The City of Fire: Chapter Thirty-Five
THE tunnels were quiet, at least in this part of the underground complex, and they were very dim--just the sort of environment in which Dark Link excelled. Without a breath he faded out of sight, becoming like a shadow, or a faint transparent darkness in the air. Even in broad daylight he would be difficult to see clearly. Soundlessly he flitted through the darkened tunnels, the Goron's dagger bare in his hand.
It was a familiar scenario... this was how he had lived for countless years, when sent down to the Underworld by the blades of Hyrule's heroes. Hunting silently in the endless night of the subterranean world, searching for the way that would lead back to Hyrule's surface... knowing that, eventually, it would find him. He felt almost at home in the darkness of the tunnels. Or he would have done, but for the turmoil in his mind.
His words to the others echoed in his ears. Why had he said that? The words had slipped out before he had properly thought them through. He had sworn to return to them, in the holy name of Din, Goddess of Power. It was most unlike him... but then almost everything he had done recently was unlike him. Something was happening to him, and he was not sure whether to fear or welcome it.
You could leave, the old voice said. You are strong and you have a weapon...
Yet he had destroyed the sword--the other half of the enchantment that had brought him to life all those centuries ago. What madness had been upon him that day? What was the Hero's shadow, without the shadow sword? But that was the strange thing: its passing should have left him weak and helpless, yet he felt if anything more clear-headed than before.
Dark sighed, trying to force his mind back to the task at hand, and ran straight into a party of twelve Lizalfos. With the speed of sheer animal instinct he leaped back out of the center of the tunnel, pressing himself against the edges of the passageway where the shadows were deepest. The lead monster halted dead in his tracks and glanced left and right, blinking quickly, then passed his hand across his eyes and looked again. The others hissed and screeched at him, irritated by the delay. Dark understood nothing of their sibilant barking tongue, but they seemed to be in too much haste to linger, and in a few moments they were moving again, striding quickly through the tunnels. Soon they had completely passed him by, and the weak flames of their torches had faded into the vague half-light that penetrated the tunnels. He exhaled, feeling a belated shiver of fear run through him. That had been too close!
Still... at least he was reassured that his powers still worked on monsters, even those who lived their lives in darkness and had sharper eyes than the Hylians he usually fooled. The Lizalfos had seen him only momentarily, and to them he had seemed more like a trick of the light than anything. As long as he was careful and kept his head, he should still be able to avoid detection.
Walking more slowly now, and keeping to the darker places, he continued his journey along the tunnels, every sense alert for more of the monsters. It was imperative that he not become lost; he concentrated on marking every route he came across, mapping out the tunnel network in his head. He chose his direction at a whim, turning this way and then that as his curiosity struck him, but always avoiding the wider, more brightly lit tunnels in favor of remoter passages. Sounds of voices and marching feet came often from the bigger tunnels, and he wanted to avoid monsters completely if that were possible. As he walked, he started to get an idea of the actual size and shape of the complex... the network he was in was just a tiny part of the whole. Wide tunnels with mining rails were like the arteries of the network, while the smaller and more numerous side tunnels formed veins and capillaries. Dark was unsure exactly how deep they were, but his instincts told him that he was at least a mile below the surface of Hyrule. Perhaps if he were to explore deeper, he would find a route back into the Underworld. That was not a prospect he relished, but it raised the question--what were the monsters digging for?
He halted suddenly, hearing something up ahead. Swiftly, he stepped backwards into the almost total blackness of an alcove, and waited. Before long he heard the familiar shuffle of Lizalfos feet, coming towards him. Dark crammed himself into the overhang and held his breath, slipping the Goron's dagger into the neck of his tunic to hide its bright metallic gleam. The monsters, only four of them this time, marched past quickly, none of them giving him a second glance. He smiled slightly to himself, and hurried on.
Two more parties of monsters, one of them much larger with a Stalfos chieftain, passed him by, but each time he was ready and hid himself with due speed. Each time, the monsters moved away without a pause, but the second time Dark felt a strange shiver run up his spine... the Stalfos glanced for a moment towards the dark corner in which he had hidden, and the skeletal monster's flaming gaze seemed to linger upon him. The monsters hurried on, but left Dark with a sneaking suspicion that he had not been quite as careful as he should have been.
