The Garden of Farore: Chapter Twenty-Two
SOFIA had rarely been in a fouler mood.
She did not know how long she and Dark Link had been wandering the subterranean maze, but she was absolutely sure that it was too long. Every passage they went through looked the same; there was no telling how many times they had walked this one stretch of corridor, nor from how many dead ends they had turned back. The labyrinth was wet, the floor often covered by great noisome puddles, and there was still a faint, foulsome mist in the air. They were both soaked to the waist and shivering from having to wade at one point through a deep pool of water blocking their way. Her teeth chattered. And she knew, and he knew, that they were both utterly, hopelessly, lost.
Plus, she was getting tired. She had no idea what time it was, but she guessed that they had been walking around for hours, and she had to stifle the occasional yawn. The last thing she wanted was to have to spend the night in this place, accompanied only by the shadow--who did not sleep!
The passage turned another corner... and they were staring at another wall.
"Goddess!" Sofia exploded, reaching the end of her tether. "I have had enough of this!"
"Any suggestions would be gratefully received," Dark Link muttered, running his sensitive fingertips over the moss-stained wall in search of any hidden catch. It seemed solid enough, but he kicked it anyway. He too was starting to get annoyed, albeit in a detached way. Although he had more patience than the Gerudo--a natural result of his longevity--he disliked this sort of puzzle, where one could never tell how much progress, if any, had been made.
"Turn back," Sofia sighed wearily, shouldering her pack. "If only we had some chalk, or something with which to mark the walls..."
"Too moist," Dark Link told her shortly. "It would not make a mark." He paused, then sighed himself. "We will try another way."
"We're just going round in circles! You're supposed to be the guide here!"
He raised an eyebrow. "I led you to the temple. I did not say I would guide once inside. In fact-" he smiled toothily "-I distinctly remember telling you all that I would take you here, no more. I have already done more than I said I would."
"Don't even think of running out on me," Sofia said darkly, fingering the hilt of her scimitar. "I'll hunt you down, I promise you that."
Dark Link laughed. "I'd love to watch you try!"
"Don't tempt me!" She turned on her heel, thoroughly irritated, and headed back down the passage towards the last intersection they had passed. "Go or stay as you please, shadow! I'll not care! I'll find my own way out of this maze, with or without you!"
"As my lady wishes," came his soft, sardonic reply. Sofia whirled, drawing her sword as she prepared to finally give in to her anger; she stopped in amazement, the sword falling from her suddenly slack grip, as she realized that there was nobody behind her. Dark Link had simply disappeared. She stared left and right, trying to fathom whence he might have vanished, then remembered how he had simply appeared out of nowhere behind her and Zelda back in the palace.
"Witchery!" she spat, in a tone of utter disgust. Who needed it? Pointedly, Sofia turned once more and stalked off down the passage. She tried not to think about where Dark Link might be.
"Locked, what?" Diomedes sighed, rattling the handle of the door. "How strange. Wonder who locked it?"
Zelda frowned. "Are there any other intelligent... er, creatures in this temple?" she asked, but he shook his head doubtfully. The Princess took out her map again and studied it, trying to find out whether there was anything about this on the map. None of the doors were actually marked as locked, although she had already found out that the diagram did not always bear great resemblance to fact.
They had come from the main hall, heading out through one of the near doors at Diomedes' suggestion. The room beyond was littered with bones, although these were mostly those of small rodents who must have accidentally wandered into the temple. The fate of those animals remained a mystery; there was nothing hostile within. Huge, crumbling stone blocks had provided a way for the Princess and her companion to clamber up the side of the room, finding their way into a half-blocked passageway that led out onto a ledge above the room, and through the wall to where the remains of a rotted ladder had peeled drunkenly away from its moorings. Getting up had not been too difficult even so, since the wall was easy enough to climb on its own. Having finally reached the top, they were standing now in a large, derelict room, looking at a strong oaken door which remained stubbornly unrotted and firm in its moorings. Much of the roof had fallen in, and they had had to pick their way through the rubble and the sheets of golden sunlight.
