Til the Sun Grows Cold and the Stars Grow Old by LadyNorbert
Chapter Seven: My Heart Doth Tremble to Unfold
While I had little enough reason to be fond of anything which had used them to enter Hyrule, I nevertheless had to admit that the Twilight portals were very useful. Midna was able to make use of them a number of times, propelling us to the distant corners of the kingdom with barely a thought. Where it might have taken me a day or more to run to Faron Woods in my wolf form, our return there from Hyrule Castle was swift; it was also much safer than the overland journey might well have been, considering how likely it was that my fearful visage would have invited attacks.
I knew Faron Woods well, or so I thought, and I was not a little surprised to think that the Blade of Evil's Bane slept within its confines. Not that I doubted Zelda -- how could I? -- but it did make me wonder how it was that I had never before come across it. I couldn't share these thoughts with Midna, so I pondered them alone. It must all be connected with the ancient destiny, I reflected; there must be some sort of magic which diverted me from entering that part of the forest until the time was right.
I could remember, dimly, other instances in which my other selves had drawn the Master Sword from its place of rest. Often I'd had to acquire three sacred objects before I could make the attempt -- stones, jewels, medallions, keys of some sort -- one object for each of the three goddesses. It was their way of testing me, reinforcing to themselves and to me and to anyone else that I was truly the one they intended should wield it. It was encouraging, and distracting, to realize that I was starting to remember things of my own free will, rather than having them force themselves upon my consciousness.
We'd not gone far into the trees when I heard screeching of a somewhat familiar sort. Around a bend in the path we encountered the monkey -- the self-same monkey who had shared a cage with Talo at the mouth of the forest temple, and later led me through its mazelike depths to rescue her fellows. I couldn't help my sense of bewilderment at her plight, however; she was being attacked by what looked for all the world like a child's wooden toys. These apparent toys were themselves very nearly as large as children. They danced madly, their painted faces contorted with madman's glee. They outnumbered her and were giving absolutely no quarter, as she cowered by a tree with her paws over her eyes. I was spoiling for a fight, to release some of my pent-up grief and anger at the loss of my love, so I set upon the demon puppets and shattered them to splinters.
"Did you save me?" the monkey asked, uncovering her eyes and peering at me. "Th-thank you!" She loped over to my side and studied me curiously. "Listen...since you're so nice, I'll tell you a secret. Over this cliff there's a really pretty wooded area. I was trying to go there when those guys attacked me -- if you go, be careful." She tilted her head to one side and then the other.
"Thank you for the advice."
"You seem so familiar...your smell seems familiar," she mused. "I know. It reminds me of a human prince who was dressed in green, who once saved my life."
She called me a prince. A compliment of the highest order to be sure, and yet in light of what befell my princess, the word struck me almost like a blow.
"We meet again. ...There are but a few hidden skills left for me to teach you. I have warned you of this before, but if you fail to execute the hidden skill I am about to teach you, your life may be forfeit... Do you still wish to master this skill?"
Why I am humoring this shade, I really do not know. What can he teach me now that will be of any real use? My grief is affecting my skill, and he is deeply displeased.
"What ails you? Coward! I thought you were worthy of my tutelage! Come at me again!"
I do not wish to play this game any longer. And yet...and yet it is almost as if she is beside me, urging me on. Do not despair...do not give up... For her sake, I must keep fighting.
"Better," grunts the shade. "You are already endowed with the strength required of the hero. Do you not already feel the courage granted by this strength as it guides you step by step toward your true enemy? Believe in your strength."
The lost woods. Oh, yes, I remembered the lost woods. One step in the inappropriate direction, and you became hopelessly turned around. The only way to navigate them successfully was to keep your chosen destination firmly in your mind at all times, and rely on instinct to guide you on the true path. I had walked these paths, circling endlessly, in many of my old lives. One path led to a now-crumbling graveyard, where a man who lived under a headstone had once gifted me with what he called the Magical Sword. It is supposed by many of our historians that the Magical Sword and the Master Sword are the same, but none have ever known why, on that particular occasion, it had been concealed in a grave. Even I, the chosen one who wielded the blade, have never known the answer.
I heard a chittering sort of noise in the underbrush, and bared my teeth. There was something familiar about the sound. Even Midna seemed unnerved by it; she tightened her grip on my fur just slightly as I moved forward. I was walking slowly, half expecting something to launch itself at me...but nothing did. After what felt like hours of gradual advance, I checked on the threshold of a cave. I didn't recognize it; I wondered if we were going the right way. On the other hand, mist was rolling in around us -- more than that, mist mixed with fragments of twilight. Going back had ceased to be an option.
