The Legend of Zelda: The Circle of Destiny

The Dragon Demon

Zelda flew through the golden tunnel of time and space, but almost as soon as it had begun, it was over, and she found herself standing beside Link.

They were at the base of a tall volcanic mountain whose sides had been partially sheered-off so the face was flat and unclimbable. The exposed rock was a glossy black that looked like dark, choppy water frozen into sharp angles. It reflected the light of the rising sun in strange ways that could blind one second and swallow all the light into its blackness the next.

Above them, the mountain was largely quiet, but a steady stream of smoke issued from vents near its top and a glow could be seen even against the lightening sky. Although it was quiet, the threat of a volcanic eruption was still clearly present.

Underneath their feet was the black lava, lined with cracks and fissures. It absorbed the sunlight, then radiated the heat upwards. Even so early in the morning, with the season turning to fall, the heat was uncomfortable on Zelda's feet and legs. In another hour, it would threaten to burn her feet through the leather soles of her boots.

Zelda took in everything in and decided that they must have crossed the boundary between the mortal world and the Dark World on the Other Side. Surely such a grim and inhospitable place could not exist in the mortal world.

"Are you alright?" Link asked.

She nodded slowly and turned her attention to him. "Yes. Are you?"

"I'm fine," he said, but it was clear from his voice that he wasn't. He had dark circles under his eyes and his face was haggard. He looked much older than he really was.

"You need to rest before we try to fight the demon," she said.

He half-laughed. "Here?" he asked in disbelief, gesturing to the alien landscape.

"Maybe we can find someplace a little better?" she asked hopefully.

"Doubtful." He pointed a little ways off and Zelda saw an opening in the side of the mountain. "I think that's probably where we need to go."

She couldn't imagine that the inside of a demon's lair could be much better than the landscape outside, but maybe it would at least be cooler—caves typically were.

"Let's see if we can find a place in there where you can lie down," she said.

He shrugged a little, still looking doubtful, but he walked beside her as they carefully picked their way across the treacherous ground.

The hole in the side of the mountain opened into a tunnel that twisted out of sight. Link pulled out the Master Sword and held it aloft, like a torch, and they went in.

Just out of the sunlight, it was a little bit cooler, but the further they moved into the tunnel, the hotter it got. Within minutes, Zelda was soaked in sweat.

"It's like a furnace in here," she complained.

"Well, it is a volcano," Link pointed out. "What were you expecting?"

"I… thought it might be a little cooler inside—like most caves."

"I don't think it works that way in a volcano."

They turned a bend and saw a reddish-orange light at the end. But even though the light was promising, the heat grew more intense as they approached the end.

They emerged into a huge cavern. There was a spacious stone platform, but beyond that there was nothing but orangey-yellow lava slowly undulating and occasionally erupting in small plops like a porridge cooking at a low boil.

Zelda's eyes went wide at the sight. The descriptions of lava that she had read and the cooled, hardened form on the plains outside didn't fully prepare her for the strange sight.

"What makes it glow?" she said, watching it in equal parts horror and fascination.

Link began sloughing his pack and equipment. "It's rock and metal that's very, very hot. It glows for the same reason that iron glows in a blacksmith's forge."

"How does it get so hot, though? Where's the fire?"

"I don't think there's an actual fire, but I don't know how it gets so hot. Some people say the lava comes from deep underground, but I don't know why it gets hot down there; anytime I've been underground, it's been cool—like in a cave. I don't know why volcanos are the opposite of everything else."

He stripped down to his underwear and linen undershirt. "I guess I could try to take a little nap," he said, finally admitting to his fatigue. "I suppose here is as safe as anywhere else. At least there doesn't seem to be anything to attack us," he added, looking around. But for the plopping sound of the lava, there was no other sound or movement in the cavern.

Zelda took off her load as well, then, with hardly any hesitation, she stripped down to her underwear as well. Her heavy canvas tunic and pants were so soaked with sweat, it looked like she had jumped into a lake. Her linen undergarments were wet, too, but they were lighter weight, and when the hot air stirred, she could feel it all over her skin. The wetness actually helped cool her when the air was able to move through the fabric.

They spread the two tents on the stone floor—which was almost too hot to touch—then Zelda sat down with her back to the wall. Link started to lie down beside her, and when she patted her leg, he curled up next to her with his head in her lap. He laid the Master Sword next to him and put his hand on it, ready for trouble.

"Don't let me sleep too long," he said. "I want to get this over with."

"Alright," she lied. She had every intention of letting him sleep for as long as he could.

She gently stroked his tousled blonde-brown hair, as if she could soothe his mind and relieve him of any thoughts that might give him nightmares.

"That feels nice," he said quietly.

She smiled and continued to pet him. She didn't know at what point he fell asleep, but his breathing became slower and deeper until she was sure that he must be asleep.

She rested her own head against the wall and tried to relax, despite the stifling heat. The lava-heated air—unlike that on a hot summer day—was painfully dry. She was reminded of the time she had slipped away from her nurse and had stolen into the palace kitchens. She had been fascinated with the near-mechanical precision which everyone worked, and instead of being alarmed by her unexpected presence, the cooks and scullery maids had been rather pleased to show off to the little princess. One of them had shown her the row of big bake ovens and had opened the door so she could peer into the darkness and see the doughy loaves rising.

The blast of heat on her face which came from the bread oven—so dry, it felt as if it was sucking all the moisture out of her skin—was very much like the heat from the lava. Only, instead of the yeasty smell of bread, there was a metallic, slightly sulfurous odor that was none too pleasant.

Zelda's mind drifted off to random memories of her childhood. She didn't think of the boring monotony that punctuated most of her days, but of the little changes of routine that seemed extraordinary—despite the fact that, in hindsight, they were quite ordinary. Only a princess could find a kitchen to be such a wondrous delight that she still remembered it a decade later.

Zelda was broken out of her reverie, however, when Link began to make quiet noises that sounded like whimpers. She watched as he slept—his body occasionally twitching and his face moving in and out of a frown.

She didn't know what to do. Should she wake him up, or was it something minor that would pass?

And then, without warning, he sprang to his feet shouting, "It's eating me!"

"What? What's eating you?" Zelda asked, looking around wildly, even as her hand reached for the bow lying beside her.

Link visibly relaxed. "Oh, nothing. It was only a dream," he said wearily.

"You were dreaming that something was eating you?"

He slowly moved to sit beside her again. "Yeah. We were in a cave and something grabbed me from inside a crack in the wall and started to drag me in feet-first. You grabbed me by the arms and were trying to pull me out, but it started to chew on my feet."

He sighed and put his head against the wall. If anything, he looked tireder than before.

"You weren't asleep for very long at all—maybe fifteen or twenty minutes," Zelda said. "Why don't you see if you can sleep a little longer?"

"I'm afraid to," he admitted.

Zelda was stunned by his words. She didn't think Link was afraid of anything.

"I'll wake you up if it looks like you're having a nightmare," she promised.

It took a little more coaxing, but after a few minutes, Link laid down again. Despite his fear, his exhaustion clearly won out, because he was asleep almost as quickly as he closed his eyes.

Zelda carefully watched him sleep. It wasn't long before he began to whimper and twitch again. This time, though, she shook him awake.