Beyond this door, if the map was correct, Zelda would find the twisted corridors. She still had little idea as to what was really there; the map didn't seem to make much sense, and Diomedes had never made it this far into the temple while he was alive. The Princess sighed and looked around the room, searching for something that might serve as a key to the puzzle. Little presented itself.
"Diomedes?" she asked, turning back to the Stalfos. "Do you think we could break down that door?"
He shook his head doubtfully, and rapped on the wood with his skeletal fingers. The sound was most definitely a solid one. "Sincerely, m'lady, I doubt it. Whoever built this place knew what he was doing. See this? Lotharian oak, reinforced with tempered steel. Not even a Moblin could crack the bally thing! P'rhaps we should head back on down and try to find another way through."
Zelda frowned. "We can't. If the map is right, this is the only way we can get to the rest of the temple. The other doors just lead to enclosed areas."
"Ah," Diomedes said thoughtfully. "Well, m'lady, looks like we're a bit stuck for the moment." His gaze alighted on something in one of the piles of rubble, and he seemed to visibly brighten. "I say! What have we here?" Zelda looked on as the Stalfos bent and began to rummage through the broken stones. In a moment, he resurfaced, triumphantly brandishing something--an unrusted iron javelin, its haft bent sharply. He held it up to the light for a moment, examining the point, then lowered it again. "Bit blunt," he said wistfully. "Oh well, it'll do in a pinch. Wonder who he was?"
"Who who was?" Zelda asked, then realized what he was talking about. "Oh no, more bones?"
"Seems so," Diomedes said cheerfully. "Don't worry, m'lady, he's not getting up anytime soon. Smashed to smithereens, what!" Slinging the javelin carelessly across one shoulder, he stepped over the rubble and came back to the door. "Maybe an explosive charge..."
"Sorry, I don't have one," Zelda smiled, folding the map safely away again. She paused, and then looked at the space over the door, suddenly curious about the decorative plaque that rested there. In a room that was self-evidently bare of any furnishings, the presence of the white marble plaque was highly odd--as was its design, that of an open, unblinking eye. It looked Sheikah. "Diomedes, do you know what this is?"
The Stalfos followed her gaze, lifting a hand to hold his helmet on as he craned his neck. "There's two of them in the hall," he told her, sounding curious. "Both above doors, come to think of it. Y'think it's a clue of some sort?" A moment later the answer hit him. "Good heavens, a switch?" he asked incredulously.
Zelda was smiling widely as she unslung her bow. "I'll hit it with an arrow and see what happens," she said, raising the bow to sight along the arrow's haft. "It couldn't hurt to try." She drew back, aiming carefully; the arrow would almost definitely shatter on the hard stone surface, and she didn't want to waste her limited darts in case they got into a fight--especially when their only close-combat weapons were a small knife and a bent javelin. Diomedes, spotting something on the ground below the door, set down his javelin and knelt to pick the object up.
The white-feathered arrow flew straight and true towards its target, and hit the eye right in its pupil--and the whole thing momentarily clicked backwards in its niche. The arrow itself splintered with the impact. There was a snap as the iron head separated from the shaft, and both pieces fell on the surprised Diomedes. Zelda let out a short gasp as she heard a rumble of stone against stone; slowly, a cunning mechanism began to work. A convex piece of stone rotated out from the top of the plaque and across the eye, giving the peculiar expression that the eye was closing. There was a soft click from the door.
Diomedes stood up, holding something in his hand, and hesitantly tried the handle again. The door swung open easily.
"It worked!" Zelda exclaimed, amazed at the longevity of the ancient mechanism. It had been cunningly designed, considering the age of the device and the run-down quality of their surroundings. She had strongly expected that nothing here would work. The finding that the switch still operated raised another question; perhaps old traps would still be primed, too.
