiling. "Link… do those rocks look funny to you?" she asked, pointing to the center of the ceiling, where a small formation of beige rocks jutted out from the otherwise smooth grey ceiling.
Link looked up, too, and stared. "Yeah… they do look kind of funny."
"Like someone glued them up there," Zelda said.
They looked at one another. "Should I try to shoot them down?" she asked.
"Might as well. We don't have anything better to do."
She stood up and picked up her bow. But she found that the rain had caused her bowstring to swell and stretch until there was hardly any tension on the bow.
"I don't know if I can shoot anything more than a few feet away," she said with a frown.
Link glanced up at her. "Bow string's wet, huh?"
He held out his hands. "Let me see it."
She put the bow in his lap and he looked it over. Even though it took a good deal of force to string a bow—and had to be done in a standing position—Zelda's bowstring was so stretched, Link was able to slip it off with hardly any difficulty.
She sat down again and watched as he began to adjust the length of the string. At either end, the bowstring had been looped back on itself. A knot wouldn't have held the loop in place—not with all the tension that was on it—so instead of a knot, the end of the string was laid against itself and a separate string had been wrapped tightly around it for several inches, pinching it in place.
Link used the point of his knife to work the end of the wrapping thread loose, then he slowly unwound it. He pulled the end of the bow string further down on itself, shortening it, then he carefully wound the wrapping string back around. When he reached the end, he tied the wrapping string in a little knot around the bowsting, locking it into place. It wasn't quite as neat at the original, but it looked like it would work.
"Try that," he said, handing her the unstrung bow.
She stood up and put her foot between the string and the bow. Using her leg as a fulcrum point, she bent the tip of the bow down until she was able to catch the string on the notches on the end.
She stepped out of the bow and tried it out. "That's better," she said, testing the tension on the string.
"I'll let it out again, once it dries out, but I it probably needed taking up a little anyways."
She nodded. "With all the use it's been getting—and being strung all the time—it was definitely starting to stretch out. The rain was just more than it could handle."
With her bow functional again, she took an arrow from her quiver and took aim at the center of the rocks.
The light arrow burst against the rocks and they immediately fell from the ceiling, splashing loudly into the water and causing a little tidal wave that washed up over the ledge, soaking Zelda's boots (that was, if they could have possibly been soaked any more).
When the dust cleared, the center of the ceiling looked as smooth as the rest of it.
"They were just barely stuck up there," Zelda said. "But I wonder why?"
"I'm going to go see if there was anything in them," Link said, before jumping back into the water.
Zelda watched as he swam across the still-choppy water, then he dove under the surface.
He resurfaced two more times for air. Then, the third time he came up, he was wearing a grin. He triumphantly held up a key. "Good idea."
Zelda laughed, feeling pleased with herself.
Link swam back to the ledge and pushed himself out of the water. "Alright, let's get our stuff and see where that door leads us."
Zelda put her bow and quiver back on her back while Link collected his sword and shield. Then they both stared at the haversack and cloaks.
"Well, it doesn't do us any good to take last of this food with us," Link said. "It will get soaked."
"And I think the cloaks will just get in our way."
"Well," he said, turning his back on the stuff, "let's leave it. If we come back through here, then we'll pick it up again. If not… well, Long Fang's grandfather's hide will just have to remain here."
Link dove into the water once more. Zelda followed behind, jumping in feet-first. She had learned to swim, but only enough to keep from drowning; she wasn't able to dive neatly into the water or swim with practiced ease like Link.
She wondered if he had learned to swim at Olchi, or if all his seafaring ancestors had just passed their knowledge to him through their bloodline. She didn't think it worked that way, but he was a pretty good sailor, even though he had not been exposed to sailing very much; his Uncle Alfon had proclaimed him a natural at it. So maybe swimming worked the same way.
Link made it to the far wall and turned around to look at her slowly, but steadily following behind.
"I'm going to go down to unlock it," he said. "Be back in a minute."
Before she could nod her agreement, he took a deep breath and went under.
A few moments later—before she had even reached the far wall—something without hands grabbed her and jerked her under the water.
She was so surprised, she accidentally breathed in water, which made her cough and gag, trying to get it out of her lungs. But more water just rushed in.
She began to panic, trying to claw and kick her way upwards, towards the surface, but she couldn't break free of the current that was pulling her down and through the underwater door.
The light dimmed as she was sucked into a tunnel, then it disappeared completely.
Zelda was vaguely aware of someone smacking her face, but her body felt numb and leaden—as if she wasn't her body at all, but in some sort of dark container.
"Zelda… Zelda, sweetheart, come back to me."
She tried to latch onto her name. Someone knew she was stuck in this heavy, clay coffin, and he was trying to help her get out.
"Come on, Zelda. Please," he begged.
She was swimming up. Yes… she needed to swim up for air. She needed air.
Suddenly her eyes flew open and she began coughing up water.
Link grabbed her and sat her up, cradling her against his shoulder. "Oh, thank the gods," he said with relief.
She continued to cough up water, choking and sputtering for air, as feeling returned to her numbed body. For some reason—completely out of her control—she began to cry.
Link gently stroked her wet hair. "You're alright. Shh… you're alright." He kissed her on the templ. "Thank the gods you're alright," he murmured.
Her tears stopped as she got the last of the water out of her lungs and she was able to take deep breaths of sweet, precious air.
Link pushed her back a little, holding her firmly by the shoulders, studying her. "Better?" he asked, searching her eyes for any lingering ill-effects.
She nodded a little.
He pulled her close again, wrapping his arms around her. "I thought I had lost you," he whispered in a trembling voice.
"I know," she muttered.