"Link, you're dreaming," she said quietly.

He raised his head a little, looking around as if he wasn't sure where he was, then he relaxed against her leg again. "Oh," was all he said. And then he went back to sleep.

The scene repeated itself two more times before he sat up. "Alright, enough of that," he said irritably.

Zelda didn't think he had managed to sleep an hour total, but she guessed that was better than no sleep at all.

Link pushed himself to his feet. "Let's see what we've got to deal with. The quicker this is over, the better."

Zelda hoped his lack of sleep and hurry to finish wouldn't make him careless, but she didn't voice her concern; she didn't want him in an even worse mood.

They walked to the edge of the pool of lava—as close as they could stand, anyway—and took a look around. Unfortunately, there was nothing much to see. The platform where they were standing ended at the lava, and there was nothing to be seen on the other side except the sheer wall of the cavern.

"Where do we go from here?" Zelda asked.

"Maybe it's a puzzle, like the cave with the water in it," Link said, as he looked up, scanning the ceiling.

"If the door to the next room is under the lava, we're in trouble."

"It's up there," Link said, pointing to the far side of the room.

Zelda looked up and saw a small platform and what looked like a door set high on the far wall.

"I'll fly up there, then teleport you," he said. Then he turned to their pile of clothes and equipment. "Let's see what we need to take with us."

Their weapons were put into the "keep" pile, while the tents and pack baskets were fated to be left behind. Link pulled out a small coil of rope, though, and put it into his pouch

"Let's eat some pemmican now and take a cake each for later, but the rest can stay; I don't anticipate us being in here for more than a day," Link said.

They quickly ate, then he put two cakes in his belt pouch.

"We're going to want to carry as much water as we can," he said, as they both took a swig from one of the waterskins. There was only part of one and two full ones left, so Zelda slung one of the full ones across her back and Link took the other two.

"I think we ought to just leave our clothes," he said, looking at the pile. "They do offer some protection against burns, but I think we have just as much—if not more—to fear from heat exhaustion at this point."

"Do you think it will stay this hot?" Zelda asked, wiping her hand across her forehead; sweat was threatening to drip into her eyes.

"Well, it is a volcano; I don't see it getting any cooler," he said practically.

With their supplies divvied up, they returned to the edge of the lava lake, ready to begin their journey into the demon's lair.

Link transformed into an eagle and took flight, but as soon as he was in the air, Zelda knew something was wrong. He immediately flew up to the ceiling and seemed to be struggling against some force that was trying to bang him into the ceiling.

"What's wrong?" Zelda called out. But Link didn't respond; he just continued to fight against whatever had him and wouldn't let him move forward or come back down.

Finally, he managed to inch his way back over the ledge where he had started. Watch out! he warned, before suddenly transforming.

Zelda screamed as he dropped from quite high up. She expected him to transform again at any moment, but he didn't. Instead, he landed lightly on the balls of his feet—his knees bent—and then he was rolling across the floor.

He rolled over two or three times before coming to a stop.

"Well, that didn't work," he said, as he sat on the floor.

Zelda hurried over to him. "Link, what were you thinking! You could have been hurt!"

He looked up at her. "I've jumped from that height before," he said casually. "I knew I wouldn't get hurt." Then he pushed himself to his feet and brushed the dust off his hands. "Besides, that's almost certainly the least dangerous thing I'll do all day, I promise you."

She frowned, but didn't argue. Instead, she asked, "What happened? What had you?"

"Nothing had me."

"It looked like something was beating you against the ceiling."

"That, sweetheart, would be the convection effect from all this lovely lava."

"I don't understand."

"Hot air rises."

"Yes, I know that."

He pointed to the lava. "So, guess what air over really hot lava does?"

She caught on. "It pushes you up too high, too fast."

"Exactly. I can't make any progress against it; it keeps me pushed up against the ceiling."

"Now what?" she asked with an unhappy sigh.

"I did see something while I was up there," he said, even as he reached into his belt pouch.

"What?"

"Something we might be able to use to get across."

"What?" she asked, more eagerly.

Link took the clawshot out of his pouch and slipped it onto his hand.

Zelda shook her head. "You're not."

"Yes, I am."

She shuddered and turned her face away. She still didn't like the thought of being jerked through the air by the powerful device.

Link, however, didn't hesitate to use it. He took careful aim at a metal loop in the ceiling near the door, then he triggered it.

The claw shot out over the lava in the blink of an eye, latched onto the loop, then pulled Link across the room like a fish on the end of a line.

Zelda watched with growing worry. The clawshot wasn't the most dangerous part by half. It was clear, once Link was dangling from the loop, that it wasn't directly over the ledge.

But he didn't seem worried about it, because he began to swing back and forth.

"Dear gods," Zelda whispered in horror. She didn't want to look, but she couldn't stand not knowing what was happening, either.

Link disengaged the clawshot when he was at the peak of his swing, and he sailed gracefully through the air and landed easily on the ledge. Then… nothing happened.

Zelda watched anxiously as Link seemed to be doing something with the door.

"Does it need a key?" she called out.

"Yeah, me."

"…What?"

"Come here."

Zelda closed her eyes, and a second later, she was standing on the ledge beside Link.

"I can't open the door, and there's no keyhole," he said, showing it to Zelda. "But when I was hanging from the ceiling, the door was open; it only closed when I dropped onto the ledge."

He turned back to the loop and aimed the clawshot at it. "Go through the door when it opens," he instructed, "then you can teleport me through."

He shot the claw, and as soon as he was dangling from the loop, the door was triggered and it slid back into the wall.

Zelda stepped into a dark, narrow passageway.

"Now, let's get the timing of this right, because I don't want to accidentally leave the clawshot behind," he said.

"What do you mean?"

"You need to teleport me on the count of three. One… two… three!"

Then, before Zelda's horrified eyes, he disengaged the clawshot and fell out of sight.

"LINK!"

The next second, she was plunged into darkness as the door snapped shut. But a moment later, the tunnel was suddenly illuminated by a pale blue light. Link was standing beside her, holding the Master Sword, and looking like nothing at all was amiss.

She breathed a sigh of relief. She had been so shocked, she hadn't consciously decided to bring her to him, but teleportation had become second nature to them both, so they were able to do it even without conscious thought. And she had certainly wanted to bring him to safety with every fiber of her being.

But her relief quickly turned to anger. "What do you think you're doing!?" she demanded, practically screaming at him.

He actually looked confused. "What?"

"You could have been killed!"

"I could be killed any day of the week, if you hadn't noticed."

"You should have told me what you were going to do!"

"I thought I had made it clear."

"I didn't know you were going to let go when you were dangling over a lava pit!"

"How else should I have done it? I wanted to disengage the clawshot first to make sure it came with me."

She stomped her foot. "You're more important than it is!"

"You don't know that; we might need it again."

"But I definitely need you!"

The more he looked confused by her anger, the angrier she got. It wasn't just that he had done something that could have been fatal, but he seemed either oblivious to the danger or he just didn't take it seriously.

"What's the big deal?" he asked. "I'm not hurt and I'm where I wanted to be."

She ground her teeth and clenched her fists, willing herself not to slap him.

Besides, he would probably like it, and that would only serve to make her even madder.

"Zelda, if you hadn't noticed, we're in an inherently dangerous situation," he said, trying to reason with her.