"Good shot, m'lady," Diomedes commented, turning back towards her. "Looks like you're not the first person to have that idea, though." He held out the thing he had found, still dusty from its long rest.
Zelda carefully took the beautiful arrow in her hands, almost afraid to breathe. It was a little shorter than her own, but it was surprisingly heavy to the touch, made of some pure white material that did not quite seem to be wood or metal, but was something in between the two. All the way down, the delicate shaft was etched almost imperceptibly with the minute texture of bark, giving the impression that it had grown rather than been made. She tipped it from hand to hand, feeling the superlative perfection and weight of it. No Hylian craftsman could have made something like this nowadays, not even a vague approximation. It was untouched by time. "Nayru," she breathed, testing her finger on the needle-perfect point. A bead of blood swelled and she sucked it. "What is it," she said through her fingers, "a fairy arrow?"
Diomedes shrugged helplessly. "No idea," he admitted. "But I'll tell you one thing, m'lady--that thing is even older than I am. By quite a long way, if I'm any judge. Seem to remember we found one or two more in the hallway when we first got here--there was one buried in the brickwork, right up to the fletching. Couldn't get the bally thing out without a mason's saw, so we left it."
Looking thoughtful, Zelda slipped the arrow into her quiver, intending to keep it for now. Her heart was beating faster than usual at the thought of who that arrow might once have belonged to. The Hero of Time... He had come to this temple once, the legends told, and battled the forces of darkness to cleanse the place. Maybe the faŽries had made the arrows, and given them to him all those years ago. The thought excited her, that she might actually be walking in his footsteps.
Diomedes cleared his throat--or approximated the sound, anyway. He had the door open, and gestured to her to look through. Zelda smiled embarrassedly, realizing that she had been dreaming, and hurried over to look down the newly revealed corridor.
"Nayru!" she gulped.
The twisted corridor. And it was twisted. The passage actually flopped over on its side, and the open door at the other end was at ninety degrees to the horizontal. Just looking at the travesty of perspective made her stomach churn, and she wondered in amazement how anybody could have been able to build such a thing.
"This is going to be interesting," Diomedes remarked.
It seemed to be getting darker in the maze. Sofia's pace slowed as she became unsure of herself; she had looked several times to see if she could find the source of the diffuse light that filled the place, but she had not been able to make anything out in the darkness above. She stood now at the beginning of a long, perfectly straight passage, and she could clearly see that there was less light in the corridor ahead. The bricks were less well preserved, too, and in places parts of the walls seemed almost ready to fall in. She had already passed several places where there were small holes in the walls, although the gaps seemed to lead only to further passages within the labyrinth.
She had walked for maybe three or four hours after losing Dark Link, accompanied only by the sound of running water from somewhere within the maze. This part was drier somewhat, and little remained of the mist that had shrouded everything before. Still, she had no more idea of where she was than she had had at first. Sofia stopped walking as another intersection appeared before her; there were two side passages as well as the one she had been following. She glanced down each and saw that they both branched, curving in different directions. "Goddess," she muttered, and not for the first time.
Still... at least she knew she had not been here before. After a few moments of indecision, the Gerudo woman shouldered her pack again and took her first decided steps down the path she had been previously following. Small stones crunched underfoot, pieces of crumbling rock shed from the ancient walls. In places, mushrooms were growing out of the corners, small fruiting bodies; they were the first she had seen. Before, she supposed, it had been too wet even for them.
After a few more feet, Sofia paused again. The passage ahead was half-filled with boulders, remains of what looked like a rockfall. A pale ray of light shone down from the high darkness above, a sudden contrast to the gloom that surrounded her. Carefully she clambered over the blockage, hoping that the rockfall had been an isolated incident. The bricks and stones that surrounded her were certainly not fully safe any more, that she could see without effort.
Both feet firmly on the ground on the other side, Sofia listened for the sound of creaking stone, and then smiled. Nothing. She took three quick, firm steps forward, new eagerness hurrying her towards the end of the passageway.