"What's that?" Midna's voice echoed off of the cave walls as I stepped into its mouth. She pointed off to one side, where an oddly shaped stone seemed to have been deliberately placed. I honestly did not know what it might mean, but it did feel as though there was some significance to its appearance, so I moved over and started to sniff at it. It was emblazoned with my own birthmark emblem -- the Triforce. With a lupine yelp, I jumped backward as music started to play, radiating out from the very heart of the stone.
"Now, mind me, Link...I am going to teach you a song."
"What is it, Impa?"
"This is a very important tune. We call it Zelda's Lullaby. You need to learn to play it on your ocarina; it will help you in the days ahead."
"A lullaby? How will that help me?"
"It serves as more than a simple tune to lull a child to sleep, my boy. It is a sign that you have acquaintance with the royal family. And the tune itself is said to have power." She gazed at me with her wise expression. "It is connected to the Triforce. Remember that."
"Steady, Link." Midna gave my neck a pat. "What do you think that was about?" Of course the question was rhetorical, since I was in no position to answer her, but if my memory was true then I knew what was expected of me. I moved back into position and faced the stone squarely; then, lifting my head, I started to howl. The wolfen sound of Zelda's Lullaby crescendoed through the cavern.
The results were less than spectacular. The chittering sound returned, and from the depths of the cavern I saw a lamplight draw near. Out of the shadows burst a creature the likes of which I'd not met in six or seven lifetimes; in appearance, it resembled a sort of wooden scarecrow, very much like the swordfighting target which stood watch over my abandoned house in Ordon. It carried a lantern in one hand, and its expression was frighteningly cheerful. It was known as a Skullkid, a once-normal creature which had become trapped in the lost woods until madness had driven it into an entirely new state of existence. One of its ilk had transformed my long-ago self into a Deku Tree, in another cave.
The Skullkid put a long flute of some sort to its lips and began to play music. Noise began to rattle the cave walls as dozens more of those wooden puppet creatures rushed into the area, and the Skullkid laughed maniacally before dashing down a passageway.
"Forget these! Follow him!" Midna shouted over the commotion. "He must know the way forward! Just look for his light -- hurry!"
The light of the mad child's lantern was little more than a pinprick in size, but I galloped after it for all I was worth. I'd made a shift in my thinking; Zelda had given her life to save Midna's, and that meant that Midna's life was now one of my highest priorities. Had I been alone, I might well have lain down and allowed the puppets to end it for me, help me to start afresh. But if I let myself be killed with Midna still on my back, then she would surely die, either at the hands of the little wooden beasts or through capture by Zant -- and if Midna died, then Zelda would have died for nothing. If I didn't want Zelda's sacrifice to be in vain, I had to see the imp through to the end of the quest. For the sake of my princess, as well as that of my little friend, I put my whole heart into the chase.
We emerged from the cave into a wide open area, circular in nature and with no exit save that through which we had just come. The walls had an odd look to them, like something from a devastated palace. The Skullkid danced about insanely. Growling, I circled, and leaped; he disappeared from the spot and, instead of knocking him to the ground, I merely landed there myself. Some of the puppets had followed and were starting to join in the battle, leaving me hopelessly outnumbered. I tried, again and again, to attack the Skullkid, but each time he would vanish and reappear elsewhere.
Finally, I had a stroke of luck, although how it came to pass is anyone's guess. As I leaped into the air, one of the puppet creatures happened to move between myself and the Skullkid. My strike hit the puppet first, and this somehow made it impossible for the Skullkid to disappear. I slammed into the pair of them and we tumbled. The remaining puppets scattered as the Skullkid and I shook ourselves off and stood up. It looked at Midna and myself, and laughed again.
"Bye!" it cried, and dashed into the forest. Beyond where it had been standing, a new entrance had opened up in the ruined wall. Sweet Farore, was that some sort of test? Bewildered, I ambled in this new direction.
In the next 'room,' for lack of a better description of the area, I could see a sealed door flanked by a pair of stone statues. They were carved with symbols of an unknown purpose; their faces were covered in tentacles, and each held a long upright axe in its right hand. On the ground before me, I saw once again the image of the Triforce. The lullaby had served once; having no better ideas coming to mind, I howled it for a second time.
The carvings on the statues began to glow a bright, almost sinister shade of blue. I gave a yelp of alarm as portions of the ground dropped away, revealing a series of squares with gaps between them. There was no chance of reaching the sealed door now, even if I had possessed the means to open it. In ancient voices, the statues began to speak in unison.
"We are the guardians of this land," they declared. "Guide us to where we once stood. Only then can you enter the true Sacred Grove, beast who speaks to our hearts."