"But that doesn't mean you should take needless risks!"

"What risk? I knew you would teleport me here before I fell into the lava."

"That's just it: I almost didn't!"

He looked even more confused than before. "What do you mean?"

"I didn't know you were going to actually let go. You surprised me so much, I didn't even think about teleporting you here."

"But… I am here."

"Gods only know why."

"Alright, I'll work on being more clear next time."

"Good." And then, inexplicably, she burst into tears.

"Hey, what's this about?" he asked, looking at her with concern.

She shook her head, unable to answer. She had no more idea why she was crying than he did.

He put his arm around her, holding her close. "Shh… don't cry. I didn't know I had scared you that badly—I certainly didn't mean to."

She rested her head on his shoulder, sniffing. "Just… don't get crazy. I know you're sleep-deprived and in a hurry, but don't be foolish."

He kissed her on top of the head. "Alright, I won't."

She looked up at him. "Mean it. Don't say it just to placate me."

He looked a little surprised. "I always mean everything I say."

"Well… alright," she said grudgingly.

He gave her a little squeeze, then released her. "Now that's settled, how about we get back to finding that demon?"

She nodded, then followed him up the winding passageway. Soon, they were both panting from exertion as they climbed the slope.

"I wonder… if this demon… is at the top… like the one in Erenrue? Link said between pants.

"Seems that way," Zelda said.

And then the tunnel took a sharp turn and they found themselves in an even larger lava-room. But they barely had time to look it over when something stuck its orangey head out of the lava, opened its mouth, and spit a fireball at them.

"Holy shit!"

Link tackled Zelda to the ground; the fireball barely missed high.

"What the hell was that?" Zelda demanded.

"I don't know!" Link replied, sounding practically panicked. He hurried to get his shield, just as two more lava-demons reared their snake-like heads and fired converging fireballs on them.

"Get down," Link said, grabbing Zelda and sheltering her behind his shield. A moment later there was a plink, plink sound as the fireballs hit the mirror shield and bounced off. But, even if they had gone directly back to their source—which they didn't—it didn't matter; the demons had already disappeared below the surface of the lava.

"How can anything live in lava?" Zelda demanded.

"I don't know," Link replied. There was another plink as another fireball bounced off the shield. "I guess the rules don't apply to them; after all, you can't kill them with a regular sword.

There were three more plinks in rapid succession.

"What are we going to do?" Zelda asked, her body already beginning to ache from being crouched down in a fetal position.

Another plink.

"You could try shooting them," Link suggested. "Just wait for my signal; we'll try to time this so you're only facing one at a time; they seem to come up at random."

Zelda awkwardly twisted around to get her bow off her back and to get a Light Arrow out of her quiver.

"I'm ready," she said after a couple of minutes.

Link peeked over the top edge of his shield. "Alright, two more incoming. After that."

He was no more finished speaking when there was a tell-tale plink, plink on his shield.

"Now!"

Zelda rose to her knees and Link moved the shield out of her way. One snake head popped up on one side of the room, then, a moment later, there was another on the right.

Zelda shot the first one before it could spit a fireball, but the second one got its shot off first. Zelda sent an arrow its way anyways, then ducked back down behind Link's shield.

There was a plink on the shield, then a strangled cry from across the room, proving Zelda had found her mark.

"Wait a minute," Link warned. There was a barrage of fireballs against his shield, as if all the remaining demons decided to fire all at once in retaliation.

"Alright, now."

Zelda rose up again, but found the surface vacant. It took a few seconds before the next demon raised its head. Zelda fired, but, before she knew it, two demons—quite close to the edge of the stone ledge, popped up and shot simultaneously. Link had to dive in front of her to block the fireballs. One of them managed to bounce back, though, and hit its maker. And while the demons were obviously impervious to lava, they apparently weren't impervious to their own magic, because when the fireball struck the demon in the head, it collapsed in charred ash.

"Good shot," Zelda said, as they sheltered behind the shield.

"Lucky shot," he corrected. "That was totally unintentional on my part."

They developed a rhythm, and the more lava-serpents that Zelda shot, the easier the task became. After a few more minutes, she took out the last one and the room became quiet, except for the occasional soft plop of the bubbling lava.

"Now where to?" Zelda asked, looking around the room. Like the other one, the door wasn't immediately visible.

Link scanned the walls of the room, then pointed to a stony outcropping high on one wall. "I see another hook or something up there. Maybe there's a hidden door."

Zelda looked away as he aimed the clawshot at the hook and went zooming upwards, out over the lava.

He hung there for a minute, carefully looking around. Then he let out some slack and began to swing from the end of the chain. Zelda had to close her eyes as he disengaged and went flying through the air. She just saw him disappear behind the outcropping of stone.

A moment later he said, Bring me back.

She teleported him back to her side. "We have a problem," he said immediately.

"What?"

"The hook and door work the same as the last one; I have to keep weight on the hook to keep the door open. But that outcropping of stone is so tall, once I drop behind it, I can't see the hook anymore."

"Which… means what?"

"Which means I can't get to the ledge, teleport you up there, then get back to the hook, like before. Once you get on the ledge, there's nowhere you can go. Well, I mean, we could leave and go back to Hols, but then we'd have to travel all this way again."

"What are we going to do?"

Link looked thoughtful. "I think," he said slowly, "that I have to stay on the hook and keep it weighted, so the door stays open."

"Yes, but if you can't get me to the ledge, then it doesn't do us any good."

He looked at her. "I can get you to it."

"How? If you can't get down to the ledge, you can't teleport…. Oh, no," she said, finally cottoning on. "No."

"It's the only way."

"No."

"If you know some other way to do it, I'm willing to try."

"You know that thing," she said, looking distastefully at the clawshot still on his hand, "scares me. And heights scare me."

"After everything we've been through, I would have thought you would have gotten used to being scared by now."

"I have to draw the line somewhere."

"Fine." He took off one of the water skins, then sat down with his back to the wall. He took a drink, then looked up at her expectantly.

Zelda looked back over the lava field and tried to picture the puzzle in her mind and work out a solution that didn't involve her flying over the lava. But, as much as she tried to, she couldn't come up with another solution.

She finally sat down next to Link. "Let me have some of that water," she said, as she pushed back a sweaty strand of hair that was clinging to her forehead. But he didn't move.

She glanced at him and saw his head was drooped down to his chest; he appeared to be sleeping. She knew he hadn't gone to sleep intentionally, so he was obviously more sleep-deprived that he had let on. She decided to let him sleep while she continued to try to figure out the puzzle.

But after only a couple of minutes, Link suddenly startled awake with a yelp.

"You were just dreaming," Zelda said, putting a calming hand on his shoulder.

"Oh," he replied, slumping back against the rock. He looked so worn down and dejected, it made Zelda's heart ache.

If he had to fight off nightmares every time he slept, the least she could do was fight her own fears instead of wasting precious time trying to avoid them. The sooner they got this over with, the sooner Link could sleep at night again.

She pushed herself to her feet. "I can't think of anything else, so let's do it your way."

Link actually looked a little surprised. "Are you sure?"

"Yes. Let's get it over with," she said with a lot more stoicism than she felt. Inside, her guts were starting to quiver like jelly.