At last, the tunnels began to widen and become brighter. He had come to a more active part of the mine, and he could faintly hear the Moblins working somewhere in the distance. Dark paused at the end of the small tunnel, looking out into a brighter space. White-hot crystals hung from the ceiling in woven gold-wire baskets, providing light that illuminated the entire passage and left it with few shadowy spaces for him to slip into. There was less cover out here, and it was going to be more difficult to maintain his disguise beneath the painful light. He ducked back quickly as two Lizalfos crossed the corridor ahead, and then shrank into the meager shadows available as he heard more quick footsteps from behind--though they turned off luckily into another side passage. "Din help me," he muttered, irritated at the way things were turning out.
Something caught his attention--the sound of clattering pots and pans, together with the faint scent of freshly cooked food. Slowly he poked his head round the corner again, looking out into the wider corridor, and saw a spill of brighter light flooding out from an opened door some twenty feet down. It was from here that the sounds had come... and the open door gave him a momentary hiding place in which to pause, should he decide to traverse the lit corridor. Dark smiled tightly, drawing the Goron's dagger once more, and felt the old confidence come rushing back. This was going to be fun.
He tensed, hearing footsteps behind him again: another larger party, maybe ten or more. There was no way he would stay unseen forever if he stayed where he was... if he was not to attract unwanted attention, he had to get moving. Dark took a deep breath, glanced out to make sure that all was clear, and then sprinted out of the opening, running silently over the illuminated ground to reach the shadow provided by the door, and dive into it. He crouched there, knife in hand, taking deep calming breaths and waiting for his head to stop spinning. Made it. The monsters he had heard came forth from the further tunnel--he could see them clearly as they tramped up the corridor towards him. It was a nerve-wracking sight to watch the Lizalfos coming closer and closer, but Dark knew that, with the bright light of the ceiling crystals dazzling their eyes, the monsters would be able to see nothing in the shadow cast by the door. He fought his instincts and the urge to spring as they came level with him, but as he had predicted they tramped right by without so much as a glance in his direction.
Now what? The scent of cooking food interested but did not draw him: he was more curious about what might lie at the other end of the passage. To reach that place, he would have to pass by the open doorway. Very carefully he pushed his head around the door, stepping for a moment out of his shadowy cover, and saw that so far the passage was empty. Greatly daring, Dark leaned further and looked within, into the place that was strongly lit.
It was, as he had guessed, a kitchen... of sorts. He stood upon the threshold of a massive high-ceilinged room, with several bright torches standing on pillars around the area. A great range occupied almost one whole side of the hall, while a gigantic round oaken table, chest-high on him, took up the center space. Upon the table were arrayed a great many foodstuffs, and Dark's eyes widened slightly as he saw the opened satchel of food the shepherds had given them only that morning. The sole occupant of the room was a Moblin, incongruously wearing an apron and tending the great chunks of meat cooking on the range. Apparently it was a female, although he had never seen such before; he knew little about the ogre race and wished to know still less.
The light might be stronger, but even so there was more cover in the kitchen than had been out in the passage. Dark's ear twitched as he caught the sounds of more monsters coming--a great many of them this time, marching with stiff military discipline. Stalfos, he guessed by the jangling of metal that accompanied the sound; Lizalfos rarely bore metal weapons or armor. Swiftly, before the monsters turned the corner and caught sight of him, he stepped within the kitchen itself and pressed himself into the inadequate shade of a corner behind one of the torches. He would be safe enough, as long as the monsters did not decide to come into the kitchen. Somehow he did not think that the cook would pose much of a threat.
Their food was here--what about the rest of their possessions? Dark froze as the cook turned his way, but she did not seem to see him at all, even as a trick of the light. Moblins, he remembered, generally had poor eyesight. He waited, watching silently out of slitted eyes as the cook scooped up a giant handful of tubers from the table, and then turned to throw them uncleaned and unpeeled into a great cauldron bubbling on the range. An earthy smell joined the scent of stew in the air. The cook's back being turned once more, Dark took the chance to look around the room, searching for anything that might be of use. There was no sign of either their packs or their weapons; the kitchen seemed only to have foodstuffs. Of course that would be the way of it--the monsters who had taken their belongings would have brought the food to the kitchen for use, but the rest of their gear would be destined for elsewhere.
