The City of Fire: Chapter Forty-Five

IT IS not much further," Dark said, looking up at the rough carved ceiling. "I know where we are now; I came this way before. There is a bridge that leads to the upper levels. It will not be easy to cross, but if we help each other, I think we can do it."

"I've nearly forgotten what the sky looks like," Sofia said with a wistful sigh.

"I must admit, I will be glad to see it again," he replied.

A few paces behind, Link and Zelda looked at each other, and smiled. "Wonders will never cease," the Princess whispered. "He's actually talking!"

"I heard that," Dark said wryly.

It was getting hot again: hot and dry. Link picked at his rough clothes, pulling the loosely woven fabric away from his skin. The tunnel floor was flat and sandy, and it made for easy walking; they were in one of the major tunnels now, wide, tall and brightly lit. It was cheering after the dank gloom in which they had wandered so long.

They turned a corner, and saw a circle of red flame at the end of the tunnel, which swam and flickered now with an eerie reflective glow. The heat hit them like a physical blow, stinging on the skin of their faces; a hot dry wind ceaselessly pulled at their hair and clothing. "They call this place the Cauldron," Dark said. "To reach the upper levels we will have to pass through it." He stopped now and turned to them. "It is going to be difficult. The heat and fumes will overpower us if we spend too long out there. The bridge is very thin; we will have to go in single file."

"Let's just go then," Sofia said. She seemed less affected by the heat than Link and Zelda; though her darkly tanned skin glistened with sweat, her head was high and her eyes bright. Zelda, by comparison, hung onto Link's shoulder, her breathing swift and shallow. He put his arm around her and held her close for a moment.

"Don't worry," he said. "We'll do it together."

Walking out onto the ledge was like walking into a fire; even Sofia recoiled as the withering heat blasted her face and bare arms. Zelda gasped and squeezed her eyes closed against the stifling dryness of the cavern air. All was aflame; the very walls seemed to shiver and burn red.

"Goddess!" gasped Sofia, seeing the so-called bridge. It stretched thin and fragile across the abyss, a delicate arch of stone that was no greater at its center than the width of a foot. "How can we walk across this?" the Gerudo woman demanded, turning to face Dark with eyes that flashed gold. "It's impossible! We'll fall!"

"I can't do it," Zelda said. As if in answer, there was a hollow boom from far below, and a cloud of stifling black smoke engulfed the ledge. They stumbled back choking into the shelter of the tunnel, and leaned on the walls or each other for support. The fumes burned the mouth and throat, and tore streams of tears from the eyes; they coughed themselves hoarse before it cleared.

"We can't cross this," Link said grimly, wiping at his eyes with the back of his arm. "We will have to find another way."

"The only other way is the Underworld," Dark said. He turned his head and stared towards the fiery opening. "We must cross. I have done it twice already--it is possible!"

"Possible for you maybe," Zelda said weakly. "How are we to keep our balance? Or breathe that poisoned air?"

Sofia had been sitting against the wall, her head down as she struggled for breath; she looked up now with eyes that streamed but were clear and hopeful. "I think I know a way," she said. "To avoid the fumes, at least. We'll tear up strips of cloth and cover our mouths and noses. I have done that before in the desert, when the air was full of sand; it won't keep the fumes out for ever, but it will give us a little more time."

"We can cross," Link said thoughtfully, "if we go slowly, holding hands."

"You're all mad!" Zelda cried. "It's barely wide enough to stand!"

"We have no choice," Sofia said. "We must try."

Dark shrugged off his Wizzrobe's cloak. He knelt on the rocky ground and, with the sharp-edged crystal dagger, slashed four long strips out of the hem. The dark cloth was strong and thickly woven, but it was foul with old stains and had a most peculiar musty smell to it. Link made a horrible face as he accepted the makeshift scarf. "It's filthy," he said. "Don't those wizards ever wash?"

"It is all we have," Dark replied. "Unless you want to cut up one of those things you have on." He raised one eyebrow. "What are you wearing, anyway? It looks like a sack!"

"I think it probably was, once," the Hero said ruefully, smoothing down the makeshift tunic.