Link got to his feet, too, and slung the waterskin over his back.

"Alright, you understand what to do?"

"Unfortunately, yes."

He gestured for her to step closer, then he put his arm tight around her waist.

"Do you realize how much I trust I have in you?" Zelda said, as she put her arms around his neck.

"Do you know how much I love you, and that I would never, ever do anything that would harm you?"

She smiled ruefully. "Except swing me over a pit of lava."

"I wouldn't do it if I thought it wouldn't work," he said seriously. "And, in the unlikely event it doesn't work, I will teleport you back to me. So there's no way you're going to get hurt."

She felt slightly better.

"Ready?" he asked.

She nodded, then immediately buried her face against his shoulder. She heard the clawshot shoot off, then, a second later, they were jerked off their feet and went flying through the brutally-hot air. Zelda held on so tight, it was a wonder Link wasn't choked.

They jerked to a stop and Zelda felt her feet dangling over nothing. It was like the time they nearly fell off the side of the mountain in western Erenrue, except instead of an icy death on the rocks below, she was facing being swallowed up in a soup of molten rock.

"Alright, I'm going to start swinging now," Link warned. Then he began to pump his legs back and forth. Zelda kept her face hidden and tried to pretend she was just on a swing.

"You're going to have to look," Link warned. "You need to see where you're going before you jump."

Her stomach flopped over. The idea of jumping was way worse than flying or swinging over the open lava pit. But she had agreed to put aside her fears and do this, so she forced herself to open her eyes and look.

If she didn't look down, it wasn't too bad. On the upswing, they were within sight of the door, so Zelda concentrated all of her attention on that.

"When you land, remember to land on the balls of your feet and bend your knees," he instructed. "If you need to, you can roll forward as soon as you hit. It doesn't have to be pretty; it just has to be painless."

"Don't give me anymore to think about. I'm much more worried about missing and ending up in the lava."

"You won't end up in the lava; I'll teleport you back here if you miss."

"I'd rather not chance it."

"I agree. But I still don't want you breaking an ankle by landing wrong."

Zelda was getting the feel for the rhythm of the swing as they talked; she could tell when they were at the zenith of their swing. And it looked like they were swinging completely over the wall, so she shouldn't have to do anything but let go at the right moment.

"Alright, I think I'm ready to do this."

They were already swinging backwards.

"Next time forward?" he asked.

She nodded.

"Just tell me when."

So tense she could hardly breathe, she watched as they slowly switched directions, then went rushing back towards the door. She waited until they were slowing down and almost stopped.

"Now!" she said, letting go of him.

He let go at the same time and she fell through the air in a gentle arc. She knew she had cleared the wall almost immediately and she quickly tried to remember what she was supposed to do on the landing.

She landed on the balls of her feet, with her knees bent, but she caught herself with her hands before she went tumbling over. There was a small stab of pain up her right wrist, but nothing major. On the whole, it went quite well.

"Good job!" Link called out.

She walked through the doorway, dusting the dirt from her hands. "I'm ready whenever you are," she said.

"On the count of three. One, two, three!"

Zelda concentrated on him and a second later, he was standing beside her, just as the door snapped closed. But unlike the other tunnel, this one wasn't dark; there was a dim orange light up ahead.

Link put his hands on her shoulders and kissed her on the forehead. "See, I knew you could do it."

"Yes, well, just because I can do it doesn't mean I like doing it."

"Understandable."

They walked up the sloping tunnel towards their next challenge. "The only thing is," Link said, sounding a bit leery about bringing it up, "you shouldn't have caught yourself with your hands; that's a good way to sprain or break a wrist. You should have just let yourself roll forward."

"I didn't want to roll into the wall," she argued. "There wasn't exactly a lot of room there, you know."

"Yes, that's true. But, in general, you're less likely to get hurt if you just roll. Even if you smack your legs into the wall, that's better than hurting your hands or wrists; you can survive with a limp, but it's much harder to survive when you can't handle your weapon properly. The only thing you should protect more than your hands is your head—and that's debatable. Even if you get some of the sense knocked out of you, you can still fight. Stupid people do it all the time," he said with a grin.

They turned a corner in the tunnel and Zelda expected to find another room full of lava, but, instead, the source of light they had been seeing wasn't coming from lava, but from a huge salamander—easily as long as a person was tall, and so wide, its splayed toes nearly touched the wall on either side. Its body was a shimmering orange, as if it was made from lava, and its eyes glowed the tell-tale demonic red.

Before Zelda could get over her shock, the salamander opened its mouth, revealing a throat full of yellowish fire.

Link grabbed her and pulled her back around the corner in the nick of time; a second later, a stream of fire spewed past and hit the other side of the wall. Even out of harm's way, Zelda could feel the heat from it.

"Nothing good ever comes out of a demon's mouth," Link said.

Before they could regroup, the light on the walls grew brighter, and a moment later, the salamander stuck its head around the corner. As soon as it saw them, it opened its mouth again.

Link pushed Zelda behind him and threw up his shield. He barely managed to get it in place before the stream of fire hit it and deflected to either side, momentarily setting the walls of the tunnel on fire.

As soon as the salamander stopped blowing its fire at them, it began to shuffle forward. Link and Zelda began to back away—trying to keep some distance between it and them—and Zelda took her bow in hand.

"Wait until it's done," Link said. A moment later, the salamander stopped and opened its mouth again.

They huddled behind the protection of the shield again, and when the creature was done, Link pulled the shield away and Zelda shot at it.

Even though it was only a few feet away from them, and even though Zelda could clearly see her arrow disappear into its body, nothing happened to the salamander; it kept coming towards them without missing a step.

They backed away again. "This is not good," Link said, sounding worried.

"Why didn't it work?" Zelda asked, as they took shelter behind his shield again.

"I don't know. But I do know we're going to run out of room very quickly."

"Maybe I should hit it again? The big demons take multiple shots."

"Try it."

As soon as the salamander stopped breathing fire, Zelda got off two rapid shots—neither of which seemed to hurt it in the slightest.

"Maybe light doesn't hurt it since it's made of fire," she said, getting behind the shield again.

"Your arrows worked on the lava-snakes well enough," Link pointed out.

They were forced to back up farther. They were within sight of the closed door they had come through.

"I'm going to try this time," Link said. As soon as the salamander stopped again, Link rushed forward and struck it several times in the head. It flinched slightly and stopped moving forward, but the Master Sword seemed to have no more effect on it than the Light Arrows.

"It's a tough little bastard," Link said, retreating behind his shield once more.

"Could you fly over it and then teleport me?"

"Possibly, but then it will be behind us, chasing us to the next room. And if there are fire-spitting snakes in the next room, and this is behind us, we'll be in even worse trouble that we are now."

Zelda glanced behind her; their backs were almost against the door. "We're in a lot of trouble right now."

"I know."

Then Zelda remembered fighting the giant rhinoceros; it, too, had been impervious, except in its vulnerable spots: the eyes and the mouth.

"Let me try one more time," Zelda said over the rush of the fire.

"Alright. If that doesn't work, though, I'm going to give you the shield, then fly ahead.

She nodded. As soon as the lizard quit firing, Link lowered his shield. Zelda fitted an arrow to her bow, but waited to shoot. The lizard moved forward again, backing them up until they couldn't go any farther.