He shrank back reflexively into his hiding place as the Stalfos troop marched by--his ear judged that there were at least fifty. Their shadows flickered past the open door, row after row. There was no way he could take on so many. Again, the monsters hurried past without incident, but Dark was beginning to wonder why there were so many troops now concentrated around his little area of the tunnel network. Perhaps he had been missed and the net was closing in.
Well... there was nothing to be gained from staying here. He listened intently but caught no further sound. Quickly Dark straightened up, ready to go, but then he paused, gazing at the great piles of fresh food on the table with a thoughtful expression--and remembering the stale bread and soiled water the Lizalfos had brought to their cell. It was probably foolhardy in the extreme, but...
The cook's attention was elsewhere. He darted out of his alcove with the silent grace of a cat, snatched up the strap of the satchel and a full wineskin, and ran for it--through the door and out into the corridor with barely a whisper to mark his passing. There was another tunnel entrance thirty feet or so away, and Dark made for it as swiftly as he could. Behind him he heard the baffled, enraged cry of the cook as she turned to see the food had vanished literally while her back was turned. He laughed out loud, enjoying the mischief he was causing, and dived through the opening into the darkness of one of the small service corridors. Very carefully he peeked out, in time to see the Moblin appear with a gigantic cleaver in her meaty hand. Standing in the doorway of the kitchen she snorted heavily, looking left and right, but saw nothing suspicious and let out a puzzled roar.
Dark ducked back into his tunnel, covering his mouth with a hand as another laugh threatened to burst out. His limbs were still tingling with the thrill of theft. Working with swift grace he fastened the satchel and slung its rough strap over his shoulder, checking quickly to make sure that nothing was likely to fall out. He uncorked the wineskin and sniffed at its contents. A weak apple cider, presumably stolen from one of the Kakariko shepherds' huts, and not yet spoiled. Not bad, all things considered. Alert to the possibility of danger, Dark re-sealed the soft leather bottle and tucked it under his arm. He could hear the sounds of monsters approaching, perhaps drawn by the cook's cry of alarm; it was time to go. Moving at a quick trot, he set off down the passage.
The tunnel was beginning to curve, and he consulted his mental map of the place. As far as he could guess with his incomplete knowledge of the area, the passage would bring him more or less back round to the area of the cells. Dark paused for a moment, unsure whether he wanted to go back or go on--he had wanted to find their weapons and the way out, and then go back to offer his services as guide. The tunnel complex was much larger than he had thought, and it seemed that it would take rather longer than he had expected to complete his task. In another moment he sighed softly as he heard again the sound of marching feet behind him. It seemed that there was only one real choice, if he were to avoid recapture. He set off again, walking faster to keep ahead. The wineskin sloshed under his arm, irritating him; the Lizalfos were not a problem, but the hearing of other monsters was far better.
Suddenly he halted, feeling a renewed tremor of fear. He could hear more noise... in front of him. The passage was straight and featureless, with nowhere to hide and no other tunnels to offer respite--and he had passed no other openings in the last few yards. Dark glanced back, hearing the by now familiar jingle of Stalfos armor, and then made his decision. He broke into a silent run, going forward, hoping that he would come across another access tunnel before he met the second band of monsters.
He skidded to a halt as the tunnel widened into a circular room. The only other exit was just ahead, a round hole in the wall--and he could see reflected torchlight within. Dark glanced back the way he had come, and saw a similar flickering light approaching there. He cursed. There were no places to hide. The monsters were closing in from both directions; Dark glanced sideways, seeing a shadowy overhang where he could perhaps avoid detection. It was a long shot; the alcove was the only real shadow in the room, the place where the monsters would be sure to look first if they knew what it was they were hunting. His only chance was to trust that they did not. Swiftly he crouched in the darkness there, made himself as inconspicuous as possible, and screwed his eyes to slits to avoid the torchlight's glow reflecting in them and giving him away.
The two parties of monsters reached the room at the same time. A single Stalfos headed each patrol, which was composed of Lizalfos; the monsters halted dead upon seeing each other.
"Seen anything?" one of the Stalfos asked after a moment, shouldering his pike.