"What?" he asked, leaning back a little to look down at her.
"You called me by my name," she explained in a hoarse voice. "You only call me by my name when you're really worried—in a panic, really."
He blinked, looking a little confused. Zelda realized then that when he called her by name, he wasn't even conscious of doing it. That was why he only said it when he was panicked; it just slipped out in the heat of the moment.
"I'm sorry," he said hesitantly.
"I'm not. I came back because I heard you calling to me."
He looked at her, his eyes a mixture of confusion and hesitation and sadness—as if he didn't know what to do or say. Then he pulled her close again, hugging her tightly.
She put her arms around him, too. "Always call me by my name," she whispered. "Promise me. Promise me you'll call me 'Zelda.' Please."
Her eyes began to swim again with unbidden tears. She didn't know why it was so important to her, but she needed it. The Link who dwelled under the mask of a proper Knight of Hyrule and servant of the Crown—the Link who was a real person with emotions and desires—who truly loved her for who she was on the inside, not because she was a princess—that was the Link that she loved, and he was the only person who could call her back from the brink of death.
He was silent for a moment, hesitating. "Until we get back to Hyrule," he offered.
It was the best she could hope for at the moment—and, really, more than she had expected to get. He must have really been worried about her if he agreed.
"Thank you," she whispered, giving him an extra squeeze.
He helped her to her feet and she took a look around the room. It was smaller than the first, but otherwise very similar. They were standing on a platform just barely above a lake of water. On the left-hand wall, a few feet above the waterline, was a hole that looked like it sloped upwards.
"Do we have to get up that?" Zelda asked, pointing to the hole. She wondered how they would climb it.
"No, that's the way we came in." He turned her around. Directly behind them was a door. "This is the way out."
She understood, then, what had happened. When Link opened the door in the other room, it was like pulling the plug in a drain. All the water from the first room was sucked down the tunnel and dumped into this lower chamber.
Link fitted the key into the keyhole on the new door. "Ready?" he asked.
Zelda took a deep breath, holding it in, then nodded. If water was going to come rushing out of the next door, she wanted to be ready.
But when Link turned the key and pushed open the door, nothing happened. Cautiously—and breathing again—they both crept through a short tunnel that connected them to another room with an underground lake.
They looked around for a moment, then Link pointed to the far side. "There's another underwater door. Not very original is he, this demon?"
Before Zelda could say anything, he dove into the water.
Really, he was like some sort of fish—always jumping into water at every opportunity.
She was screaming at him, even before he came back up to the surface. "Link! Get out! Get out!"
From all over the room, black fish were converging rapidly on his location.
Zelda was still shouting at him when his head broke the surface a moment later.
"Wha…?" he started to say, turning around to look at her. But it was too late; the fish were on him.
Zelda had never seen a person move so fast in the water before. He practically teleported back to the ledge.
She leaned down and grabbed him under the armpits and hauled him onto the safety of the rock ledge. He immediately scrambled to his feet, stumbling backwards, as if he was afraid the fish were going to come after him. And given the way they were churning and jumping out of the water, they acted like they might just do that.
"Demon… fish," he panted, doubling over and putting his hands on his knees. "Demon… fish."
"I told you to check before you get in," Zelda fussed. "Just because the last lake was safe doesn't mean this one is."
"Yeah, but… demon-fish. I mean… fish… that are demons."
He seemed personally affronted by this.
Zelda noticed that his clothes had small tears in numerous places, and through the holes, she could see that he was bleeding.
"Let me look at you," she said.
He sat down—she could see that he was still trembling—and let her examine him.
She looked all over, but none of the bites appeared to be too serious—although they must surely hurt.
"Piranha," Link said as Zelda was looking at him.
"Piranha. They're a type of fish that are only found in Shi-Ha. They like to live in rivers where it's dark and the water is cloudy."
"But it's neither in here."
"No, but that's what they are: demon-piranha."
"How can you be sure?"
He smiled ruefully. "Because piranha have dozens of small, razor-sharp teeth, they swim in large packs, and they will tear anything apart that they come in contact with. I've heard they can turn a cow carcass into a pile of bones in less than three minutes. It doesn't even take them that long to consume an entire person."
Zelda blanched. "A fish?" she asked in disbelief.
"Fishes," he corrected, "and yes. They're very dangerous. We were warned to stay out of any river where we couldn't see what was in it. When the typhoons come in and flood everything with water, they get displaced from their normal spots and could be anywhere. That's when you would usually hear about people getting eaten—when the piranha were washed into places that used to be safe."
"So… how do you kill them?"
"People who hunt them for sport usually go out in a boat, throw some raw meat into the water, then shoot them when they come to the surface."
"We don't have any raw meat."
He held up his left hand which had a particularly painful-looking bite on the webbing between his thumb and his hand. "Don't we?"
She look at him in disbelief. "You're not going to throw yourself in again?"
"No, but I'll draw them closer so you can shoot them."
Zelda didn't like the sound of that plan at all, but Link proceeded with it anyways.
"Ready?" he asked, kneeling beside the water.
She took off her bow and nocked an arrow to it. "I suppose," she said reluctantly.
He stuck his hand into the water. Within seconds, Zelda could see dark shapes moving under the water towards them.
She tried shooting at them, but they were too deep; her light arrows dissipated in the water just a few inches in.
But the fish swam upwards as they converged on Link's hand, and she was able to pick off a couple before he jerked his hand out of the water at the last minute.
The rest of them came right up to the ledge and churned around, jumping and snapping in the air, looking angry that they had been denied their prey. But this only made it easy for Zelda to pick them off, and she was able to kill several with each shot.
