The Garden of Farore: Chapter Twenty-One
A FOG came on then, surprisingly swift in the warm day. It stole out of the newly opened doorway and extended wraithlike tendrils into the garden, coiling around the trees and plants and masking the companions from each other's view. Greenfinger became an indistinct shape in the mist. "Looks like rain," observed the disembodied voice of the old gardener.
Link shivered. The mist was thick and wet and it tasted faintly of leafmould. He felt at his waist to make sure the serpentine dagger was still there, and then rubbed beads of water from his face. "Zelda?" he called. The fog muffled his words and made them sound thick. "Sofia? Are you there?"
"Link, is that you?" A dark shape appeared before him, surprisingly close given that the words had sounded distant. He reached out and felt cloth damp with the mist; he followed it up to a shoulder and grabbed hold of the other. The mist was thickening so fast that his own arm disappeared in white before his eyes.
"We have to stay together!" he ordered. "Everyone, this way! Follow the sound of my voice!"
"I can't! Where are you? You keep moving around!" That was Sofia, somewhere faraway and to his left.
The person he had hold of spoke, and he realised it was Zelda. "This fog must be magical," she called, coughing slightly in the wet. "It came on so fast!"
"Dark Link! Where's Dark Link?" Link scrubbed at his eyes again with his free hand. It was almost like being blind; the only thing he could see was the cloudy grey-white cotton wool of the fog. It swirled before his eyes, dizzying him in whirlpools of whiteness.
"Here!" The shadow sounded even further away than Sofia had, as if he were receding into the fog. "Get to a wall and stay there! We'll find each other afterwards!"
He lost Zelda for a moment and flailed in the fog, panicked. It gave before him, billowing away from his thrashing hands and leaving him momentarily with a clear foot or so; the moment he stopped, it flowed back and resumed its place in front of his face. "Zelda!" he shouted desperately.
A warm hand slid over his face, felt down around his neck, slipped to grasp a handful of his collar. "Link?" she said, suddenly loud by his ear. "Is that you?"
"Zelda!" He grabbed her and enfolded her in his arms, holding her a little tightly in his relief. The fog flowed away again and revealed her peach-perfect face, blue eyes gazing up at him. Water sparkled in her golden hair. "What is this?" he asked.
"I think it must be magic," she said, glancing around uneasily. "Nayru! I can see nothing at all in this!"
Link nodded. "If we are attacked now, we don't stand a chance. We must do as Dark said--get to a wall. If we can get something at our backs we will be safer."
"We may try, at least," Zelda said dubiously.
They started to shuffle awkwardly through the fog, clasping each other shoulder-to-shoulder. There was neither sight nor sound of the others; not even Greenfinger. Link drew the serpentine dagger in his left hand and held it out before him, feeling blindly for something that they might walk into. Zelda's head was on his shoulder, her golden hair spreading across the sleeve of his tunic. He pulled her in a little tighter, not wishing to lose her in the magical mist. "Keep going."
Another step--another. And yet again. Suddenly, he found empty air beneath his boot. The hole left when the boulder had moved? Was it this deep? Link threw his arms out as he fell, trying to catch onto something, but neither he nor Zelda could stop themselves toppling into the emptiness. He cried out as he lost hold of her, and then all was dark.
"Link?" Sofia cupped her hands to her mouth and shouted again. "Link!" It was no use; the fog muffled her words more effectively than a stone wall. They sounded weak even to her; there was no way anyone else would be able to hear her calling. He might be only a few feet away and never know. She cried out in fear and anger, trying desperately to see or hear approaching danger through the fog.
Two eerie red lights appeared before her, shining hazily through the mist. Sofia flinched back and waved the fog away from her face, feeling at the same time for her scimitar; she exhaled in irritation when the silhouette of the shadow faded into view before her eyes. "Where are the others?" she demanded brusquely.
"If I knew, lady, I would not be here," he said coldly. "It seems fate has thrown us together."
Sofia let out a long sigh, making the fog billow away from her mouth. "Just what I needed," she said in bitter sarcasm. "Well... can you see anything? Where are we? Which way do we go?"