How? I wondered, baffled, and studied the squares of land. Two of them were marked with a circular pattern. Uneasy, I jumped forward to land on one of the squares; the statues jumped accordingly. I jumped to the left, and again they mirrored me.
"They're imitating your movements," Midna said thoughtfully. "You've got to keep jumping until they land on the right squares. What a lot of work!"
It was. I don't know how many times I must have jumped left and right, forward and back, trying to steer the statues onto the correct spots. More than once I was half ready to give up; it seemed impossible. But suddenly, as I took a leap back onto the patch behind me, they both jumped onto the marked squares. The light which illuminated their mismatched carvings spread through the stone bodies until they had turned solid blue. "Go now to the sacred place, beast," intoned the voices. "We yield passage to the Sacred Grove." The door, which I saw was marked with the royal crest of Hyrule, now swung open.
No sooner had I crossed the threshold and started to climb the stairs than a vision assaulted me. The very stones and ground seemed to be speaking; a thousand voices or more swirled around me, ringing with history.
This is the Temple of Time
Temple of Time
The Master Sword
Temple of Time
The seal is broken
He is coming
Temple of Time
Passed into the Sacred Realm
Hero of Ages
Hero of Seasons
Hero of Twilight
Hero of Time
Filmy sunlight shone lazily through the thick branches overhead. There were bits of ruined stone scattered here, and felled trees. I knew this place, just as she had told me I would; it was here that Zelda and I found solace in loving one another through dreams. But there was another element present, one which I had never seen in any of the dreams, though it may have been that I was too distracted to look. In the center of everything was a pedestal, and fused into its heart was a magnificent sword.
The Blade of Evil's Bane began to glow, detecting the presence of the evil which bound me in wolf form. I reached the pedestal and reared back suddenly as the light reached a blinding intensity; Midna lost her grip on my fur and sailed through the air until she caught herself, hovering nearby and watching. I wasn't sure why I was doing it; perhaps it was the influence of the dark magic which still held me, or perhaps instinct was telling me to assert my authority to the sword. In any case, I lowered my body to the ground and bared my teeth, snarling. The brightness filled the grove and overtook me; there was a clink and a clatter as something fell from my body and landed on the pedestal.
Slowly, the brilliance subsided, and I stood as a man once again. I glanced at Midna and she smiled, clearly relieved. Then, as I had done in perhaps a dozen lifetimes or more, I approached the sword and wrapped my fingers around the hilt. The Triforce mark on my hand seemed to burn -- not painfully, but with definite warmth -- and the similar etching on the blade seemed to appear in sharp relief. With deliberate slowness, I eased the sword upward until it came free of its trappings. Hefting it respectfully in my left hand, I pointed it skyward and raised it in a salute to the heavens. All of the mist and twilit fragments which had gathered around the temple ruins dissolved as the Master Sword acknowledged me once more.
"The sword accepted you as its master." Midna's voice was subdued, almost amazed. A small chuckle escaped my lips and I twirled the blade, executing a few slashes and swipes. The sword responded almost more to my thoughts than my movements; we were indeed old friends. Meanwhile, she swooped over to the pedestal and collected the object which had abandoned me.
"What about this thing?" she asked. "It embodies the evil of the spell Zant cast on you." She studied the trinket thoughtfully. It was black, of an irregular diamond shape, and adorned with orange carvings that bore little resemblance to the Twilight markings on Midna's body or anything else from that realm. "No, this is definitely different from our tribe's magic. Don't touch it -- you'll turn back into a beast. It might be best if we leave it here...although..." She gave me a toothy grin, much like the one she had worn on our first meeting. "If we kept it, I could turn you into the wolf whenever you wanted!"
I considered that. "You know, that might just be helpful."
"I think so. When you're a wolf, you can warp. Yes, I think that since Zant was kind enough to give it to us, we should keep it and use it as much as possible!" She giggled, and tucked the trinket out of sight. "I want to keep a low profile," she added, "so when you're human, I'll keep on hiding in you shadow. But you can talk to me whenever you want." Adopting a more serious demeanor, she whisked over and leaned companionably on my shoulder, folding her tiny arms as she peered at me.
"I want to ask another favor of you," she said.
"Will you come with me to find something called the Mirror of Twilight? It's hidden somewhere here in Hyrule."
"What is it?"
"Our last potential link to Zant."
The woodland glade has been besieged by the twilight. I am still in human form, however, and I am searching frantically through the trees and crumbling ruins.
She is not here.
I call her name, again and again, without answer. My heart -- she called it so mighty -- is breaking under the strain of the truth that my mind is yet resisting. It cannot be, simply cannot, but I do not know what else to believe. Hope eludes me.