It didn't take the fish long to realize what was happening, and they quickly dispersed and dove deep down into the water. Although the water was crystal clear, their muddy grey-brown bodies blended so well with the rock around them, it was hard to see them when they were still.
"That worked," Link said, sounding rather pleased with himself. "Let's go again."
He plunged his hand back into the water, but the fish didn't immediately attack. It wasn't until he splashed around a bit that they became unable to resist the temptation, and they came swimming back.
Zelda began shooting as soon as she thought she had a chance, then she got off several rapid-fire shots when they came swarming up to attack.
Only half a dozen or so managed to escape the second round.
Link tried baiting them a third time, but they could not be tempted into coming near him again.
"Hmm," he said, frowning.
"Do you think, if you get into the water, they'll leave you alone?"
"Not a chance."
He sat down on the ledge and stuck both of his legs in, up to the knees, and proceeded to kick and splash.
One fish took the bait—although neither of them saw it approach until it latched onto the toe of Link's boot.
"Ow!" he said, jerking his foot out of the water. The piranha was still firmly attached.
"Hold still," Zelda said, quickly notching an arrow to her bow.
Link tried to hold his leg steady, despite the weight of the fish hanging off the end. "You do know this is a great show of trust on my part, right?"
"Let's hope it's not misplaced."
Before he could say anything, she shot the fish in its side. It exploded into black smoke and vanished.
Link got back to his feet. "I think that's all we're going to be able to do from here."
She looked at him in disbelief. "So… what, exactly, are you planning on doing?"
He took out his sword and grinned. "I'm going fishing."
He jumped into the water feet first.
"Link, be careful," Zelda said, not liking his plan at all.
"Aren't I always?"
"Not really, no."
"Then I better be extra glad you've got my back."
Without another word, he began to swim slowly towards the far side of the lake. Zelda sighed, but pulled out a light arrow, ready for trouble.
About halfway across, Link suddenly took a deep breath, then sank under the water. A moment later, Zelda saw black smoke issue up from the water like steam. Link reemerged and resumed his slow crawl through the water.
She kept a tense watch, afraid that he would be attacked at any moment. She kept telling herself that she could always teleport him out… if he had clarity of mind to do it. That was the problem with teleporting while under immense pressure, pain, or fear: it was hard to concentrate long enough to do it.
Zelda watched as a fish swam suddenly began racing across the lake, aiming for Link's back.
"You've got one coming up behind you."
"Can you get it? I've got at least two in front of me."
A moment later, he took a deep breath and sank out of sight.
"Shit," Zelda said, hurrying to take aim at the fish. She wasn't sure she could hit it; if it was too deep, she couldn't touch it. Not only that, but if she missed, she might hit Link.
"Link… hurry…" she muttered. She really wished he would take care of it himself, because she wasn't confident she could make the shot.
She could see the shadow getting closer and closer to where he had gone down. He and the fish both broke the surface of the water a moment later.
"Ow!" Link said, as the fish slammed into his back. But before he could turn around and look behind him, the fish disintegrated into black smoke; Zelda had hit it just before it hit him.
"Good shot," he called out.
"Don't make me do it again; I might have hit you."
"But you didn't. That's why I trust you." He turned back around and started to swim for the door.
"I can't be perfect all the time, you know," she called out after him.
"You're not going to kill me," he called back. "I warned you a long time ago that I'm not that easy to get rid of."
"Obviously. You're still following me around."
"I thought you were following me?"
He reached the far wall without any more problems and turned to look back at her.
"I think it's safe," he said. "Come on over."
Zelda glanced around, but didn't see any fish… although that didn't mean anything; they were hard to see when they were lying in wait.
"I hope you're right," she muttered under her breath, before slinging her bow across her back and plunging into the water.
Link waited for her, treading water, while she swam across the room to him. She reached the other side without a problem.
"We might get sucked down, like last time," he warned. "I'll let you know when I'm about to turn the key, so take a deep breath and be ready."
Zelda pressed her lips together—unhappy at the thought of being sucked underwater again—but she nodded her consent to the plan.
He took a deep breath, then went under.
I'm turning it, he warned a few seconds later.
Zelda took a deep breath. A moment later, she was sucked under again. But, being prepared for it, she didn't panic, as she had the last time. Still, it was terrifying to be dragged down into a dark tunnel.
She tried to see where she was going, but she couldn't see anything but blackness. It was like being in the fairy's pond, except the darkness was much less comforting—that, and when she was in the fairy's pond, her lungs never began to protest the lack of air.
She needed to breathe. Her lungs felt as if they were going to burst.
What if she couldn't hold her breath long enough?
And then a light appeared, dimly shining through the water. She tried to swim towards it, wanting to get out of the water as soon as possible.
The stream of water burst forth from a wall and she fell into another lake.
She kicked her feet, struggling to get up to the surface, beyond desperate for air.
When her head finally broke the surface, she inhaled so quickly, she actually aspirated some water, which left her coughing and choking again. But she was conscious and breathing, so it was a definite improvement over the last trip.
"Are you alright?" Link asked, swimming up to her.
She nodded, still coughing.
They had to wait until the level of the lake rose high enough that they were able to pull themselves onto the dry ledge.
Zelda sat down on the ledge to rest, still coughing a little and clearing her throat; she felt like she was never going to be able to get all of the water out of her lungs.
Link bent down and rubbed her back. "Are you sure you're alright?"
She nodded. "Fine."
He looked dubious, but apparently decided to take her word for it. He turned around, as if to head for the next door, when Zelda heard him gasp.
She turned around and saw what surprised him—or, rather, what he didn't see. There was no door.
Link turned around, his eyes scanning the bottom of the now-flooded room.