The other glanced back at his shuffling troop, and then shook his head doubtfully. "No," came the reply. "We heard him up ahead, though." He glared then at the other, holding his own pike at the ready. "He must've gone right past you, Galba--didn't you see anything at all?" he accused.
"Maybe he doubled back and you were the one who missed him," growled the first menacingly. "What are we looking for, anyway--one of the Lizalfos, got a bit sticky-fingered for some rations?"
"We don't know," the other admitted, relaxing his aggressive stance slightly. "Captain Marcus swears blind he saw something flitting about in the maintenance tunnels, but he can't or won't say what. Then there's that scale-head Kazakh and his patrol, and just now old Occa in the kitchen. Nobody's seen it properly, though, that's the bloody puzzle."
Dark smiled slightly. They were not looking for him--or at least, they did not know exactly what to look for yet. And they were certainly not aware that he was standing right in the room, privy to their conversation. Still, he was concerned... these Stalfos seemed more intelligent than those whom he usually encountered, and they were somewhat larger. He had never seen this before. Were they Ganon's? By everything he had heard and seen, it seemed that the monsters were working for themselves... but why? And why this immense mining scheme?
"Well, we're not going to catch anything by standing around here, that's for certain," the first Stalfos said finally, tapping the butt of his pike on the ground. "We'll have to spread out and mount a wider search, is all... he must have slipped past one or other of us somehow, though I can't imagine how."
"Aye..." The other nodded slowly, thoughtfully, and then glanced casually around the room before looking back to the other patrol. "We'll take the North Reach. You can take the Gate and the West Pass. If you see Kazakh or any of the Lizalfos, send 'em to look in the Cauldron, because I'm not going below for love nor money."
"Will do," the first Stalfos agreed, then turned and faced his patrol. "Move out!"
Dark felt a sudden chill run up his spine. One of the Lizalfos had turned its head and was looking right at him. The monster blinked twice, cocked its head, and then looked again. There was a thoughtful, fascinated expression in its reptilian eyes. He held his breath and froze, trying not to move even a hair. The Lizalfos frowned, moving its head from side to side, and then it straightened up and focused on him, its horny brows drawing down. "Ssir!" the creature barked huskily.
He did not wait a moment. Even before the Stalfos's head had turned all the way, Dark had leaped out of his hiding place and was running like the wind, making the most of his element of surprise. He dashed out of the room, right past the astounded Lizalfos, and raced down into the darker passage. Behind him came shouts and the sound of running feet, as well as the approaching torchlight as the monsters gave chase. They were fast, and he had to struggle to keep ahead, let alone increase his lead on them. An intersection loomed ahead; Dark skidded to a halt again, seeing torchlight down one of the passageways, and then dived for the unlit passage. The darkness here was almost complete. He slowed and then halted, hearing the swift pursuit abruptly decline. Glancing back he could see the torches stationary at the beginning of the passage; the light did not reach this far. Indeed, the shadow here seemed to be somehow more intense than elsewhere... the torch flames that he could see were dimmed and ringed by halos, as if there was some faint dark mist in the air. There was a soft, feathery scent in the air, a dry and ancient dust. Dark shook his hair back and waited, watching. He could hear raised voices.
"...not going down there, I tell you!"
"It's the only way left: it must have run Below. We must investigate."
"I'm not going, and that's final! There's things down there. Darkness with eyes... and teeth!"
"Maybe it came up from Below in the first place. You won't catch me tackling it."
"You're a load of dirty cowards, you are."
"Oh, then let's see you go down there after it! Go on--you go first!"
There was silence for awhile, then the first voice resumed, more subdued than before.
"What did it take, exactly?"
"Nothing of value, just some food out of the kitchen. And as far as I'm concerned, it's welcome to it."
"Then we'll leave it. But I'm going to get one of the work groups to come and block this bloody hole right up. I've had just about enough of it--things coming out, giving everyone a fright, and we never able to catch anything to show to 'em. Vapors, that's all it is."
"Vapors, huh? You didn't seem too eager to go down there, I note!"