He smiled wryly. "I am afraid that I am as blind as you, lady. Still, there are other senses... Take my hand."
She looked at the proffered appendage for a long time, but made no move to accept it.
Dark Link sighed. "If you want to escape this trap, I suggest that you trust me. I know not where the others are right now, but I believe I know where to find the Temple. We must go on and search for the Amulet. If this fog is what I think it is, it is here to delay us. Our rival must be here already."
A frown stole across Sofia's features as she thought it over. His words sounded reasonable; so reasonable, in fact, that she was tempted to run from him as fast as she could. She could not shake the belief that he had some hidden agenda of his own. He had been created by Ganondorf--he had no reason to help his own enemies! "I will not trust you," she insisted, "but I will go with you for now." Her hand tightened on the hilt of the scimitar. "But the first sign that you are double-crossing us, and by my ancestors for thirty generations I'll cut you down where you stand!"
"That would be quite an inconvenience. I would have to wait several more years before I could return to Hyrule."
"Are you laughing at me?"
"Please." He held out his hand again. "Come."
Sofia hesitated again. Finally, with an angry snort she gave in and slipped her fingers into his. His hand was cool, smooth, and very black in the whiteness. At least he was visible in this fog; he was so dark that he showed up through it more than did her own body. She stumbled often as he led her through the blind whiteness; the ground was uneven here and there. The water in the air beaded on her skin, running down her face and soaking her clothes. Soon she began to feel chilly, and could not suppress a shiver.
Dark Link turned his head slightly; she saw his eyes glowing through the fog. "Something wrong?"
"Keep walking," she said through gritted teeth.
It went on and on, the fog, and the walking. And always the whiteness around them, the scent of leafmould. Sofia began to feel almost thankful that Dark Link was with her; even his company was better than none at all in this madness. Water dripped into her eyes again and she let go of the scimitar to wipe it off. "Goddess... how much longer?"
"I wish I knew." He laughed softly. "I hope that you will not decide to cut me down for this, but I really have no idea where we are at the moment. We must have gone through the temple doors by now--either that or we have become so turned around that we are going in circles."
"It has to lift soon," she insisted. "It came on so fast..!"
Something loomed out of the fog at them. something huge and dark. They stopped together and looked at it. It was a wall, a gigantic one it seemed, stretching up far into the sky--or perhaps that was another trick of the fog. The stonework was very old and crumbling, and the ancient bricks were covered in moss and lichen.
"What is this place?" Sofia asked, frowning. She realised she was still holding his hand, and yanked her fingers out of his.
Dark Link shrugged. "I wish I knew," he said again. "It seems we are not in the garden any more. Feel the ground under your feet?" It was hard, like tiled stone. Sofia shifted her feet in surprise, wondering why she had not noticed that before. The fog might be thick, but it did not soften her footfalls. The shadow reached forward and stroked the wall softly, feeling its substance.
Sofia blinked several times and shook her head. "Am I seeing things," she said, "or is the fog starting to clear?"
It was. Almost as quickly as it had come, the fog disappeared, thinning out to become only a faint mist that lay low around their knees and ankles. Now that they were revealed again, she saw that they were both dripping wet from the moisture, as were their surroundings. Water was puddling on the floor as the fog vanished, and echoing drips from somewhere seemed awfully loud after the silence of the mist. Sofia looked at the wall and then looked up, up... she craned her neck trying to see the top of the wall, but it disappeared into darkness. She turned around, and saw to her astonishment that there was another wall only just behind them. They were at the end of a subterranean corridor, which stopped sharply a few yards away.
"What... how... are you sure we went in a straight line? Did we just turn around just then?"
He shook his head, his eyes widening in confusion. "I could not swear to it, but I know we just walked through that wall!" To illustrate his point he turned and laid a hand on the wall that seemed to have appeared behind them. It was as solid as the other had been.
"Goddess." Sofia tugged at her hair in helplessness. "Where in the world are we? And--how did we get here?"