"I don't see a door," he said, sounding alarmed.
Zelda stood up and looked around. It was only when she was about to give up that she looked up.
"There it is," she said pointing upwards. High on the wall on the right-hand side—nearly to the ceiling—was a single door.
"Ah," Link said, sounding relieved. "That's easier than it being underwater."
"I don't want to go underwater anymore," Zelda agreed. She had had enough of near-drowning experiences.
Link transformed and flew up to the door. But Zelda knew something was wrong when he hovered in front of it instead of landing and opening it. After a minute, he flew back down to her and retook his human form.
"There's no ledge or anything to stand on up there," he explained. He fished the key out of his pocket and tossed it onto the ledge. "I don't think I'm dexterous enough to turn the key when I'm in my eagle form," he warned, "but I'll give it a try."
He transformed again, took the key in his claw, and flew up to the door. Zelda watched from below as he struggled to put the key into the keyhole. Feathers began floating down as he beat his wings against the door, trying to get close enough to insert the key.
After several minutes, he finally succeed, but the ordeal began all over again as he tried to turn the key. Either he couldn't get a good grip on it with his claws, or it was too hard for him to turn, because the door did not open.
Finally, he flew back to Zelda's side and returned to his human form. With an exhausted sigh, he plopped down beside her.
She could see he had red marks all over his arms—which would surely turn into bruises—from where he had beat against the door.
"What did I say… about this being… easy?" he panted.
"Is there any way I can help?" she asked.
He shook his head. "I… don't think so." He took a deep breath and expelled it, finally getting control of his breathing again. "My claws are slippery on the metal key and I just can't grip it tightly enough to turn it."
Zelda considered the problem for a moment. "Would it help if you wrapped the key in something—like fabric? Would that give you a grip?"
He considered it. "That might work," he agreed.
He stood up and took off his scabbard, then he pulled off his tunic. He transformed once more and carried the tunic up to the door. Zelda watched as he dropped the tunic over the key, then he tried to turn the key again. But after a few attempts, it was clear that it still didn't want to cooperate.
After several minutes, Link finally flew back down, dropping both the tunic and the key on the ledge with as much disgust as an eagle could manage.
"I think it's the wrong damn key," he complained, as soon as he was back in human form.
Zelda immediately looked up, in case there was another rock formation above them. There wasn't, but there was a glint of gold in the center of the ceiling.
"What's that?" she asked, pointing up.
Link looked up, too, and his sullen scowl immediately turned into a cautious smile. "Something not natural to caves," he said. A moment later, he transformed and flew up to it.
It's a handle of some sort, he told Zelda.
Do you think a key will fall out if you pull it?
There's only one way to find out.
Zelda watched as Link gripped the handle with his feet, then he folded his wings and allowed himself to hang upside down from the handle. His weight pulled it down and, as it did so, a sluicegate opened up high in the opposite wall and water began to gush forth like a waterfall.
In the midst of the cascade, Zelda saw something silver flash.
"I think the key just came out!" she shouted, pointing down into the water.
One key coming up, Link said confidentially. But before he could transform and dive down to get it, dark shapes began pouring out with the water.
"Fish!" Zelda screamed.
There was nothing Zelda and Link could do but helplessly watch as the formerly-safe lake began to fill with the demon-piranha.
Zelda was so distressed over the turn of events, it took her a moment to realize that her boots were growing wetter.
She looked down and saw a new problem: the additional water flowing into the room was causing the ledge to flood. When the water was deep enough, the fish would come after her. And there was nowhere else in the room to stand.
"We need to hurry up on getting that key," Zelda called out nervously, gathering up Link's stuff and the old key. She retreated until her back was against the wall.
Link flew down and returned to his human form. He took his sword and shield from Zelda, then took up a defensive position in front of her. "Get your bow," he warned.
"What are you doing? You need to find a way to get that key and get us out of here," she fussed.
"I'm not going to leave you to deal with the fish alone while I'm safe."
She threw his wet tunic at the back of his head. "Who said anything about you being safe? You need to find a way to get the key. I'll take care of me."
Link hurriedly pulled on his tunic, then strapped his scabbard on. "If you have any ideas, I'm all ears," he said as he dressed.
"Not a one."
He looked back across the room, to the place where the new key had last been seen. The water on the ledge was already above their ankles.
Zelda gave him a little shove. "Go. Get up in the air, find the key, and figure out a way to get it."
Link transformed and took to the air once more. Zelda pulled off her bow and readied an arrow, waiting for the first daring fish to try to move in on her.
She didn't have to wait long. As soon as the water was as deep as her calves, a couple of fish tried to come at her from two different directions. The water was still shallow enough, she had no problem hitting both of them.
But it made her realize that she was going to have a problem in a very short time. Not only could she not hit them when they were more than a foot or so below water, but she wouldn't be able to use her bow at all when the water got high enough to submerge it. She might be able to turn it horizontally and stave off the inevitable for a few additional minutes, but it was clear that she was going to be in a lot of trouble very soon.
Can you push that handle back up and keep more water from coming in? Zelda suggested. That would keep things from getting any worse.
Link immediately flew up to the handle, but he had no more luck with the handle than he had had with the key.
Zelda began to grow nervous. Another couple of fish tried to attack her; she was able to take out the first with just one shot, but she shot at the second one twice before she managed to hit it. The water was beginning to get too deep.
She considered switching to her sword, which would at least keep the fish off of her, even if it wouldn't permanently kill them.
I see the key, Link said.
Zelda looked up and saw him flying in circles on the far side of the room.
Can you get to it?
It's at the bottom of the water—and there are about a dozen fish swimming around it.