"What are you waiting for? Shoot it!" Link said.

"I'm going to shoot it in the mouth; don't get in my way," she said, stepping ahead of him so he couldn't shield her.

"What!?"

The salamander opened its mouth, revealing the bright yellow fire inside. But before it could blow it out, Zelda loosed and sent her arrow right down its throat.

It howled and stomped in pain and anger, then, a second later, it snuffed out of sight, leaving them in a cold, dark tunnel lit only by the dim blue light of Link's sword.

Zelda breathed a sigh of relief. But it was Link's turn to be angry at her. "What were you thinking?" he demanded. "If that hadn't worked, it would have killed you."

"But it did work."

"But it might not have, and you left yourself open and vulnerable."

"Was there some other way I could have done it and not have been in danger?"

Link didn't respond.

"And I think it was you who was just saying a little while ago that we're in danger all the time, so what does this matter? What's the difference?"

"You know I hate it when you make me eat my own words."

"It's bitter, isn't it?" Zelda said with a thin smile. "I ought to know; you make me do it, too."

They began walking up the tunnel once more. "It's a good thing we like one another," Link said, "because I'm not sure if anyone else could stand us."

"I guess we'll find out when we go home."

"If we don't get ourselves killed—or kill each other—before then," Link replied.

The next room was different. As soon as they came into view of the lava pool within it, lava snakes began popping up and shooting fireballs at them. But a bridge went across the lava and a door was easily visible on the other side.

"Ha!" Link said, drawing back into the tunnel, just outside the sight and range of the snakes. "All we have to do is cross the bridge. How good are you at shooting on the move?"

"I've never tried it."

"So maybe not quite as easy as I first thought. …But, if we run fast enough, we ought to be able to outrun the fireballs; they can't change course once they're in the air, and I don't think those demons are clever enough to lead their shots."

"Or I could just cross as a horse," Zelda suggested. "Remember the fish? They didn't try to attack us when we were in our animal forms."

Link shook his head a little. "You're still better at this Hylian stuff than I am," he admitted.

Zelda transformed into a horse and cautiously stuck her head out around the corner. When no lava-snakes appeared, she set off across the bridge at a trot.

Almost immediately, though, she stepped on something that made a grating noise and she immediately stopped and looked down. There, in the stonework, was a stone that was lighter in color than the rest. When she put her hoof on it, it sank a couple of inches, making the grating noise that she had first heard.

What the purpose of the stone was, she couldn't tell.

"What's wrong?" Link called out to her, peeping around the corner.

Nothing. Yet, she added. She still wasn't sure what the stone did, but she didn't want to press it again and find out.

She continued on her way, seeing more of the light-gray stones scattered in regular intervals across the bridge. She carefully avoided them.

Once across, she found that the door was shut and there was no apparent way to open it. There wasn't even a keyhole.

We have a problem, Zelda told Link.

She could hear him sigh. I should have known this would not be that easy.

There's no way to open the door that I can find. We might be able to force it open, but that would require us both to be in human form.

Which means we have to take out the demons first.

Yes. And I have an idea on how to do it.

What, the way we were doing it before isn't good enough? Link teased.

I think I know how to do it faster.

Tell me.

Get your shield and come out. The demons should appear and start shooting at you. They will have their backs to me, though, so I should be able to transform and shoot them from behind.

…That does sound like a good plan, he admitted.

I have those occasionally, you know, she retorted.

Link did as Zelda suggested and, as she predicted, the snakes began to pop up and shoot at him.

She transformed and began taking them out rapidly. She killed five before some began to pop up and aim in her direction. She had to concentrate on dodging the fireballs, which left her no time to take aim.

I don't like this, Link said. You're going to get hurt. Come back to me.

Zelda teleported behind the safety of Link's shield.

"That halfway worked," she said, as fireballs plinked against the metal shield.

"There are more of them this time, and they're timing their shots so they're almost continuous," Link said. "I'm glad you took out the ones that you did, because this is going to be a lot more difficult than before."

Then his face lit up. "I have a better idea. Get behind cover."

They backed up until they were in the safety of the tunnel. "You can't shoot on the move, but I can," Link said. "Let's combine my original idea with part of yours."

He had Zelda give him her bow and arrows. Even though she was just handing them over to Link, she still felt like she was stripping away a part of herself. Her back—warmed by the constant presence of the quiver—felt naked and cold.

She didn't have to worry about it too long, though, because the next step was for her to transform back into a horse. Link leapt lightly onto her back and nocked a light arrow in preparation.

"It's been a long time since I shot from horseback," he warned, "and I'm probably really rusty. We may need to do this more than once."

Zelda took them out of the confines of the tunnel, then began to canter across the bridge. The snakes began to pop up and shoot at Link, but as he suspected, they weren't able to aim at a moving target, so everything went behind them.

Link had much better aim than they did—although he wasn't as good as Zelda when she was stationary. He took out four demons, but missed three.

When they reached the other end of the bridge, Zelda quickly stopped, wheeled around, and started back the other way—narrowly missing a fireball in the process. Once she was back up to speed, though, the demons began to miss by a wide margin. Link, however, was as accurate as before.

It took one more crossing before Link finally finished off the last of the lava-snakes.

"Now, let's see about this door," he said, handing Zelda's equipment back to her.

He put his hands against it and tried to push. Zelda hurried to help, putting her shoulder against it. But as hard as they pushed, it didn't open.

Link stopped and took a step back. "I don't think it should be this hard," he said. "If it was going to open, it would open."

"Which means what?"

"It's locked and we have to figure out how to unlock it," he replied, already looking around. Then he pointed up. "What's that?"

Zelda looked up, squinting. "It looks like a little ledge and… there's something on it, but I can't tell what."

"There are more of them," Link said, pointing to different parts of the room. In total, there were six ledges around the top edge of the room. All of them looked too small for a person to stand on. It wasn't clear, from that distance, what was perched on them.

Link transformed into an eagle.

"Be careful," Zelda warned. She could see the air all around them wavering with the heat from the lava; Link wouldn't find it easy to fly against.

But he didn't do anything for a few seconds but look around, then, just as suddenly, he returned to his human form. "They're rocks," he announced.

"What?"

"I can see much better as an eagle," he said, explaining why he transformed. "There are rocks on every ledge."

"Do you think there's something under them? Like a key?"

Link was already reaching into his belt pouch. "We're about to find out."

"How?"

He pulled out the mechanical glove they had won from the Demon of Illusions. "Master Gardamon said this is a telekinesis device."

"A what?"

"Telekinesis—it means moving stuff without touching it."

Zelda caught on. "So you're going to move the rocks and see if there's anything under them?"

"Exactly."

"But… how does it work?"

"I don't know. But we're about to find out."

Link lifted his gloved hand, stretching it out towards the ledge. A moment later, the rock was whizzing across the room towards them. He caught it easily.

"How did you do that?" Zelda asked.

"Apparently you just have to want something to come to you and it will come. Now, whether it works for things you can't see, I don't know."

They examined the rock, but there was nothing unusual about it; it was roughly the size of a chicken and about three times as heavy. There didn't appear to be anything on the ledge where it had been, either.

Link continued to draw rocks to their position, but the rocks continued to be unremarkable and the ledges continued to be empty.