Rending and tearing, the ground gave way beneath her feet. The deep cracks in the stone had been covered from view by the rubble from the ceiling fall. Sofia let out a frightened scream and scrabbled for a hold on rocks and earth that crumbled at her touch; helpless she slid down on her back, went straight through the hole and was brought up short by the thick root she had managed to grasp. She swung by her arms for a moment, listening in dread for the sound of the rocks hitting the bottom; it took almost five breaths before the faint splash was heard, echoing up the shaft or whatever it was to reach her.
"O no..." she whispered, and made the mistake of glancing down. The hole went down and down into blackness so deep it seemed neverending. She was dangling above the abyss. Very slowly she began to pull on the root, hoping that she could pull herself out with it; she froze once she heard the tearing of root fibers, and made herself go completely still. A small shower of dirt fell down onto her upturned face, then all was quiet again. She could neither go up, nor down.
The root creaked ominously, and let her down a few more inches. Sofia squeezed her eyes shut. "O, goddess... Help!" Her voice echoed emptily back to her in the shaft. "Help!" she cried again, desperately. "Is anybody there?" The root tore again; she felt it, and screamed, trying desperately not to kick or make any sudden movements which would pull her tenuous hold completely free.
There was a soft rustling above, and something brushed her outstretched arms. She opened her eyes and stared as a slender rope made its way down past her face.
"Take it, if you want to live," came a soft, sibilant voice. Sofia looked at the rope, then up into Dark Link's crimson eyes. He was kneeling above her on the lip of the hole, the rope running through his slender fingers. "Hurry!" he hissed urgently, when she made no move towards it.
If she took the rope, she would be completely at his mercy. Her whole being rebelled at the idea. Yet, if she did not take it... The tree root tore again, most terrifyingly, and she knew that her life literally hung by a thread. If she fell, she could never survive. Yet if she took the rope, would Dark Link really help her, or would he just let go? He already knew that she hated and mistrusted him, and she knew that he was anything but an honorable person. "O, goddess," Sofia moaned again, and remembered Galdenor's warning. Trust no-one!
With a lurch, her left hand slipped and she lost her grasp on the root. The rope hung tantalizingly at her waist. Sofia could feel her right hand slipping, could feel the root itself tearing loose from its moorings.
In desperation, she gave in and took the rope, winding it around her free wrist, and then began slowly to let her weight onto it. Dark Link stood, leaning back to take the strain. The tree root tore free at last, and Sofia fell the short distance to the end of the rope with a little cry, and was brought up short. She clutched the soft rope in a death-grip, dropping the useless root down into the darkness; she never heard the splash. Arm over arm, Dark pulled her up, a determined expression on his face as he took her human's weight on his lighter-boned elven frame. Once he had pulled her up to the lip of the hole, he extended his hand. She took it, and he helped her to scramble free of the trap.
Once she knew she was really out, Sofia's knees went to jelly, and she almost collapsed headlong on the rubble-strewn floor of the labyrinth. She sat down hard and took long trembling breaths, feeling the sharp stinging where the rope had grazed her palms--and the tingling where her fingers had touched his. It took several moments before she managed to get her breath back and restore some semblance of control. She had been frightened before in her life, but never had she been so immediately close to death.
She laid a hand on the wall and, leaning on it, rose to her feet and turned round, unwillingly to face her rescuer. "Look," she began, then hesitated, trying to bring herself to say it. "Thank you," she managed finally, with something of a bad grace.
Dark Link glanced at her, then turned away and began to carefully coil the rope back up. The open satchel a few feet away told her where he had got it. "You called for help," he said softly. "I would not have interfered otherwise."
"You would have let me die?" Sofia asked incredulously, her hard-won gratitude evaporating under a burst of indignation.
He shrugged. "I would have thought you would prefer that to receiving my aid. At least, that is how you have portrayed yourself so far." Turning his back on her without concern, he knelt to repack the rope. "If I misjudged your feelings about me, I apologize," he said with a slight sarcastic air, "but you were very clear about it when we last parted."