Zelda knew that if Link tried to go into the water in his human form, the fish would immediately attack him. He might be able to fend off a few, but the rest would surely overwhelm him. Would he be able to get back to the surface before they tore him apart? And even if he got to the surface, how would he be able to transform and get back into the air? Eagles weren't waterfowl; he needed a solid surface to launch from.
While she was busy thinking, one of the piranha took advantage of her distraction to bite her through the top of her boot.
"OW!" she shouted, jerking her foot up. But the fish didn't let go.
With the water up to her waist, it was too deep to shoot, so she hastily pulled out her sword and stabbed at it—trying not to hit her own foot in the process. It took three pokes before the fish finally turned loose and floated to the surface of the water belly-up. But there were four more fish willing to take its place, and they all began to converge on Zelda, drawn to her like a magnet.
Suddenly she remembered that the demons on the plain didn't attack her when she was in her animal form. She didn't know if it would work on fish, but it didn't hurt to try; maybe she could stomp them to death in her horse form. Four feet was better than just one sword.
She transformed and immediately the fish became disinterested and swam away.
Ha! They won't attack an animal, Zelda said triumphantly.
Good job. That's one problem solved.
Zelda swam to the far side of the room—she was a much more powerful swimmer in her horse form, so it didn't take any time to get to the other side—and she circled the spot where Link had spotted the key. It took her a minute, but at last she saw it glinting tantalizingly on the bottom of the lake. As Link had said, a dozen or more fish were swimming in the area, as if on guard duty.
Let me see if I can get it, Zelda said. She took a deep breath and tried to dive down, but she wasn't able to do anything more than stick her head under the water. Her equine body was too horizontal; it wasn't made for vertical diving.
She raised her head, shaking the water off her face. Nope, that didn't work.
I might be able to dive down and get it, he said hesitantly.
Those fish will be on you in seconds.
No, I mean I might be able to dive down in my bird form, he explained. As you pointed out, the demons don't bother us when we're in our animal forms, so I should be safe enough. The only question is whether I can dive that far or not. I've seen seabirds diving for fish, but never an eagle. I don't know if I'm built for it.
The longer you wait, the deeper it gets, Zelda pointed out.
You're right. And I suppose if I try and fail, we'll be no worse off; we'll just have to leave and come up with a new plan.
He made one big circle around the room, gaining speed, then he suddenly tucked his wings in close to his body and came down at a sharp angle, like an arrow heading for the earth. He plunged beneath the water with hardly a splash.
Zelda tried to watch, but she couldn't see much of what was happening under the water. It was their only chance to get the key; if he didn't manage it, they would have to leave. There was no way he could get airborne for a second attempt.
Just when she was beginning to get worried about him being down so long, he popped up like a cork. The key was in his mouth.
Got it! he said, sounding exhausted.
Zelda swam over and he climbed up her neck, out of the water.
Claws, she warned as his sharp talons scratched her skin.
Sorry. They're sharp even when I'm not trying to rip something apart.
He managed to grab her mane firmly and shake himself off.
You really have a way with words, Zelda teased.
Well, it's true. Why else do you think eagles have talons?
Zelda ignored his rhetorical question. So… that's problem two out of three. Now, to open the door.
That's the easiest part now.
You said it was easy before when it really wasn't.
Yes, but now I'm sure that it is. If we just wait a little bit longer, the water will raise us up to the level of the door and it will be easy to reach it. We just have to avoid the fish for a few seconds.
Zelda swam in circles around the room while the water continued to pour in and slowly raise the level of the lake. As Link predicted, the water eventually rose until it was at the bottom of the door.
Now comes the fun part, he said as Zelda tread water in front of it.
Somehow I don't think this will be fun at all.
Hey, at least you're staying an animal; I'm the one who's in danger. Now, stay as still as possible….
He transformed on Zelda's back and reached up, sticking the key into the keyhole. With ease, he turned it in the lock and pushed the door open.
Hurry! Zelda warned, seeing fish from all over the room darting towards them.
Link pulled himself through the door; an instant later, the fish turned around and began to swim away.
"Let them get a little farther away," Link warned.
Zelda swam in small circles until the fish were back to their original positions. Then she swam up to the doorway and transformed. Link pulled her into the safety of the tunnel beyond the door before the fish even had time to turn around and head her direction.
"Phew," Link said, leaning against the wall of the tunnel. "That was some puzzle."
"I'm ready for a break," Zelda admitted, tired from all of the swimming.
"Let's get to the next room and take a break before we start swimming around in piranha-filled waters," Link agreed.
He took Zelda's hand in his and they began trudging up the dark tunnel that was on the other side of the door. Link had to take out the Master Sword to light their way.
They were quickly panting as the steep trail took its toll on their already-weary bodies and aching calves.
"Where… are… we going?" Zelda said, clutching a stitch in her side.
"Don't… know," was all Link managed to reply.
After what felt like forever, they saw a faint light in the tunnel. "At last," Link wheezed.
But instead of opening into another room, the tunnel took a sharp left turn and they found themselves facing another narrow ledge high on the side of the mountain.
It was still raining and thundering.
"Not again," Zelda said, looking out of the tunnel with a scowl.
Link stuck his face out of the tunnel, squinting up at the leaden sky, blinking away rain as it fell on his face. "I think we're starting to lose the light." He pulled his head back inside and wiped his face dry. "It must be getting pretty late into the afternoon by now."
He looked at Zelda. "Do you want to sit here and rest a while?"
She shook her head. "No, let's go while we can still see. It will only be worse in the dark."
"We could stay here for the night and move on in the morning," he offered. "...Although we don't have anything to eat."