"There is only one way to find out," Dark Link said softly. "Come on." He started off down the corridor, his boots making hardly any sound even on the hard stone floor. She followed quickly, anxious not to be left alone in this odd and sinister place. There was no sign of the garden here, save for the mosses and moulds that grew all over the walls enclosing them. The corridor turned slightly as they walked, bending to the right and heading down slightly. A T-junction was just ahead. Sofia and Dark Link reached it together, and looked both ways. One of the paths branched into two again, and the other...
The other was a dead end.
"We appear to have wandered into a labyrinth," Dark Link said.
Zelda groaned softly and pulled herself into a sitting position, pressing a hand to her aching forehead. She hurt all over, and lying on the damp stone floor had probably not helped matters much. How long had she been there? The stone was warm beneath her, but cold when she moved her hand over it elsewhere. She sat for a moment with her eyes closed, fighting off a nauseous feeling, and then looked around. The Princess could remember falling, and the fog, and Link's hand in hers, but aside from that she was confused. She stood up and brushed herself off, then gave her attention to her surroundings.
She had been lying in the middle of what seemed to be a hall of some sort. The floor around her was tiled in a complicated mosaic of vines and flowers. Four tall torch stands, long dead, were positioned around the central square. Zelda walked over to one and pulled the thick cobwebs away; she was amazed to find that beneath the dusty coatings the torch was bright shining gold. Pure massy gold, rich and etched with a stunningly ornate floral design. Just the one would have been worth thousands, and there were four here...
Wherever "here" was.
It was a very large octagonal room. The Princess looked around again, taking in more than her immediate surroundings this time. The ceiling was high and hidden, and there were six doors set into the walls at regular intervals, two at ground level in little alcoves, two at the top of small flights of steps, and two behind high walls that offered no obvious way of access.
"Hello?" Her voice shook slightly and she grimaced. "Link? Sofia? Dark? Where are you? Is anybody here?" Nothing answered, except for a scuttle somewhere high up among the rafters. The Princess hesitated a moment, and then unslung her bow from her shoulders, drawing an arrow as well. Holding the weapon loose in her hand, she walked across the floor kicking up puffs of dust as she went, and headed for the nearest door. She had no idea how she had come to be here, but she intended to find out exactly where she was. After a moment she reached into her shirt with her free hand, and withdrew a crumpled piece of parchment. The map... it was still there. Zelda smiled, relieved, and sat down on the bottom step to examine it.
It took several minutes of intense scrutiny but in the end she thought she had it clear. The temple was on five levels. She was on the ground floor, just above some sort of large subterranean area. If the map was correct, there was another room beneath her, though she could see no way of getting down to it. The center of her hall was marked with a red square. On the floor below, a passage led off from the room into a larger, circular room. In the center of this, ominously, was drawn a grinning skull. Lovely. What did it mean? Danger?
Zelda looked the map over a second time. If she had fallen into this room, however that could be possible, she had to try to get to one of the higher levels; her friends might still be there, and they would have no map to guide them. According to the diagram, there were only two ways to ascend out of the hall; outside one of the ground-level doors there was a courtyard, in which had been drawn a ladder. The other way was through one of the high doors, the one with the steps leading up. A zigzag across a circle suggested stairs. That way meant traversing the twisted corridors; the two floors directly above seemed confused, the drawings senseless and contorted as if the rooms themselves defied Din's laws.
She rose and took a few steps towards the correct door, intending to hurry and start her search for the others. Zelda had no intention of staying in a place as creepy as this. When she stood on something hard that rolled beneath her, she had to quickly catch herself on the nearest torch. The thing clattered away and rolled to a stop on the tiled floor. Zelda took a quick breath, steadying herself, and then looked down at the thing to see what she had nearly tripped on.
It was a bone.
"EW!" The Princess jumped a foot and then got her back to the nearest wall, eyes searching this way and that to make sure nothing nasty was nearby. Nothing leaped at her, and after a moment she began to relax again. There were more bones on the floor, old and yellowed with time, and rusted scraps of armour; scuffs in the dust showed where the thighbone she had kicked had been disturbed. She wondered who the remnants had belonged to, and how he (she assumed it was a he) had met his end in this deserted place.