Zelda had the scarf already tied over her lower face; only her eyes could be seen above the dark folds. They were huge and liquid, and tears slipped down as she blinked to soak into the fabric, leaving pale glistening trails across her grimy cheeks. Link knelt and slipped his good arm around her shoulders. She leaned into him, laying her head across his shoulder. "I'm sorry," she whispered, her voice muffled by the cloth. "I'm just tired. I want to go home."

"We're going home now," Link said softly.

Dark shook his hair away from his face and lifted the strip of cloth. He pulled it tight over his mouth and nose, and then knotted it at the back. With little more than his eyes and hair visible above the folded scarf, he looked strange and unlike himself; Zelda couldn't help a weak giggle at the sight. Link smiled at her and squeezed her round the shoulders, glad to see the momentary lift in her spirits.

"Ready?" Sofia said, standing.

"Someone tie mine for me," Link said, holding up the loose strip. Zelda reached up and took it from him. He sat quietly as she pulled it tight around his head, only reaching up his hand to free a tuft of hair when it became caught up in the folds. "Stinks," he said thickly.

Dark picked up the tattered remnant of his cloak and pulled it around his shoulders; then thought better of it and threw it to the ground. It was too hot to wear out in the Cauldron; and Link was right, it did stink. He knew something of Wizzrobe personal habits, and in that respect the unpleasant smell was no surprise to him. Even so he was tempted to take it with him. He had no idea now whether it was day or night outside, but he sincerely hoped that it was the latter.



The scarves helped, a little. They did nothing for the overpowering heat, but as they breathed their mouths were no longer blistered by the poison in the air. Dark moved ahead and stepped out onto the bridge without a sign of hesitation. He stood there for a moment with his feet together, as perfectly balanced as a dancer, and turned his head back to look at them. His eyes glowed bright, framed by the scarf and the overhanging fringe of his hair; that hair flapped and flew, lifted by the fierce wind from below. The Lizalfos dagger flamed like a brand in his slim fingers, brought to life by the red light all around. He sheathed it and held his hand out wordlessly.

Sofia looked at Link and Zelda, then she walked out onto the slender span after him, and took his fingers in her own. The two of them stood for a moment; Sofia's eyes were shut; her face, or what was visible of it, was pale with fear. Her red hair writhed in the updraught. Then she breathed in noisily through the cloth mask, and looked back.

"It's firm," she said. "It's all right."

"I had better go last," Link said. "I've only got one hand to hold on to!"

Reluctantly Zelda stepped up to the edge. The wind seared her eyes dry and painful, and she shrank back, knowing all at once that she could not do it. She could not make that first step. In another moment Link's cool hand was upon her shoulder, soothing her trembles. "I can't," she said, flinching away from the fire. "I just can't."

"Yes you can," he murmured. "Be brave!"

"Link, I just can't... this isn't fun any more..." The drop yawned before her; she stood above a sea of flame. It sapped her strength, seemed to draw the very blood from her body as it dried the sweat from her limbs.

"Hurry, Zelda!" Sofia called. "We can't stand here forever! Take my hand!"

"Don't rush her," Dark mumbled beneath his scarf. "She must come willingly."

"It's all right," Link said gently, guiding the Princess forward. "We're all together. Have faith!" Zelda squeezed her eyes shut and reached out blindly, flailing for Sofia's fingertips. She found them, and was drawn forward one step, then two. She felt the wind burn her exposed calves and tear at the straggling tangle of her hair.

"Open your eyes," Sofia said gently. "You have to see where you're putting your feet." She squeezed the Princess's fingers comfortingly.

Zelda took a breath, and looked down, into the lake of fire. She could feel the heat in the soles of her battered boots. Her legs trembled so much that she was sure for one moment that she would fall. Sofia's grip tightened painfully. Zelda took another breath, feeling hot foul air struggle through the scarf she wore, and fought back the shaking and the fear. She blinked once, twice, and stood firm.

"Well done," Sofia whispered.

Zelda turned. Link stood alone on the platform. She smiled at him under her scarf, knowing that he would see the expression in her eyes, and held out her hand. He came forward and took it without fear.

They were about two thirds of the way across when the sorceress stepped into view upon the further ledge.



Sepultura smiled proudly in her victory. The fire tore at her hair; she stood in a writhing, hissing cloud of black and white, her silver staff held high.

"Dark Link!" she cried in a voice like a bell.