She shook her head again. "I don't want to spend the night here if we don't have to."
Link nodded, then went out into the storm and began hiking up the steep stone path. Zelda followed behind him, her sword out and ready in case the wind tried to blow them off again.
The path spiraled upwards and it became obvious that they must be near the peak. And then, suddenly, the path turned to the left and they found themselves standing in what looked like the filled-in crater of a small volcano. The ground in the middle was depressed, sloping gently towards the center. Around the edge of the crater stood thin walls and spires of rock some twenty to thirty feet high.
There was nothing else to see.
Link looked at Zelda in confusion. "All that for this?" he asked.
"Maybe there's a secret to it," she said, "like a hole or tunnel we can't see from here."
He started to walk towards the center of the crater, but before he had taken more than one step, there was a crack of lightening behind them and the ground shook until it made them fall to their hands and knees and there was the sound of stone rumbling. When they looked over their shoulders, the path where they had just been was gone—destroyed by the lightening.
"Well, we know we're in the right place," Link said as he stood again, sounding strangely more cheerful.
A moment later, the clouds began to swirl directly above their heads, like a tornado gathering strength. The wind began to whip around them so strongly, they had to cling to each other to keep from being knocked off their feet.
Slowly, a cloud began to take form out of the maelstrom until they were looking—more or less—at a giant head made of nothing but white-gray cloud. Darker spots in the cloud gave the impression of eyes and a mouth.
The cloud chuckled darkly and its menacing sound was echoed through the surrounding clouds, like thunder.
Before Link or Zelda could react to the new development, the cloud took a deep breath, then began to blow.
It was ten times stronger—and colder—than the wind that had roared down the mountainside and made them slide back. The new gust was so strong, it actually blew them backwards and sent them tumbling for the gap in the stone wall where the path had once been.
Link tried to plant the Master Sword into the stone—as he had before—but he wasn't able to get it deep enough to stick.
They were going over the side of the mountain.
At the last minute, Link grabbed his whip and snapped it around a broken rock pointing upwards, like a giant tooth.
They ended up dangling from the end of the whip—Link holding onto it with one hand and Zelda holding onto his left ankle.
Link hurriedly sheathed his sword in the scabbard on his back and grabbed the handle of the whip with his other hand. Zelda was in a more difficult position; she couldn't easy sheathe her sword. She didn't want to drop it—knowing it was Link's ancestral blade—but at the same time, it was a major hindrance.
She ended up sticking it between her quiver and her back, hoping that the quiver would hold it in, then she grabbed his foot with the other hand.
"We have a bit of a problem," Link announced.
"No shit!" Zelda said, looking down between her feet at the nothingness below. She wished, more than ever, that she could turn into a bird like Link. But as hard as she wished, it didn't happen; she was limited to only one animal form.
"Yes, well, it's even worse than it looks," Link said.
"How could it possibly be any worse?"
"I can't hold on forever. My hands are wet and—no offense intended—but I'm holding up a lot of weight."
"Should I let go?" she asked, hoping he wasn't serious. Maybe he could transform and catch her, but maybe not.
"No. But you are going to have to climb up and take hold of this whip yourself. I don't have the strength to pull us both up."
"How am I supposed to do that?"
"I don't know, but you have to."
Zelda didn't like it when Link didn't have answers; that meant they were in a bad place indeed.
She lifted one hand and grabbed the top of Link's boot. She tried to pull herself up using only it, but the leather scrunched up in her hand and threatened to peel off his leg completely.
"You can't hold onto my clothes," he warned her.
"Well, what else am I supposed to use?" she demanded. "This isn't exactly like climbing a ladder."
"Can you reach my belt? That shouldn't come off."
She stretched up, but was several inches away from it. She put her right hand over his knee—there wasn't a lot to really hold onto, but she gripped as tightly as she could—and tried to quickly hoist herself up, her free hand grabbing desperately for his belt.
She managed to catch the top edge with her fingers.
"Careful with the jiggling," Link warned.
"If you can't do anything but criticize, then you can just shut up," Zelda snapped.
"Well, sweetheart, I hate to point this out, but the more you jiggle and thrash around, the more my hands slip down this whip. It's only a matter of time before I run out of whip to hold onto."
"Well, I'd like to see you do better," she said, getting her right hand firmly on his belt too.
"I would gladly trade places with you if I could. And yes, I could do better… but only because you have more places to hold onto."
Zelda suddenly burst into laughter. "Stop that," she fussed. "You'll make me lose my concentration."
"Yes ma'am," he said, in his usual sarcastic tone.
She reached up and grabbed onto the back of his shield, then pulled herself a little higher. She wrapped her free arm around his neck, then the other arm. She felt moderately more secure and took a minute to catch her breath.
"You know what—I take back what I said," Link said.
"The part about trading places with you. I mean, I'd gladly take the risk for you, but I'm rather enjoying having you crawl all over me. In fact, I'd have to rate this as the best near-death experience I've had so far."
"Why is it that you're so proper and distant when I want to kiss you, but when we're dangling precariously over a cliff, you're being all dirty?"
"Because I know we can't act on it; I'm more worried about actions than words. And… speaking of acting," he said more seriously, "could you hurry up? I'm starting to slip more."
Zelda wrapped her legs tightly around his waist, then reached up and grabbed onto the whip above his hands.
"Are you sure?"
"Are you really sure? Because I'm about to let go and then you won't have me supporting you."
She relaxed her legs tentatively, loosening her grip on him, and found that she was able to support herself.
"I'm good if you hurry."
He let go of the whip and fell a few feet before he transformed into an eagle and flew back up and over the edge of the crater.