A faint viridian green radiance gleamed around the thighbone. Zelda's eyes widened again as the bone began to roll back across the floor towards her. Her heart missed a beat when she saw another scrap of bone heading her way from the shadows. Small things rattled out from crevices and gloomy corners. The skeleton was rebuilding itself! "Stalfos!" she said out loud, and looked quickly about her to search for any possible escape routes. The only way was through the doors. Zelda slowly began to back up the steps, her eyes always on the grisly spectacle before her. She had only her bow; she could not fight one of the skeleton monsters with that.
In mere moments the skeleton was assembled again. To complete the transformation, an ancient metal Hylian shield and sword flew into the creation's hands, and a rusted Hylian-style helmet appeared atop its head. Boots and a ragged chainmail vest completed the outfit, hanging oddly on the skeleton's bone frame. Pale green fires flickered to life in the empty sockets of the skull. Zelda forgot to flee and, pressing her back against the door, stared awestruck at the creature as it slowly raised its hands and examined them one by one. It raised its head with a creak of ancient ligaments, and looked right at her. She raised her bow and drew, realising she had left it too late to run.
"Ah..." The Stalfos spoke suddenly, with a tone of slight confusion. Its voice was deep and rich, though with a slightly odd echo to it--and an accent that reminded her of the Old-Hylian way Dark Link spoke. "If I am not much mistaken... Princess Zelda." Reverently, the monster went down on one bony knee.
Zelda blinked and stared, entirely lost for words. At last, "Do I know you?" she asked hesitantly.
"Not as such, m'lady." The Stalfos looked at her again, and she noticed the pale green flames in its eye-sockets. That was not the evil fire that had been in the eyes of the desert Stalfos. This was a cleaner, brighter flame. It dropped the shield and raised a skeletal hand to its head in an impromptu salute. "General Diomedes Folly of the Hylian Army at your service, m'lady... though I seem to be a tad late for the Battle, what?"
"Battle?" Zelda knew she was echoing the Stalfos, but she was finding it hard to say anything at the moment.
The monster got to his feet again, picking up the rusty shield. "Why, yes. The Battle of Kokiri Gate, of course. Surely you've heard of it? Who won?"
Kokiri Gate... Zelda thought it over and then remembered childhood studies. "The Imprisoning War! ...You are late! That was hundreds of years ago! But still... Diomedes Folly? I remember reading about you in Rauru's histories. Weren't you the one who held up Ganon's armies on the forest road? You bought Prince Lysander time to escape..."
"Why, yes." The Stalfos inclined his head gravely, seeing as he lacked the apparatus to smile. "Jolly bad show, that jaunt. Of course, it was the Hero who did most of the work that day; I just watched his back for him. Must not have lived long after that, if my present... ah, shall we say unclad state, is any gauge. Funny how things go, eh?"
"And you're still here after so long..." Zelda sighed.
"Hmm. Not much fun, what? I say, m'lady, would you mind putting that thing down? You could put some poor chap's eye out if you're not careful."
She smiled and lowered the bow, realising she had had it nocked and drawn all this time. "I'm sorry, General Folly. I haven't been very polite to you yet. This is, ah... somewhat of a surprise."
"Likewise, what!" Diomedes sounded almost cheerful. "Not used to getting stepped on by Princesses, generally leave the stepping-on to my C.O., that is if I have one nowadays. I say, you haven't changed much in however many years it's been. Oh-" he snapped his fingers "-but you must be a descendant of that other Zelda. Goodness me, you Royals all look so alike! ...So, m'lady, what brings you to this neck of the woods?"
"A quest," Zelda said, refusing to elaborate any further. Diomedes might seem to be an ally, but he was still a wandering monster and she wanted to take no more chances--especially after the fright she had had in the garden, when it had seemed that Dark Link had betrayed them. "I don't suppose... Do you know anything about the dangers in this temple?"