He looked up, and tore the scarf from his face. "Back!" he shouted at the others, as the scrap of material whirled up into the darkness. "Go back!"

"Too late," Link said grimly. He, closest to the lower ledge, had watched and seen what the others did not; even as Sepultura spoke, Kleox Dinolfos had risen from his hiding place behind a heap of boulders, and stepped out behind them onto the first yard of the bridge. He had not drawn his heavy sword, but he did not need it here; they were strung out in single file, unable to move quickly or to attack. Any fighting on the bridge would cause their deaths; with one shove from him, they would fall.

Kleox grinned toothily at the Hero. His blinded eye was a sphere of murky orange, half veiled by the drooping lid; the other gleamed with bright malevolence.

"You have played well," Sepultura announced, "but the game is over now. Give me the Medallion!"

"Come and take it!" Dark shouted.

She tutted and shook her head, a cruel, ironic smile now playing across her lips. "Why, Dark Link, what has gotten in to you lately? You must have spent a little too long in that mirror--you have lost your wits as well as your skill. Shall I rephrase my request? Give me the Medallion, or you die! All of you! I will break the bridge from under you!"

"You'll lose the Fire Amulet," Sofia said. She glanced toward Link and Zelda, then back at the sorceress. What she saw in her friends roused her spirit: her eyes flashed defiance. "We would die willingly rather than give it to you. I think you'd better go ahead!"

"How long can you bear the heat?" Sepultura asked sweetly. "Give me the Medallion and I will spare you! I give you my word that you will walk free!"

"Go kiss a Moblin!" shouted Zelda.

Sepultura gave a theatrical sigh, one hand brushing her forehead for a moment as if weary of the tedious drama. "Kleox," she said, "kill the boy."

The Lizalfos lifted his head, baring long yellowed teeth in a semblance of a smile. He walked lightly forward on the fine stone span, balancing easily with his long tail held out behind him. Link watched him come. His right side, and his broken arm, were towards Dinolfos; he knew that he could not fight.

"You see," said the sorceress, "I am not above killing you one by one to get it, if that is what it takes. For the last time, give me the Medallion and I will let you live."

Suddenly Sofia slipped her hand out of Dark's. He turned in surprise, and she lifted the Amulet of Fire from her neck and held it up on its chain in the red flickering light. The bright gold glittered with flame.

Sepultura smiled. "At least one of you shows sense!"

Sofia swung her arm out and held the shining stone over the drop. "If he comes one step closer," she said calmly, "I'll let go." Kleox froze.

"You're bluffing," Sepultura said. "You know what it is you hold. You would never cast it aside--it is too valuable!"

The Gerudo shrugged and opened her hand. The medallion fell! --and was stopped short by the very end of its golden chain, looped over her middle finger. They had all seen the sorceress flinch in that one lightning moment.

"You were not quite right," Sofia said, looking upward. "I don't know what this thing really is. Or at least, I am not sure. But I do know one thing. If this jewel is destroyed here, all the others will be useless to you. We may not win, but you'll definitely lose." She played with the chain, swinging the medallion like a child's toy.

"Dark Link," Sepultura said. "You know well what is at stake. Bring the second Amulet to me now and His Majesty may still pardon you for your treachery."

Dark laughed at her.

"Stalemate," Link said. Zelda wavered suddenly, and he grabbed at her shoulder, steadying her. "Put down your staff, witch, and let us off this bridge! Otherwise you'll lose the Amulet for good! We cannot balance here much longer!"

Sepultura stared down, a figure alive with evil energy; her hair danced, her clothes writhed as if they wished to tear free from her body. The first Amulet, the stolen Forest Medallion, flared with green flame upon her breast. Slowly she lowered the dragon staff and stepped back. She stood against the tunnel entrance, barring it with the staff and with her body. Pirrillip fluttered brightly by her ear. "Come up, then," she said. "And we will parley."

Kleox followed them up the bridge, and stood behind them, blocking the way back, as they stepped up one by one onto the ledge. Sofia held the Fire Amulet out at all times over the drop; she stared defiantly into Sepultura's eyes as she came, never breaking her gaze even to check her footing.

"What will you do?" Sepultura said. "Will you stand like that forever? You cannot hold it hostage outside this room. You will have to give it up to me sooner or later... why not do it now? I stand by my promise--hand over the Amulet and I will free you."