Come to me, he said a few seconds later.
Zelda concentrated on him, and the next thing she knew, her feet were back on solid ground.
But that lasted for less than a heartbeat. The next instant, the storm-demon blew at them and knocked them backwards again.
But Link had smartly positioned himself so that the wall of stone was behind them and they couldn't be blown over the edge again. Instead, they found their backs pressed against the rock, as the icy, scouring wind hit them full-blast.
It was unlike anything Zelda had ever experienced. They had nearly frozen to death in the mountains east of Pallis, and the blizzard that had nearly taken their lives then had been strong and full of ice. But nothing compared to the arctic blast that buffeted them now.
Zelda was panting by the time the gust let up. Her face felt raw and blistered; it burned hot while the rest of her shivered violently.
"Shoot it!" Link said.
"How can I shoot a cloud?" she asked. But before he could answer, the storm-demon began to blow again.
Zelda felt as if an invisible hand was pressing her against the rock, trying to force all of the air out of her. It was difficult to inhale with so much pressure on her, and the cold air seemed to steal what little she managed to suck in. How could there be so much wind and no air to breathe?
A moment later, the wind stopped and she collapsed to her hands and knees.
She could see water running down her arms, but her skin was so numb, she couldn't feel it. How could it be raining when it was so cold? She was turning into ice—her wet clothes and even her hair were rigid where they had had flash frozen—so why was it raining? Why wasn't it snowing?
"Shoot it!" Link shouted again. His voice sounded far away, even though he was standing right beside her. The wind roared in her ears so loudly that, when it stopped, it left her feeling as if she had cotton stuffed in her ears.
She looked up and saw Link leaning against the wall next to her. He looked like he could barely stand up.
"I wish… I had taken you up… on that offer to rest," she panted. She felt exhausted, as if the wind was draining her of energy every time it hit her.
She wanted to go to sleep. Yes, a little nap was all she needed. Once she woke up, she would be ready to tackle this evil cloud.
Link staggered over to her, grabbed her by the arm, and jerked her roughly to her feet. Despite feeling numb and slow and stupid, she felt pain when he jerked on her.
"Ow," she whined.
He slapped her hard across the face.
She was so stunned, she hardly noticed the next blast of wind that interrupted them, blowing them back against the wall.
Link had struck her.
In a million years, she would have never thought that Link would ever hit her. Anyone else—even Master Ryu or old Horace—she would have bet that they would have lost their temper and struck her before Link ever would.
Shoot it… or give me… the damn bow… and arrows, he growled at her, even as they remained pinned against the wall.
A sudden flare of anger erupted inside her, melting the icy cold that threatened to freeze her insides completely.
How dare he hit her and then threaten to take away her weapons. Her weapons!
As soon as she was released from the force of the wind, she ripped off her bow and nocked an arrow. She loosed it, but the storm-demon began to blow before the arrow reached its target, and it was blown off target.
Zelda was slammed against the rock wall again, but in her mind, she was already calculating her next move. As she figured out before, it was all a matter of timing. She had to shoot in the few precious seconds when the demon stopped to inhale.
As soon as the wind abated, she grabbed another arrow, slapped it onto her bow, and fired. She didn't aim very well, since she was concerned with speed above all else, but the demon was large enough, it didn't matter; her light arrow struck its target.
The demon recoiled and the loudest thunder Zelda had ever heard emanated from it and rolled across the sky. Then the demon dematerialized, drawing itself back up into the swirling cloud from whence it had originally come.
Zelda turned to Link and slapped him across the face as hard as she could.
He staggered away, clutching his cheek. "OW!"
"What in the hell were you doing, hitting me? Who do you think you are?! Just because I said I consider you my equal—"
Link held up his hand, cutting her off. With his other hand, he massaged his cheek. Zelda was meanly glad to see a red handprint clearly outlined on his fair face.
"I deserved that," he said, still holding up his hand like a peace offering. "I really did. But I only struck you because you were starting to freeze to death. I needed you to wake up—to get angry—"
"It worked!" Zelda said, interrupting him.
"Yes, it did work," he said calmly. "You shot the demon and we're no longer freezing to death. Maybe I should have come up with a better idea, but it was all I could think of on short notice."
She turned away from him, her arms crossed.
The wind began to blow more strongly and the demon began to reform.
"Can you hate me later, when we're not in danger of dying?" Link called out over the noise. "I'll even let you slap me some more, if you want, but I warn you: I may like it."
Zelda couldn't help it; she chuckled a little. Link knew too well how to press all of her buttons; he could make her laugh just as easily as he could make her angry.
"As soon as we're done," she agreed. "And I promise, you won't like it."
He hoisted his shield, ready for action. "I like it every time you put your hands on me—I just pretend not to like it," he called back, grinning.
The storm-demon materialized, but before Zelda could get a shot off, lightening stuck the rock right behind them, blasting it into fist-size missiles and thousands of flying shards. The impact knocked Link and Zelda both flat on their faces and rained rocks painfully down upon them.
The demon chuckled darkly, causing a ripple of thunder to spread out over the sky. Then he inhaled.
Zelda was stunned and unable to move. The blast had been so loud, she couldn't hear anything but a muffled roar in her ears. But she looked up as a shadow passed by her. Link was crawling across the ground—his clothing rent and bloody where the spray of rock had struck him in the back. He just managed to position himself in front of Zelda and throw up his shield when the demon blew his icy wind again.
The wind hit the shield, forcing him back a few inches, but most of it deflected harmlessly to either side of them.
In the relative safety of the lee, Zelda pulled herself together and pushed herself to her hands and knees.
Link was mouthing something, but between the roar of the wind and the previous damage to her ears, she couldn't hear him.