She is not here.
"Link...Link, wake up, please wake up."
I woke with a start, eyes opening quickly. After I had consented to help Midna find the Mirror of Twilight, we had left the temple ruins and returned to the forest proper, and found a sheltered spot where I could take some rest. How long I had slept, I didn't know. I lay very still on the ground, staring up at the sky; I felt as though I had run for miles, and was breathing hard. Midna sat beside me, her eyes on my face.
"You were crying," she said, quietly. "You were crying in your sleep. I...I never saw someone do that before."
I lifted a hand to my cheek; it was wet. I wiped at my face with the end of my stocking cap, and sighed. "I couldn't find her, Midna...I went to the place where we always meet in the dreams, and she wasn't there. She's...she's gone."
"I'm sorry. I didn't want her to..."
"I know, Midna. I'm not blaming you. This was her choice. I just...I can't believe she's dead."
I looked at her, startled by the suggestion. "What?"
"Don't believe it. I don't believe it. There's more to your princess than I ever would have guessed, and I don't think we've seen the last of her."
It was a faint nugget of hope, but I seized it with all my strength remaining. "Really? You think she's all right?"
"I think she needs a hero. How fortunate it is that I happen to have one with me." She grinned.
Whatever else I can say about her, I do love the way Malon laughs.
I live and work with Malon and her father, Talon, at the Lon Lon Ranch. We care for horses, and one -- Epona -- has become our mutual especial favorite. She is named for "Epona's Song," a piece of music which Malon's mother taught her when she was young, and she has taught it to both myself and the horse.
Fairy boy, she calls me, with an affectionate smile. Her father likes to joke that when we are grown, I should marry his daughter. I am not entirely comfortable with this; Malon is my dear friend, but to think of her as more is something I have never managed. Not when I know there is someone else, someone I meet in my dreams sometimes. I do not yet know who she is, but she has a hold on my heart that I cannot begin to describe...
I woke from this second, easier dream feeling contemplative. It explained a few things that I had never quite understood; when first I bought Epona, I had named her without knowing where I'd heard the name or why it seemed familiar. The dream caused me to wonder something as well. I knew that Zelda and I had always been Zelda and Link, born again and again. But I wondered -- could those around us have known us in the other lives as well? There was such a resemblance in spirit between Malon and Ilia. Before I could give it further thought, however, the regional postman came running through the forest. He paused in his rounds long enough to hand me a letter before sprinting away again.
It was from Telma. "She's returned to her tavern," I said, "and wants me to come there and meet some powerful allies. What do you think, Midna?"
"We might as well. I'm not sure where to start looking for the Mirror," she admitted, "so that's as good a place to start as any."
After I breakfasted, Midna transformed me into the wolf again, and we used the nearest portal to return to Castle Town. Telma's welcome as I stepped into the tavern was effusive and warm. She promised that she had left my friends well, though Ilia's memory was still failing her. "But you remember I mentioned some friends who use this place as a meeting-house? They're here -- well, most of them -- and I thought they should meet a brother hero." She brought me to a table where two men and a woman sat conversing quietly. "Folks, this is Link, the young man I've been telling you about! Link, honey, this here's Shad, and this is Ashei, and this is --"
I interrupted her, recognizing the third figure. "Rusl?"
"Link! It's been a long time!" He laughed and stood, clasping me in a fatherly embrace. "I have word from Uli -- I've been to see the children in Kakariko. I must thank you for your help, especially with Colin."
"You know what Colin means to me. But, Rusl, what are you doing here?"
"I've been troubled by my own inaction," he admitted. "I wanted to help the cause. These friends here...I have a long connection with them." He nodded at Shad and Ashei. "Shad's studying an ancient race called the Oocca; he's an intense scholar. Ashei the warrior woman is more concerned with how matters stand in Snowpeak, and as for me, I'm still gathering information. I'll let you know if I hear anything that might help with what's been going on. Meanwhile, you should go to Lake Hylia and speak with Auru. He's another member of our little resistance group, and he's gone there to investigate a situation concerning the Gerudo tribes."
I nodded. "If you think I can be of assistance to him, I'll certainly go."
"Before you do, though..." Rusl lowered his voice a little. "There's someone else I think you should see. One of the sages -- the old wise men, you know. His name is Sahasrahla."
I open the doors to Sahasrahla's domain. I have been sent here by Zelda, as part of the quest to stop Agahnim from breaching the seal between our world and the Dark World. He is there, waiting for me; he knew I would come. Wordlessly he approaches me, and I am slightly fearful of the wisdom in his lined face. He still does not speak, but reaches out and grips my left wrist lightly and yet firmly. Pushing back the sleeve of my tunic, he examines the mark on the back of my hand and nods, smiling.