"Drop it," Dark said softly, turning his head. "There is no other way."

"No!" cried Sepultura in real fear. "You must not!"



Oozou mumbled to himself as he hobbled toward the distant flame: snatches of old rhymes, songs, scattered bits of lore in the hissing, sibilant Lizalfos tongue. His eyes flared. In one claw he clutched the Wizzrobe's staff, which burned now as brightly as a torch in the gloom, setting fell lights upon the discoloured scales of his head and arms, and pouring shadowy fire over the dark folds of his cloak. Power filled him now like a sickness, hot and feverish; his head spun with stories.

He knew now what his task was to be in this world--the staff had told him so, whispering to his mind in the darkness of the mines as he stumbled along. Oozou was the saviour of his people who had forgotten the old ways. He was shaman: he had been given the power. It all made sense now. The beatings, the spittings, the yoke of slavery... all this had come to Oozou to make him strong. The witch with the silver staff had been another trial--but not just for Oozou, for the entire people. They had failed that test. Because of her they had lost their pride and their ancestral home. They had taken it for granted, and thus it had been taken from them. There must be a reckoning... and Oozou, Oozou would be the one to bring it about.

While ascending a long slope, he came across an intersection where a pair of mine cart railways crossed the path. Two Lizalfos were there, lounging about and passing a leather bottle back and forth. They flinched back in fear when they saw the shroud and the gleaming staff, but then, peering beneath the flaring glow, one saw beneath the hanging hood of his cloak, and laughed nervously. "Only Oozou," he said in the Lizalfos tongue. "Oozou thieved a magic stick."

"The witch-men will be mad," said the other. "They'll punish you."

Oozou lifted his head and stared. He hit the butt of the staff against the ground, and stood, leaning on it, supporting himself upon it. "Don't fear the witches," he said.

The guards grinned and nudged each other, looking down at him; but they were afraid nonetheless. He smelled it. The old ways ran close below the surface, and to the guards Oozou was a thing of power, strange and terrible; twisted by unknown forces, by the magic that must run strong beneath his scaled skin. They looked at him, and they were afraid.

"Thinks he's shaman," said one guard. "Thinks he's a priest. Ki! Ki!" He barked laughter.

"I have been sent," Oozou said, and his voice flowed clear and powerful without a trace of a slur.

The guards looked at each other in doubt. "By the bonemen?" said the first.

"No." He lowered his head; his eyes glowed like coals with reflected fire. "Time has come. All slavery will end now. We will be free people. No more digging for the red-eyed witch!"

"Oozou's sick in the head," one of the guards said. "He stinks of madness."

"Come," Oozou crooned. "Come with me. I will show you power." And he came forward, pushing them aside, as he stumped on towards the tunnel exit. They did not stop him. They closed in behind him and followed like dogs, drawn by the smell of him, by the staff in his clawed hand.

The final slope was short. Oozou stepped out onto a ridge above the lake of fire. He stared down. The witch was there as he had known she would be--as the voice that whispered had told him she would be. He feared her no longer. Power filled him. He was strong.

"What now, Oozou?" one of the guards asked: fearful now, not mocking. "What will you do?"

Oozou lifted the Wizzrobe's staff in both hands and held it horizontal above his head. It shone like the birth of worlds. The guards fell back, covering their eyes in fear and pain. He reared up, his robe flapping in tatters, and felt the power swell within him. He was shaman!

Stamping, hypnotically swaying, Oozou began to chant.



The thin voice echoed weirdly through the Cauldron--reedy and wild, yet filled with a kind of passion that made it carry. It went on and on without a pause even for breath. They all saw: on the high platform, the figure stamped and twirled, dancing with a flame that burned brightly.

"What in the name of Din?" Sepultura said, staring upwards. She frowned. "What is that mad creature doing?"

"What is it?" Dark asked, shielding his eyes.

Oozou's song swelled, became a tide. It was primeval, that wailing cry--it spoke of caverns and the flicker of firelight in places far from day, of the leaping ecstasy of death, of sweet blood spilled on the stony ground. The staff he held was a tiny sun. Made in dark and ancient times, when the power of Ganon was strong within Hyrule, the Wizzrobe's staff drew its power from prideful rage. Never had the dark artefact found a master so strong in hatred.