He frowned after the last rock proved to be as useless as its predecessors. "Well, that didn't work."

He squinted as he looked up at the ledges again. "I wonder if there's some sort of button or something on the surface of the ledge that we can't see from here."

His words sparked Zelda's memory. "Oh!"

He looked at her questioningly.

"There are loose rocks on the bridge," she said, hurrying over to one of the light-colored stones. "They move up and down, kind of like a button."

Link followed her and looked down at the stone with a serious expression. Then he put his foot on it and pushed it down with a slight grating sound.

"I stepped on one at the beginning, but I avoided the rest because I was afraid something bad might happen," she explained.

Link continued to stare down at the rock with a look of deep concentration. He pushed it up and down with his foot several more times. Zelda cringed, afraid every time he did so that something would happen, but nothing did.

Finally, Link picked up one of the rocks and set it down on the stone; it stayed depressed.

"Get the rest," he finally said.

Together, they picked up the remaining rocks and they put one on each loose stone. There were as many stones as there were loose rocks.

As soon as Link placed the last one, the door on the far side rattled open.

"How did you know to do that?" Zelda demanded.

Link shrugged. "It's just a big puzzle. If you can be certain—or reasonably certain—of absolutes—like the door will open and we've been given the tools to open it—then it's just a matter of trying combinations of stuff until it works out."

"Yes, but how did you figure out that the rocks needed to hold the stones down?"

He shrugged again. "It just seemed like a good idea. Why give us something heavy, like a rock, if it's not meant to hold something down?"

"Yeah, but you assume these demons are logical," Zelda argued.

"Oh, they're quite logical," he contradicted. "They want to exhaust us physically and mentally before confronting us directly."

They moved on and found another flame-breathing salamander in the next tunnel. But, knowing what to do now, Zelda finished it off before it could fire at them a second time.

There were three more rooms like the ones they had already been through. They fell into a routine of taking out the lava snakes, then using either the clawshot or telekensis glove to open the next door. Then they took out one or two of the fire salamanders and moved on to the next room. All the time, they were moving upwards.

"Is it just me, or is it getting hotter?" Zelda complained, as they walked up another steep tunnel. Their linen underwear was soaked with sweat and clinging to them like a second skin. Zelda would have been embarrassed at revealing so much if she hadn't been hot past the point of caring.

"I think it's getting hotter," Link said, wiping sweat from his forehead.

"I kind of miss the mountain full of lakes—even if I did almost drown," she said.

"I think I miss the Erenrue mountains covered in snow—even if I did almost freeze to death there," Link said.

"So, we're in agreement: this is the shittiest demon's lair so far?"

Link glanced at her. "You know, you're really going to have to work on your language when we get back; most people find cursing unbecoming of a princess—and queen. Although, I blame myself for getting you in the habit."

Zelda laughed. "Link, you have nothing on my father—except for that one time. That one time, you were worse than anything I've ever heard before, but other than that, you are mild compared to him. And if no one gave him grief for cursing, then why should they chastise me for it?"

"Because people have different standards for men and women."

"Piss on their standards."

It was Link's turn to laugh. He put his arm around Zelda's shoulders, and she couldn't help but smile inwardly; it was a gesture of comradery—and something she had wanted since very early in their relationship. He was treating her like an equal.

"Zelda, sweetheart," he said, slowly shaking his head, "I hope Hyrule is ready for you—that's all I can say."

His words reminded her of what she had been thinking about when she was alone in the desert. "I hope so, too," she said seriously. "Because I'm going to be who I am. I'm not going back in my cage."

He looked at her sympathetically, then smiled. She knew that he approved—and that he liked her exactly the way she was.

The tunnel grew steeper, making their calves ache as they climbed it. It was also much longer than any they had been in before. It seemed to leading to something different.

"I… think… I… need… a break," Zelda panted. She was feeling a little light-headed from a combination of exertion and heat. And despite drinking regularly from the waterskins, they seemed to be losing fluids faster than they could take them in.

"I… see… a light… up ahead," Link said, just as breathless.

Zelda forced herself to keep going, not wanting to stop so close to the end.

They emerged in a room three times as large as any they had been in before. When they looked up, they saw the top part of the curved roof was missing—like the top sliced off a hard-boiled egg. The sky above it was a deep pink and fading fast. They had been in the volcano all day.

The room, oddly enough, had a solid floor—no lava—but despite being open to the evening sky, it was hotter than any place they had been yet.

Link looked behind them. "This is it," he said quietly.

Zelda turned around and noticed a door had closed, cutting off the tunnel. That meant the master demon was somewhere nearby.

They waited a minute, but nothing happened.

"Should we ask if it's home?" Zelda whispered.

Link laughed. "Maybe."

But before they could figure out what to do, a screech pierced the sky far above their heads. They both looked up and watched as a dark shape circled the top of the volcano, gradually becoming larger as it moved downward.

As it came closer, they made out a huge red-orange body that glistened as if was made from a myriad of rubies flashing in the firelight. It had huge wings, too, that were a pinkish-red color and of a velvety-soft skin like a bat's wings.

"I think… I think it's a dragon," Link said breathlessly, as he watched the great beast descend towards them.

Zelda was filled with dread. "A real one, or a demon one?" she asked anxiously.

"I don't think it matters, to be honest," he replied. "We're in a lot of trouble either way."

It soon became apparent that Link was right; the huge creature was indeed a dragon. They watched in horrified fascination as it entered the top of the volcano and slowly settled its enormous bulk onto the floor in front of them. It seemed to fill a quarter of the room.

It peered at them with red, bulbous eyes that had no pupils or whites. "Is this the hope of the world?" it asked in a deep, lisping voice. "Are these the two tiny creatures who have killed the best demon-lords in the Dark World?"

He lowered his long, snake-like neck and looked at them more closely. Link inched in front of Zelda so she was partially shielded by him, but she didn't see that it made much difference; the dragon-demon could easily eat both of them in one bite.

He was obviously thinking along the same lines because he began to chuckle—a deep rumble that Zelda could feel vibrate in the stone beneath her feet.

"The two of you wouldn't be a mouthful for me," he said. "I can't believe you caused so much trouble to my brethren."

"Believe it," Link said defiantly—although his voice sound small and weak compared to the voice of the dragon, which filled the entire room.

That only made the dragon laugh more. "You are brave, little man, but you have fought demons closer to your own size. And now, you have me!"

At this, he reared back on his hind legs and spread his wings out full. From tip to tip, they spanned the entire room. His head nearly touched the edge of the roof.

"What think you now?" the dragon demanded. "Are you not terrified?"

"No." Link replied.

The dragon laughed. "You lie!"

Zelda would have never said so out loud, but she thought Link must be lying as well; how could he not be terrified? She was.

"I don't lie," Link replied calmly. "You worry me—because I don't know how to tackle you—but you don't scare me."

"Bold words for someone barely as big as one of my claws!" the dragon taunted. "Try to tackle me if you can, little man!"

The dragon lifted up from the floor, flapping his wings and creating a downdraft so strong, Link and Zelda had to lean into it to keep from being blown off their feet.

The dragon raised up until he was nearly out of the top of the volcano, then he suddenly pulled his wings in and fell, feet-first, back to the floor.