"All right," she sighed. "We will probably be better off if we can work together. Thank you for pulling me out of there."
Dark Link smiled sharply, a flash of white fangs in his black face. "You are welcome."
The short conversation had calmed her a little, she found. Her heart was no longer hammering. She examined the grazes on her palms, found that they were not that bad--they stung, but there was little real damage; they were raw. Her shoulders ached from the exertion of hanging on. She swung her arms once or twice to get the stiffness out, and decided that she was well able to continue. "Well..." She coughed, hating to have to ask him for anything else. "Go ahead, guide. Lead us out."
His eyes sparked with wicked amusement. "What's the magic word?"
"Don't push it," Sofia growled.
"Wrong, but never mind." Dark Link swung the satchel's strap over his shoulder, shaking back his ebon bangs. "Follow me if you will. You took the wrong turning back there--the left hand way leads out. I could smell a fresh breeze through there when I passed by."
"You were following me, weren't you?" Sofia asked, stepping around the fallen rocks again. "Yet I never heard or saw anything. How do you stay so silent?"
He paused and glanced back once more. "Somebody had to keep an eye on you," he remarked softly. "And as to the second question..." A coldness went across his expression, a dark, secret look that Sofia did not like. There was anger in it, and resentment. "What does it matter?" Dark Link murmured finally, and turned away to climb lightly over the rockfall blocking the passage.
It was then that she noticed it for the first time. Even in that bright light falling from above, Dark Link cast no shadow.
"Oh, sweet Nayru," Zelda moaned, feeling out to the wall for support. "This is wrong..."
They were around a third of the way down the twisted corridor, and were having to carefully feel each step as they took it. Something was happening that should have been impossible. The smooth red-tiled floor was still firmly underfoot, even though it was actually halfway up the wall by now. The Princess had made the mistake of looking back, and found to her horror that the room they had left was now tipped at an alarming angle. Looking ahead was no better, because their destination too was twisted, the other way.
"I say," Diomedes protested, rather offended by the whole experience. "Something's happened to gravity!"
Zelda swallowed hard. "Keep going," she ordered. "Maybe if we try not to look, it will sort itself out." Trying to stifle the feelings of nausea, she took another step forward, her fingers trailing along the wall. Now she and Diomedes were at different degrees, and she let out a groan.
"It's gone all peculiar," the Stalfos observed, staggering up beside her.
"Please, let's get out of here." Zelda determinedly closed her eyes and leaned against the wall, then began to feel her way along it towards the end of the corridor. Behind her, she heard Diomedes begin to do the same. With eyes shut, walking seemed perfectly normal, as if their change of alignment was merely an illusion. Unfortunately, the moment she opened her eyes she was reminded that it was not. She staggered like a drunk, realizing that she was now standing on what had been the wall, and then toppled out onto a stone platform that seemed to be the end of the twisted corridor. On hands and knees, Zelda looked out into a mad puzzle of physics. A ladder prone on the floor led to a square hole which seemed to be another corridor leading down vertically. There was a door in the wall nearby... that opened sideways on yet another plane. As if to top the whole effect, an old wooden chest was stuck on what might have been the ceiling, next to a trapdoor. Zelda lay with her head hanging off the edge of the platform, trying to decide which way up was up, and groaned. "I feel ill..."
A scrape of boots behind her told her that Diomedes had made his way through the twisted corridor and was looking onto the room. "How unpleasant," he remarked.
Slowly, Zelda pushed herself to her feet. Some sort of force was at work here which she did not understand, and certainly did not like. She wanted to vomit. "Now what?" she asked weakly, glancing around the mathematical conundrum. "Which way do we go?"
"I think we're the wrong way up for most of 'em," Diomedes told her, stepping to the edge to look about. "Oh dear, I'm all turned around... h'm, maybe we'd better go back and try something else."
Zelda shuddered at the very thought. "I am NOT walking down that corridor again," she said firmly.