The voices began to fade, still in the grip of their argument; the bobbing torches receded, leaving Dark in a blackness he had rarely experienced in his life. He leaned against the rough cold stone of the tunnel wall, enclosed by his own friendly element, and frowned, thinking over what he had just heard. If such a thing were possible, the Stalfos seemed afraid of this part of the network... and what was stranger, they spoke as if they had not dug it--as if it were already there when they came. Curious now, he ran his hands lightly over the wall, feeling the smoothness of stone unmarred by chisel marks. There was no sound. He turned and looked into the darkness that lay behind him, sensing nothing out of the ordinary. Although his eyes were as blind as anybody else's in this blackness, Dark's other senses more than compensated and he felt by the slight movement of the air currents that the passage went on for a long way, sloping steadily down with no end in sight. Somehow, he did not feel like exploring the lower end.
Walking silently as ever, he turned and moved up, towards the light, hefting the sloshing wineskin as he did so. His other hand rested on the hilt of the Goron knife where it was shoved through his belt. The unnatural darkness lessened swiftly as he ascended and left the strange tunnel behind him. Soon he was standing just outside the reach of the torchlight, looking out into the passage whence he had come. He stopped, and flicked his ears forward to listen. Faintly he could hear breathing, and when his eyes had properly accustomed to the light again he saw the shadow of a Lizalfos standing beside the opening, dagger in hand. The Stalfos must have left the lizard there to guard the entrance in case he came back out. Dark scowled, glancing back into the darkness and then out to where his goal lay. He would have to go through the monster in order to escape.
He smiled slightly, then. One solitary Lizalfos... well, he had a trick or two for that. If the monsters feared creatures from the Underworld, that was what they would get. Dark took a deep breath, calming himself, and then dropped his concealing disguise, becoming solid and fully visible once more. He stooped and picked up a small pebble, then tossed it. The stone rattled and rolled out of the entrance. He heard the Lizalfos's breathing quicken; after what seemed like a long time, the monster stepped out and stood in the entrance, looking in. Its tongue was flicking nervously, in and out. It was silhouetted against the light and Dark could not make out its features, but he knew that, camouflaged by the darkness as he was, the monster would not see him well either. Until...
He stepped forward once, letting the light from the tunnel catch in his eyes and turn them to crimson fire. The Lizalfos let out a cut-short squeak of fright and backed away slowly, seeing only the disembodied glowing eyes; the rest of his shape would fade into oblivion against the darkness of the tunnel. Now, while it is off-balance! Gathering the shadows around himself Dark rushed soundlessly forward, drawing his knife as he came. The Lizalfos's eyes widened in horror, seeing only an indistinct moving darkness made huge by the lack of reference points and marked only by those flaming blood-red orbs--and then with a shriek of abject terror the lizardman turned tail and fled, scattering dagger and belt pouch across the floor as he went.
Calmly, Dark walked out of the opening into the better-lit corridor, stooped to pick up the crystal dagger, slipped the pouch into a pocket, then shouldered his wineskin and started walking again. The corridors were quiet now. He lifted his head, drew in a soft breath to taste the air and remind himself of his position, and then set off walking quickly and purposefully through the maze, heading back toward the prison cells.
Link raised his head nervously and watched the Lizalfos stalk across their field of vision. The reptilian monster paused and fixed them with its eye, and then slowly walked onward and disappeared out of sight. He exhaled, then glanced at Zelda who had sat beside him watching the monster with an identical edginess. Their guard was half-asleep, but every so often would rouse himself and glance into the cell before returning to his original dozing position. "They suspect something," Link murmured to the Princess, keeping his voice low.
Sofia glanced out between the bars, then sighed and sat back against the wall, next to their dummy. Even with the cowl of the cloak pulled down, it did not look much like Dark. Sofia loosed her hair from its ribbon, then scraped it back into a tight ponytail and began to tie it again. She had done such several times already. "He's been gone a long time," she muttered, glancing at Link.
"I hope he is all right," Zelda whispered. Even she was beginning to wonder now whether Dark would come back. They had no way of knowing just how much time had passed, but it seemed like many hours had gone by. All they had to do was wait... and sit, and watch the Lizalfos watching them.
The guard seemed to have fallen asleep again. Link lifted his head again, sensing something else watching them... his heart flip-flopped in his ribcage when he saw a pair of faint crimson lights in the darkness on the other side of the hallway. Without saying anything, he nudged Zelda in the side, drawing her attention, and then gestured to Sofia to look there. She stared for a moment, then nodded, a slight, unwilling smile creeping across her face.