Raising his eyes to my face, he speaks at last. "I welcome the Hero of Time."
I shook my head. "Sorry, just remembered something. Anyway -- Sahasrahla? You've got to be mistaken, Rusl. He would be long dead by now."
He gave me a keenly searching look. "You know the name, do you? It's a family name, actually. There've been a few sages called Sahasrahla over the centuries, they're all descended from one another."
"How do you know this?"
"The one I'm sending you to see is my uncle."
The strangest part was that I was completely unsurprised.
"So my nephew has sent me the Hero of Ages," said the sage when I presented myself to him. "I am only the third in my line to personally advise you; I am honored."
"I have to admit, I'm not completely sure why Rusl sent me," I confessed. "Not that it isn't a pleasure to meet you, but he wasn't very forthcoming about his reasons."
"He had none." Sahasrahla smiled. "I told him long ago that if he met a youth of your description, dressed in garments like your own, he should advise you to come and speak with me. Ever since the coming of the Twilight I have awaited you. Tell me of what you have endured up until now."
I outlined my adventures to him, though it was hard to speak of Zelda's sacrifice without emotion. He seemed unconcerned by Midna's refusal to show herself. "Any advice you can give me I will gladly take," I concluded finally.
He clasped his hands behind his back, considering his words. "Your grief does not serve her," he said gently. "It is a cloud which will obscure your purpose." I nodded, not trusting myself to speak. "You received a promise, several lifetimes ago, that you would someday emerge victorious from the ongoing struggle. Do you recall the sage Rauru?"
I thought a little. "He...he told us...we could not wed," I said. I closed my eyes, touching a hand to my forehead as I tried to sift this particular memory out of all of the others. "The goddesses decreed we must be apart until...until..."
"Until the Triforce of Power selects a new servant." Sahasrahla nodded as I opened my eyes and looked at him. "We call Rauru 'he who speaks for the goddesses.' Of all sages in Hylian history, he alone has been selected to deliver their own words to people. His coming is surely as imminent as your own."
"Rauru does not live; Rauru never dies. He is a divine acolyte, who comes and goes at their bidding. He is bound to their will even more than yourself or Princess Zelda. You will know that your victory is complete when Rauru comes to you again."
"So there is hope."
He looked surprised that I had to ask. "Of course there is hope, my son. There is always hope. So long as you and Zelda are in the world, we can never truly lose hope. Where do you journey now?"
"To Lake Hylia, to speak with a man named Auru about a situation concerning the Gerudo. It seems to have relevance to the Twilight Invasion."
"At last...the time is now. This is the seventh and final hidden skill that I can pass on to you. This forgotten skill is the ultimate secret technique, and it tests the true courage of the one who wields it. Do you wish to master this final hidden skill, which can be earned only by the one true hero?"
"You have come far; you have learned much. Now let the last of my teachings be hewn into your mind...the great spin!"
It grieves me, in some vague fashion, to know that this is the final time I will meet this ancient shade. He is another aspect of myself, I know that now. When the lesson concludes, I bow to him.
"You who have marched through countless foes, each mightier than the last...you, who now gaze to the future with vision unclouded...surely you can restore Hyrule to its stature of yore as the chosen land of the gods." He raises a hand to salute me as he begins to fade; with his knowledge imparted, he is now free to continue his journey into the next world. "Farewell! Go and do not falter, my child!"
"It is Link, isn't it?" The bearded man had, I noted, a Triforce emblem on his armor. "I am Auru -- I have heard all about your great deeds from Telma. Tell me, courageous youth, you have heard of the strange happenings in the desert, yes?"
"No? Allow me to explain. The Gerudo Desert houses a prison which was built to hold the worst criminals this world has ever known. Those who were condemned to death were sent directly to the underworld by a cursed mirror that was kept in the prison. Now the prison is condemned, and even the road leading into the desert is impassable." He shook his head. "The desert at world's end."
A cursed mirror... Could it really be that easy? From the depths of my shadow, I could feel Midna stirring as if to tell me we needed to go there. "Perhaps the situation should be investigated."
"Do you mean to go there?"
Auru nodded. "These old bones know that the evil currently plaguing Hyrule is somehow connected to that wicked place." From the folds of his cloak he drew a piece of paper. "You see Lake Hylia below us? Down there is a man named Fyer; he runs an amusement ride. I saved his life once, and he can refuse me no favor now. Give him this; he will know what to do to help you reach the desert prison. Good luck, young hero!"