The impact shook the floor so hard, Link and Zelda were both knocked down. Zelda was still a little breathless and dazed when Link grabbed her and jerked her across the floor. A second later, the stone she had been lying on crumbled and disappeared into a hidden vat of lava.

Zelda sat up and looked around. The outer edge of the floor all the way around the room had dropped away, revealing a pool of lava under it. Now they knew why the room was so hot.

The dragon laughed, then began to lift itself again.

Link pulled Zelda to her feet. "Let's get away from the edge," he said.

"Do you have any idea what to do with this thing?" she said, as they moved out of the way.

"I thought we might try the eyes and the mouth, like we did with that rhinoceros."

Zelda nodded and made ready to shoot.

The dragon thumped down on the floor again. Even though they were prepared for it, the shaking still knocked Link and Zelda off their feet. But before the tremors had completely stopped, Zelda was up again, taking aim. She shot directly for the dragon's gleaming eye.

The light arrow flew straight and true. But when it hit the dragon's glossy eye, it skipped off—just like it did when Zelda shot at the Mirror Shield—and it ended up impacting the roof above the dragon's head instead.

The dragon laughed. "Surely you don't expect me to be as weak as my predecessors? Or that I would make their mistakes?

"Let's see what you think about this," he said, taking in a deep breath.

Zelda darted behind the safety of Link's shield and he braced for what both of them naturally assumed would be a spray of fire. But instead a silent, purple smoke came pouring over the top of the shield and billowing up underneath it, engulfing Link and Zelda both like a fog. They began to cough and gasp for breath.

The smoke had a simultaneously sweet and sickly smell, and it was so cloying, Zelda felt she could hardly breathe. It filled her lungs and left little room for clean air.

She wasn't even aware of falling to her hands and knees.

There was a laugh, then the floor began to shake violently again, threatening to make her fall flat on her face.

Link took her by the arm and tried to tug her to safety, but his grip was like that of a child's; he seemed unable to actually pull on her.

A moment later, though, a burning sensation in her foot snapped her out of the daze that she was in. She jumped to her feet, dancing around in pain. Apparently her foot had been on the edge of the floor when it broke away, and it had gotten too close to the lava; when she looked down, the toe of her leather boot was blackened and singed completely away at the tip. She could see her burned toes peeking out.

She let out a slew of obscenities to match anything Link had ever managed.

Link staggered to his feet, looking drugged. Whereas pain had cleared Zelda's head of the dragon's fog, Link still seemed to be caught in its grasp.

"Did I give you the hot foot?" the dragon taunted, laughing.

Zelda whipped out an arrow and shot it in its mouth, but that had no more effect than shooting it in the eye—except that it made it laugh even louder.

Link put his hand on her arm, pushing it down a little. "Lower," he croaked.

She looked at him. "What?"

"Aim lower. Belly."

Zelda looked back at the dragon and saw what Link was talking about. Where a person's navel would be, there was a pinkish scale that was lighter than the rest of the ruby-red ones. It looked weaker than the others—more flesh-like and less rock-like.

The dragon started to lift off again, but Zelda grabbed another arrow and shot at the weak-looking spot.

The dragon's answering roars were so loud, Zelda and Link both clamped their hands over their ears as the deafening sound echoed around the stone room.

The dragon thrashed around mid-flight, then came crashing down. Luckily, Link and Zelda were thrown forward, away from the next section of floor that fell away.

It took all three combatants a moment to pick themselves up.

"That will be the last time you do that," the dragon said, his mocking voice becoming hard and angry. Then, before they could react, he breathed out his purple smoke again.

It was worse than before—as if the dragon's anger gave it more power. Or maybe its effects were just cumulative. Zelda found herself on her knees—too weak and dizzy to stand—and throwing up. She could hear Link on the other side of her, retching as well.

She was so sick—sicker than she had ever been before. She wanted to lie down and just give in to her misery. But, at the same time, the sharp burning pain in her toes kept her from doing it. She knew she could find no rest while her toes burned.

As the purple fog faded, so did her vomiting. She turned to find Link curled up in the fetal position beside her, looking half-dead.

"Link, get up," she croaked; her voice sounded old and wizened, like it belonged to a woman a hundred years older.

Link didn't respond.

Zelda took one of the waterskins from his belt and splashed it on his face. "Wake up!"

He jerked a little and opened his eyes.

Zelda splashed some of the water in her own face and found it made her feel a little more clear-headed.

They got to their feet slowly, finding their knees weak and unsteady. Link seemed to be dealing with the fog even worse than Zelda; she could see him trembling all over with the effort of staying upright.

The dragon was flying around the ceiling, growling angrily; it seemed to be in too much pain to notice them at the moment.

Zelda nocked another arrow, but the dragon kept twisting and turning so quickly, she couldn't get a good bead on its soft spot again.

"It's moving too fast," she complained, as she continued to try and track it. "Can we do anything to make it stop or slow down, at least?"

Link shook his head. "I don't know what we could ever do to rein in something that much bigger than us." Zelda felt his hand, warm and reassuring, against her back. "You can make this shot," he said. "You're the best archer I've ever known."

She felt warm on the inside; the pain in her foot and her lingering queasiness faded into the background. With newfound confidence, she took a deep breath and held it while taking aim.

The dragon made a turn and she quickly loosed her arrow before it could turn again.

The white bolt flew to its target.

The dragon roared louder than before and began to thrash around, hitting its long tail and head against the ceiling. Chunks of stone began to break off and fall to the floor with a loud crash.

Link pushed Zelda down, and she huddled on the shaking floor, her hands covering her head. Link covered her body with his own, holding his shield over them, trying to deflect the worst of the rain of destruction

Rocks bounced off the shield with a dull thud that could be heard even over the dragon's roars. But some of the rocks hit exposed feet and arms instead, causing them to yelp with pain. But there was nothing to do but wait it out and pray a massive rock didn't crush them.

The floor was shaking so much from the impact of the falling ceiling, they barely noticed when the dragon fell onto the floor again. With an angry roar, he belched a huge amount of purple smoke and it enveloped them almost immediately.

Zelda didn't think there could possibly be anything left on her stomach, but she began heaving again anyways. And she was horrified when she saw a bright red liquid splatter on the floor.

She heard Link behind her, retching as well, and then he moaned "Oh, gods."

She knew then that the same thing was happening to him. But she couldn't stop throwing up blood long enough to say anything to him. There was so much, she wondered at how she could still be alive. She wouldn't have been surprised if organs started coming out next.

The fog slowly dissipated and their vomiting finally subsided. They ended up sitting on the floor, backs to each other, weakly holding each other upright.

"That fog is poisonous," Link whispered, barely able to speak.

"Are we dying?" Zelda asked.

"I'd have to say yes. One more hit and we'll bleed to death inside. And even if we don't get hit again, it may happen anyways. I'm betting we've been bleeding on the inside since the last time."

"Maybe we should leave while we're still conscious," Zelda suggested. Inside, she was praying Link would agree to leave; she was terrified.

Link looked up. The ceiling was almost completely gone and the dragon was flying high above the volcano—its long tail drooped down to about the level where the ceiling had been.

"I'd be afraid for either of us to stay here alone," he said. "And if we both go and have to spend weeks getting back here, the dragon will have time to heal up and we'll have to start all over again."