"Maybe-" Diomedes began, then halted. "I say! Down there! He a friend of yours, m'lady?"
"Who?" Zelda asked, then leaned over the edge to see for herself. "NAYRU'S LOVE!"
Link had appeared in the doorway of the floor corridor; he was standing at ninety degrees to them, more or less. He stood with Prowl perched uneasily on his shoulder, and stared up at them with an expression of pained confusion. "Zelda?" he asked after a long moment. "What are you doing down there?"
"What are you doing down there, more like!" Zelda exclaimed, putting a hand to her head. "Oh, Three, I can't take any more of this..."
"Hold on." Link knelt suddenly, causing the Princess to experience another wave of gravity-induced nausea. She groaned, and withdrew. The young warrior started to go through the pack of equipment he had with him, and after a few moments he surfaced with a coil of rope in his hands. Unslinging his beloved rosewood bow, he fastened a cord to the end of one of his arrows, then tied the end of that to the rope. "Zel, I'll shoot this to you, then you can climb up with it, okay?"
"Y'mean down," Diomedes corrected, then interrupted himself. "Wait, if we're at right angles, maybe not..."
"Don't, Diomedes," Zelda begged.
The arrow sped up past them with a zzzip! and thunked into the brickwork above their heads. Diomedes reached up and grabbed the cord, then began to pull it towards them. Link passed the rope through his hands, feeding him slack. Once he had the end, Diomedes set to work, looping the length around a big, rusty hook set into the wall and then tying it securely. Link followed suit, and the rope was stretched between their two ledges.
"Ladies first," Diomedes suggested, motioning to the taut length. Zelda winced, trying to figure out how she would be able to climb down--or up--while gravity was so disturbed. Hesitantly she took hold of the rope and tugged it, making sure it was secure. Link smiled encouragingly, though the effect was lost somewhat owing to the perspective. Zelda took a deep breath, then let herself down off the platform, holding tight to the rope with both hands.
She soon knew she had made a mistake; with both her feet free of the ground, she found she no longer had any idea of which way was up. Zelda moaned and closed her eyes, trying to make sense of the conflicting forces. Slowly she inched along the rope, the only stable thing in the universe. It seemed to take forever, but finally things seemed to stabilize; she became conscious of gravity again, pulling her down. Zelda opened her eyes and looked up into Link's face; he smiled widely and offered her his hand. Gratefully she took it and was pulled up out of the nightmare room. The rope shook as Diomedes began to clamber up--or down--or along it.
"That looked really odd," Link told her, laying a gentle hand on her shoulder to steady her. "Who's your, ah, friend?"
Zelda took a calming breath and then stood up, thankful just to be upright in a non-twisted corridor. "His name is Diomedes," she explained. "He's a Hyrulian Army officer--or he was, until he, er... well, you know. We just met up, and he decided to come with me. He's friendly."
Two skeletal hands clamped onto the lip of the corridor. They both stepped back as Diomedes pulled himself up, looking slightly disheveled with his helmet askew. "Oh, I'm out?" the Stalfos asked, getting to his feet. "Jolly good," he added fervently.
"Do you have any idea where we are now?" Zelda asked Link hopefully.
He shook his head. "Sorry, Princess, I'm completely turned around. Although, not as turned around as you seemed to be back there..." Link grinned, then his expression changed as he sighed a little. "I suppose you haven't seen Sofia or Dark anywhere, either?"
"I'm afraid not," she admitted. "Diomedes was the only person I met. We'd better look for the other two before we go on and search for the Amulet. And hope that they haven't killed each other yet," she added, thinking uneasily of the animosity between Sofia and Dark Link.
"Amulet?" Diomedes asked plaintively.
Zelda smiled as she realized he still had no idea what she was doing in the Temple, aside from her vague hint about a quest. She was pretty sure by now that she could trust him; and she motioned to him to come with them as Link collected his equipment once more. "Come on, Diomedes. We'll fill you in on the details as we go."
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