The guard let out a slight snore, proving that he was fast asleep. Dark crossed the space between them in three bounds, drawing his knife as he did so. Swiftly and silently he began to work on the lock again, and had it open in a matter of seconds. He was inside the cell with them, and the door shut, in the time it took to draw three breaths. Link stood up and helped him fix the lock, holding the chain up so that it did not rattle. That done, he let out a soft whistle and clapped the shadow on the shoulder. "Well done!"
"I hope you will not be too disappointed with what I have to impart," Dark said after a moment to catch his breath. He held the Goron's knife out to Zelda. "I am afraid that I did not find either a way out or our weapons. I ran into a little trouble along the way and was forced to head back early. I shall have to go out again, when they are less watchful."
"What are you carrying?" Zelda asked suddenly, noticing the satchel and his other burden.
He smiled then, pleased at his success, and lowered the wineskin to the ground. "I thought you might still be hungry after that rather meager meal, so I took the liberty of procuring some essentials from the kitchen. Oh--and there was this." Carefully he withdrew the crystal Lizalfos dagger, and handed it to Link. "It was all I was able to get for now. Next time I shall do better, since I know the layout of this place now."
"Where did you get this?" Link asked, handling the dagger with astonishment. "Did you kill..?"
Dark shook his head, but laughed slightly, remembering how the Lizalfos had fled in terror. The poor beast must have thought him a demon from the pits of the Dark World, it took off so fast.
Sofia had the satchel open and was examining its contents. "Oh, my--decent food," she said delightedly, lifting out a round cheese. "I didn't realize how hungry I was! Quick, everybody, let's eat it before those cursed lizards notice and take it away again!"
"Cider as well?" Zelda asked in surprise, uncorking the wineskin. "Nayru's Love, Dark, you have been busy..."
"A lucky chance," he said, making little of the achievement. "Nay, I have had my share... measure it out between yourselves." He stooped and whipped his cloak from the straw, shaking it out to rid it of the dry stems, and then flung it over his shoulders. The others set to with a will, for they were really very hungry. Dark kicked the straw mound to pieces, then sat down where it had been and closed his eyes with a sigh. He felt tired, but satisfied, as if he had completed something worthy of note. As far as he knew, he had not been identified.
The food disappeared quickly. Link collected the remains of their meal and hid everything beneath the straw, so that nothing would look out of the ordinary should the Lizalfos decide to look in. He felt better already for the meal, and with the Lizalfos's dagger in his hand he was ready to tackle an army of the foul beasts. Now at least they would have a weapon if Dark went out again. Link tested the dagger's blade, finding it to be razor-sharp--no wonder Kreet's knife had cut him so easily--and then carefully slipped it through his belt, mindful of its edges. It was rather short for a combat weapon, but any sort of defense was comforting to him. Link yawned widely, then lay down in the straw for a rest.
Dark felt in his pocket and withdrew the small leather pouch that the Lizalfos had dropped. It felt interestingly heavy, although its small size meant there could be little of real practical use within. Carefully he pushed his finger into the neck of the pouch, loosening its strings; he cupped his fingers underneath and then upended the pouch, letting its contents fall out into his hand.
Most of it was the usual personal belongings of a Lizalfos: a somewhat unsavory collection of objects found and stolen. The skull of a mouse or other small rodent was the first thing he found, the forehead and nasal bones darkly smeared with some sort of brownish paint--or perhaps not paint. There was a scrap of parchment; he held this up, but the writings on it were in a script which he could not read. A single lonely rupee was next, much tarnished. Lastly, he drew out a small round marble-shaped gemstone, dark red in color and set in a fastening of silver wire. It was clearly a pendant of some sort, and rather pretty. He held it up to the light, fascinated by the spark of red fire he saw in its depths.
"What have you got there?" Zelda asked, glancing at him.
He held up the pouch. "Something else the Lizalfos dropped. You may look if you so desire, but there is nothing of use to us within." She smiled and nodded understanding, holding her hand up to stop him when he made to offer her the pouch. Shrugging slightly, Dark put away the pouch, and then withdrew the crimson gemstone again, turning it over and over in his slender fingers.
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