The Stalfos reached up and straightened his helmet, jingling the chainmail that she now saw to be of Hylian Army issue. "Dangers? Goodness, yes. Let's see, there's the Stalfos--that'd be me now, I suppose. There's roaming Blue Bubbles up the top, or at least there were last time I was here. Octoroks and great big Deku Babas in the courtyards, so don't go near water if you can help it. Oh, and those cursed Wallmasters, never mess with one of them, what! That was what must have gotten me. Nasty beasts."
"I'm sorry," Zelda said. She couldn't think of anything else to say.
There was a slightly awkward silence, then Diomedes adjusted his helmet again. "Well..." he said. "I know I'm a bit late and all, m'lady, but... since you're here and all, would you be needing an escort?" She opened her mouth to speak, but he forestalled her with a lifted hand. "I haven't been of use for ever so long, m'lady, and it would give me great pleasure... if you'd let me tag along for a moment, and perhaps I could do some heroic smiting if we met up with any monsters? What do you say?"
Zelda laughed and nodded her assent, liking the odd old-fashioned creature and his peculiar way of speaking. "I'd be glad of the company, General!"
"Oh, jolly good!" Diomedes attempted a triumphant swing with his sword, but the aged weapon had rusted right away and fell into two pieces halfway through. He examined the useless object with some ruefulness. "I say, m'lady, don't suppose you'd happen to have anything sharp and pointy on you?"
This wasn't much fun, thought Link as he wandered along a stone passage, holding up a homemade torch to light his way. He had found some driftwood in the small chamber where he appeared to have landed, and from that he had managed to bunch together something that would stay lighted for at least a quarter of an hour or so. The young warrior wondered anxiously where Zelda had gone to; the only creature that had been with him when he woke was Prowl, fighting to escape her leather bag and already hungry enough to complain.
He had found himself lying face-down on the floor of a small, bare room, its only contents aside from himself being a small wooden chest that had long remained empty--it was this that he had plundered for dry wood. The door had been barred, but the bars were so ancient and rusty that he had only touched them for them to crumble away. That was a good thing, since he didn't think he could have reached the hole in the ceiling through which he must have come. Stuffing Prowl firmly into her bag, Link drew his serpentine dagger and stepped outside to find himself on a narrow ledge overlooking a grassy courtyard. There was a deep pool of water just below, but he didn't fancy jumping into its suspicious green depths. Thus he had edged along the ledge until he came to the door at the other end. And he had been wandering around now inside the complex for at least fifteen minutes, and he was bored stiff. At least there was no fog here.
What was really annoying him was the inscriptions he kept passing at odd intervals. They were in a peculiar archaic form of modern Hylian, allowing him to read them without that much effort, but rather than giving useful hints the phrases leaned towards parodies of old proverbs. The first one he had seen,
Bean by bean the sack fills
had seemed almost sensible at the time, but was followed by the sublimely ridiculous
Never trust a guru who cannot dance
By the time he had got to
A bird in the hand is worth two Calatians
he was starting to get angry, and the tone of that one did not help matters much. "What do Hylians have against Calatia, anyway?" he muttered sourly, feeling aggrieved at the world in general.
The present inscription read
Those who get lost in the woods won't keep their friendly face for long!
which while not actually offensive to any minority group he could think of, was yet somehow sinister. Was it some kind of riddle? Perhaps there were clues in the inscriptions, although he could not yet come up with any way to fit them together.
A small whiskered face appeared by his left cheek, as Prowl finally got her head free of the leather bag. The sand kitten playfully bit his ear and then renewed her scrabbles to get out of the bag; her small claws were doing significant damage to the leather by now. Link sighed and unslung the bag from his shoulder, then knelt down and loosed the string. Prowl leaped out and purred around his legs, absurdly grateful for her freedom. Then the little kitten dashed off to investigate a likely-looking hole that might or might not contain mice. Link continued to stare at the inscription, wondering whether there really was a clue hidden within it.
"What I need," he said, "is Zelda's map. Or, failing that, Dark Link." Lateral thinking was not his strong point and he could not shake the idea that he was lost and becoming more so with every step. The young warrior tore his eyes away from the letters on the wall, whistled to Prowl and resumed his hike through the corridors.