Are you alright?
That's not very reassuring.
I feel like I've been beaten all over. Do you expect me to say I'm fine?
He smiled a little. If you feel up to being sarcastic, you'll make it.
I don't know… you can be a smart-ass, even when you're very badly hurt.
Yes, but I've survived every time—thus proving my point.
Before she could think of a response, the wind died down. As quickly as she could, she popped to her feet and shot at the demon.
She could see her light arrow disperse through the demon-cloud like crackling lightening. The demon roared in pain, then withdrew back into the dark swirling cloud above it.
Zelda sank back to her knees with a weary sigh.
"This one really has been worse than the first two," she said wearily. "I feel awful."
"Easy for you to say," Link said, sitting down next to her. "I was beaten half to death last time."
"Yes, but you weren't nearly thrown off a cliff," she pointed out.
"But I did have a bear fall on me," he contradicted. "And have you forgotten the vines and the bottomless pits?"
She wrinkled her nose. "Ugh… vines. I hate those damn things."
There was an ominous rumble above them that caused them both to look up. "Get ready," Link said, before pushing himself to his feet with a grunt.
He offered his hand to Zelda and pulled her up. He gestured to her to follow him towards the center of the bowl. "Let's avoid any surprise explosions of rock this time," he said.
"Yes, let's do."
Link stopped near the center of the crater. "We have to be careful," he said, pointing to the last place lightening struck; like the first time, a big hole had been blown in the surrounding ring of rock. "We don't want to get pushed over again," Link said.
A moment later—as if the demon heard them—there was another flash of lightening and the tallest spire of rock on the edge of the crater was struck. In the strange, strobing light created by the lightening, the rock looked as if it was flying through the air in slow motion.
Link grabbed Zelda and pulled her down into a crouch, sheltering both of them under his shield. A second later, the metal shield began to ping and clang as rocks rained down on them.
Link dared to peek out when it sounded like the worst of the explosion was over, only to have to throw the shield up again as the storm-demon blasted them with his icy breath.
"Get ready," Link shouted over the sound of the wind.
Zelda nocked an arrow to her bow and waited behind Link for her chance.
The wind died down and she bounded up, ready to let fly, but… the demon wasn't there. She was momentarily confused, then a chuckle came from behind her.
She wheeled around just in time to get the full blast of arctic air. She was blown backwards, into Link, and the two of them were tossed across the crater. They couldn't even see that they were headed for the new gap in the stone wall.
Just before they were blown off the side of the mountain again, the demon stopped blowing and they were left sprawled on the ground, freezing, bruised, and disoriented.
There was another ominous chuckle nearby, and then the wind began blowing again, sending them rolling back across the crater.
Zelda's mind numbed as quickly as her exposed skin. She didn't know where she was—or which way was up—or what she was supposed to be doing. She didn't have the energy to get up, even when the wind receded. She was like a flake of snow which had no will of its own; it was just blown from place to place.
And then there was a heavy weight on top of her that quickly began to warm her.
She opened her eyes and saw Link lying on top of her. He looked like he barely had the strength to hold up his shield, but he managed to angle it over their heads so that it deflected the next blast.
It's moving, Link said, even his telepathic voice sounding weary. Every time it's done blowing, it moves to a new spot.
Zelda understood what he was saying. In order to catch it for the final time, she would have to shoot where it was going to be, not where it was.
She tried to pull herself together one more time—she needed to study the demon's pattern so she would know where to aim—but as soon as the wind quit blowing, there was another lightening strike directly behind them that sent them sprawling once more.
But Link, at least, seemed prepared for this kind of attack and he didn't let it keep him down too long. He had his shield up, protecting him and Zelda both, as soon as the storm-demon started to blow.
It took Zelda a little longer to recover. She was still half-numb from the cold, but thawing out actually seemed to make things worse; she felt, all too distinctly, the bruises and multitude of cuts that the flying rock shards had inflicted upon her.
Can you make it? Link asked.
I have to, she said, pushing herself to her hands and knees.
We could come back… he offered.
She knew what that would mean: weeks of travel, only to fight their way up the same damn mountain and caves full of demon-fish.
She understood then why Link refused to quit when they were fighting the beast-demon—even though he was black and blue all over and had broken ribs. All their suffering would be in vain if they had to start all over again.
She shook her head. No, let's finish it.
When the wind stops, we make for the center of the crater, he said. That way we shouldn't get blown over the edge and we should avoid any more lightening strikes.
As soon as the wind quit, Link shouted, "Now!" and they ran for the center of the crater. He was able to get his shield up before the next blast, and he and Zelda huddled safely behind it.
Zelda began to get an idea of the demon's pattern of movement as they carefully avoided each of his gusts. Every third gust, he sent down a lightning strike that blasted away another section of the crater.
If they waited too long, there wouldn't be any mountaintop left.
But it didn't matter; Zelda had figured out the pattern of his movements. She waited after the lightning strike—not wanting to accidentally get hit by any flying debris—and the first gust. As soon as that was over, she was on her feet, pointing in almost exactly the opposite direction. She loosed her arrow before there was anything there.
But the demon appeared, just as she knew it would, and it took the arrow directly in its face.
It roared and thundered and the mountain shook so hard, Zelda and Link both were knocked off their feet. The cloud grew darker and darker until, at last, it shattered into a puff of black sparks and smoke. The ominous storm clouds pulled back, too, then gradually dissipated. Before Link and Zelda's astonished eyes, the sky cleared and revealed the beautiful sunset—pink and orange and purple.
They looked at one another, then with synchronized sighs of exhaustion, they laid back against the stony ground and rested.