Zelda didn't like the idea of that any more than he did. But... "This won't matter if we both die," she pointed out.

"I think I can hold out a little bit longer, if you can."

Zelda desperately wanted to say no, she was ready to give up. But her pride and sense of obligation to Link wouldn't let her.

"Alright," she reluctantly agreed.

Getting up proved to be a challenge. Link used a large, ragged chunk of rock to haul himself to his feet. He offered his hand to Zelda, but he wasn't able to pull her up; he had no strength. Zelda ended up using the same rock as a prop.

"Now what?" she panted, as they both leaned against the rock, not trusting their legs to fully support them.

"Hit it again," Link replied. "The third time's usually a charm."

"It'll be our luck this bastard needs four hits."

"Wouldn't it just."

Zelda looked up at the dragon circling the sky overhead, but she could barely make it out in the darkness—much less see its weak point.

"Even if I could see what I was aiming at, there's no way I could hit it; he's too far away." She turned back to Link. "Do we wait for it to come back down?"

"Do we know that it will?" he asked. "And we're kind of running on a deadline here. I'd like to get out of here with all my internal organs still on the inside."

They rested against the rock in silence for a moment. Zelda tried to think about how to get high enough to make the shot—or get the dragon to come back down—but all she could think about was how awful she felt and the fact that she was probably dying even as she stood there.

"I have an idea," Link said after a minute.

"What?"

He pointed up. "I think we can reach the dragon's tail. If we were that high up, I think you could get your shot."

"What are you talking about?" she asked, starting to question his sanity. "What do you mean 'reach the dragon's tail?'"

Link pulled out the clawshot and put it on his hand.

Zelda was still confused. "Do you think you can catch it and pull it back down?" she asked. Even when they were in healthy and in their prime, there was no way they could have so much as moved one of the dragon's fingers, much less all of it.

"No. But I think we could go up to it."

Zelda stared at him, her eyes wide in horror. Surely he hadn't said what he just said.

"You're not serious."

"Do you have a better idea?"

She considered it for a moment. "What about the telekinesis glove? Do you think it's powerful enough to bring the dragon down?"

Link started to look hopeful, then he looked around at what remained of the room. The combination of the dragon's strikes and the collapsing ceiling had caused more than half of the floor to fall away.

"We can't bring it down," Link deduced. "There's nowhere for us to go; it would land on our heads."

"But we can't go up there, either," Zelda argued. "I mean… you could go up, but how are you going to get me up there?"

"I'll hold you."

She laughed bitterly. "Link, you can't hold up yourself, much less me. And even if, by the grace of all the gods, you managed it, I don't know how I would shoot; I wouldn't have room to draw my bow back."

He frowned, considering her argument. Then he started rifling through his belt pouch, as if hoping to find a solution in it.

Then his eyes suddenly lit up and he took out a length of rope.

"I have an idea," he said.

Zelda just shook her head; she didn't even want to know. It was almost certainly something hare-brained and dangerous and likely to get them killed. She would have been a bit more concerned if they weren't already dying.

Link tied one end of the rope around his waist, then tied the other end around Zelda's. "Now, I don't have to try to hold you, and you're free to shoot."

"This is not going to work."

"Believe me, I'm open to other options."

The unfortunate part was that Zelda didn't have any alternatives. So she said nothing.

Link took her silence to be acceptance. "Right, let's do this." He affixed the clawshot to his hand, then took aim at the dragon's tail. "You might want to hold on," he warned.

Zelda hastily grabbed the rope with her right hand, gripping her bow more tightly in her left. A second later, Link triggered the clawshot. They watched for a couple of breathless seconds as it flew up towards the dragon—would it be long enough to reach?—then it latched on and they were suddenly jerked off their feet.

Zelda closed her eyes as the floor quickly receded; the vertigo that it engendered certainly did nothing to help her upset stomach. The painfully-tight rope around her waist didn't help, either.

And then they jerked to a sudden stop. Zelda opened her eyes and found that Link was dangling from the dragon's tail and she was dangling from him. Amazingly enough, the first part of his plan seemed to be working.

"Shoot it before it notices we're here," Link shouted over the wind rushing past them.

But the dragon never glanced back; apparently the two of them were so small, their weight was of no notice.

Zelda let go of the rope to pull out an arrow, but when she did, she fell backwards, so she ended up looking up at the sky. It was actually a better position, because she was also looking up at the dragon—and could easily see its soft spot—but it felt horribly awkward to handle her bow from a prone position.

"My arm won't hold out forever," Link said, his voice strained with effort.

"You try shooting while hanging upside down and being flown through the air," Zelda retorted.

"You're only halfway to being upside down," he shot back. "Besides, if you want to try holding yourself and another person up by a single arm—while being flown through the air—I'd be happy to switch with you."

Zelda didn't know why, but bickering with Link when they were in serious trouble made her feel better. She supposed it was a way to ignore reality.

She finally managed to nock an arrow to her bow and get it drawn back. She had to wait a moment while she twisted at the end of the rope. When she was as still as she could hope for, she took the shot.

The arrow impacted the dragon's belly, but nothing happened.

"I missed," she said, disappointed.

"Try again."

But then something did happen: the dragon noticed them.

"You two!" he shouted, as he looked back over his shoulder.

He abruptly changed his course, diving towards the floor. He whipped his tail up behind him—tossing Link and Zelda up into the air so hard and fast, it made both of them scream—then they were dragged down with him.

He was going to slam into the floor—and they would slam into it, too, when his tail came down. And, unfortunately, instead of hanging below him—with a clear view of his belly—they were actually above him.

"I don't have a shot," Zelda shouted.

"Do you trust me?" Link asked.

"Yes," she said without hesitation.

"Take the shot; I'll do the rest."

Before she could ask him to explain himself, he retracted the clawshot then transformed. He immediately spread his wings and flew up, leaving Zelda falling alone through space.

She wasted a precious second staring, mouth agape, at the empty rope flapping uselessly in front of her. Then she hurried to grab an arrow, seeing what Link had foreseen.

The dragon was continuing on its diagonal course downward, but now freed from the drag of its tail, Zelda was falling straight down. She had less distance to traverse to the ground, so she was "catching up" with the plummeting dragon.

As the floor began to rush up towards her, she, at last, was in a position to see the dragon's belly again.

She only had once chance.

Praying to all the gods for help, she loosed her arrow.

It streaked through the air like a lightning bolt. She knew it had hit home when the dragon began to buck and writhe and screech.

A second later, it exploded in a massive ball of black smoke and sparks and Zelda fell into it.

But then there were knives raking across her left shoulder, drawing blood and causing her to scream.

Sorry! I can barely see you.

Zelda looked up. A moment later, the smoke began fading away and she could see Link above her. He had one claw around the leather quiver strap that crossed her right shoulder, but on the other side, he only had a claw full of her thin linen shirt—and maybe a bit of her flesh.

His grip was tenuous, to say the least.

Go to Hols! Now! Now! Now!

Link was slowing her descent, but it was clear he wasn't going to stop her fall or even get it down to a manageable speed. And the floor was so very near.

She closed her eyes, willing herself to travel to Hols. A moment later, she was flying safely through the tunnel of golden light.

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