Before too long he came across a small stone fountain set into the moss-covered wall. The water, clear and cold, flowed from an acorn cup held high by a tiny arabesquing fairy, wings outstretched as if it were about to take off from its plinth. Age had taken the edges off the figure but its shape remained. The slender crystalline stream tumbled from the overflowing cup to a small indentation in the floor, where it flowed down through a grating. Prowl bounded to the hollow and began to drink enthusiastically, and Link followed her example without worrying about Dark Link's warnings. He was thirsty. Together, they stopped for a short rest by the fairy spring, then they moved on, choosing their path at random whenever they came to an intersection.
Link opened a door. Instead of more passages, he found himself looking at a small, bare stone room. A mere six feet away lay a large oaken chest, its lid tantalisingly ajar. He glanced quickly left and right, making sure that no monsters lurked inside, and then he set down the burning brand and took a step into the room.
A sharp hiss followed. He looked back and saw Prowl, frozen on the doorstep, her fur standing up like a curry-comb. The sand kitten refused to come any closer even when he cajoled her with a piece of dried meat. Link frowned and looked back at the chest, wondering why Prowl seemed so scared. He took another step forward, then another. The chest was almost within reach. Prowl wailed.
There was a soft whoosh from above, a slight displacement of air just touching the top of his head. Link reacted instinctively, diving into the ground and rolling away towards the open door. He rolled right up onto his feet and came up with blade in hand, ready to battle whatever it was. With a heavy thump, something landed on the floor where he had been a mere heartbeat earlier.
It was as large as he, the color of old cracked leather, and it backed away on five crooked, mismatched claws and then reared up, clawing the air. There was no evidence of eye or ear on the creature; in fact, the only organ visible was the mouth, half-hidden on the underside of the creature--a hideous sucking proboscis pulsing in and out with each breath, and ringed with a bristling circle of teeth. The horrible thing resembled nothing so much as a giant hand with a mouth in it. He stared at it in shock, as it groped around it with its fingerlike limbs. Another heartbeat and the creature scuttled crabwise towards the wall, then ran up it like a giant, loathsome spider. It slipped into the shadows of the ceiling and became still and almost invisible; waiting.
"Farore," Link whispered, shaken. He had never seen such a monster. If he had been caught beneath it when it came crashing down... it seemed that Prowl had unwittingly saved his life by making him aware of danger. Left to himself he would never have thought to be wary from an evil above his head. It seemed that he still had a lot to learn. Very carefully he stepped out of the room and closed the door softly, trying not to disturb the monster. It seemed to work; at any rate there was no sound from behind the wooden portal. Trying to distract himself from thoughts of what the chest might have contained, Link scooped up the sand kitten and continued on his way.
"I am displeased, Pirrillip," she said. "A silly little mist? What did you think that would do?"
The yellow light bobbed up and down unhappily. "I'm sorry, Mistress!" it exclaimed fervently. "I did the best I could! They were too quick for me! Maybe if we-"
"Enough! Be silent, you flitterbug!" She sighed angrily, considering the reduced options that this new turn of events had brought. Now the irksome creatures had made it into the temple itself. And they had a new and far more powerful companion. Something had to be done about that. She thought hard for a long while, then nodded slightly. "Pirrillip! Fetch me Poe. I have another job for him."
"I hear and obey, Mistress!" With one last bobbing bow Pirrillip turned and flittered off.
She considered Poe the ghost, that spirit of concentrated greed and hatred. Many years had passed now since Poe had been brought into her service. Poe and all those like it were of an evil that was far older than the Age of Legends: an evil that had existed as long as death. That evil hated all things that lived, without distinction; it would strike down even Ganon if it could, merely because he was warm, and breathed. It had been easy--oh so easy--to subvert Poe's natural malevolence and harness it to her purpose.
The Forest Temple, once sacred to Farore, concealed its own secret corruption, born of that same seed. Now those dark spirits slept and dreamed, buried deep within the ancient walls. But Poe, she thought... yes, Poe could awaken them.
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