Below, the magma seethed and spat. Oozou, lost in the throes of the sacred dancing, reached down, deep into the flaming lake, and found what slept below. Spinning, whirling, dancing, burning, he called to it. Back arched, jaws foaming until his chest was spattered with saliva, his mad eyes rolled right back in his head, he screamed the forgotten names of God.

"Darkflight! Firesnake! Ancient flame! Volvagia come forth!"

And the thing answered, and the mountain shook. The molten lake exploded; the surface frothed with twisting coils. Higher and higher it rose, surfing on a wave of burning stone--twisting like a serpent, it threw back its terrible head, and raked the shivering air with its whips of fire, and was aflame.

It twisted about the bridge, enfolding the slender span within its coils, and the stone melted at that touch, and fell away. Kleox scrambled to safe ground just in time, and then turned and just stood, staring with the rest of them at the apparition.

"Volvagia," whispered Link. It was a name of terror, a thing from the Age of Legends. "Farore save us..."

On his high ledge, Oozou screamed and cavorted. "Ancient flame! Burn the witch! Free my people! I have called you! I have summoned you!"

The dragon swept forward. They felt the inferno of the great sinuous body; Zelda staggered again and nearly fell, overpowered by the incandescent heat. Volvagia roared, a thing of living fire, and lunged like a cobra for Sepultura; she, lifting her silver staff before her, its length luminescent with power. The dragon snapped at the sorceress; its jaws closed about her body, and it lifted her into the air and shook her like a rat. Its flaming head froze and became dead black stone at the touch of Sepultura, but the coils writhed with renewed life and the dragon arched its body up, miles up, into the cavernous heights of the Cauldron. It burned so brightly that the roof that had been dark since the dawn of time was kindled, and became red with flame.

Something fell, shining brilliant like a star through the smoke and fiery haze. Link cried out and lunged to catch it, heedless of the abyss; his foot slipped from the crumbling ledge. Zelda's grip on his makeshift tunic saved him. Stumbling backwards onto solid ground, the Hero clutched the thing that he had snatched in midair with the very tips of his fingers: the Forest Amulet.

Fire flared above, and a spatter of hot stones rattled down around them.

"It isn't real!" Dark shouted. "It isn't the real Volvagia!"

"Looks real enough to me!" Link cried back.

"Volvagia died long ago--I killed him! He was a thing of flesh and blood! This is just stone!"

"To the Dark World with it, whatever it is!" Sofia shouted. "Let's just run while we can!" The way was clear--Sepultura struggled in the dragon's jaws. They tore off their useless scarves and fled from the awful sight.

The mountain shook as they ran through the upper tunnels. Dark Link led the way, flying like a ghost before them; Link and Zelda chased him hand in hand, and Sofia, flagging, brought up the rear. Hot winds buffeted them from behind, but the way ahead was chill and cold--and dark, compared to the flaring firelight of the Cauldron. The upper tunnels teemed. Others ran with them, or past them--Lizalfos and others of the tunnel monsters, all fleeing the thing that screamed below.

At length they had to stop for sheer exhaustion. The three of them huddled together against a tunnel wall, gasping great breaths of the dank underground air. A last few Lizalfos ran past, brushing chill against them in the dark, and then there was nothing--the tunnel was utterly empty. The rock shivered; there was a constant rumbling from somewhere far below, as if the mountain groaned in pain.

"What is it?" Dark said, fading out of the night. "Why have you stopped?"

"Rest," gasped Sofia.

"We don't have time! We must hurry! If it comes--"

"Dark, we can't run any more!" Link said weakly. "Just give us five minutes!"

He said nothing, but paced swiftly back and forth, his eyes flashing in the gloom. The three of them leaned or sank down on the stony floor, struggling for air. They must have come nearly a mile in those few minutes, and that uphill; they were half dead with fatigue.

"What was that thing?" Sofia said when she could breathe again.

"Volvagia," said Dark Link. "Or at least some enchantment that took Volvagia's shape; the mountain remembers, though the beast itself is no more. It was a dragon that lived beneath Death Mountain in the Age of Legends."

"And you killed it?" Link asked, frowning.

He looked surprised. "I? Link First killed it."

"That's not what you said back there. You said you killed it."

"Does it matter?" Dark said irritably. "It is still dead! Can we go on?"

Link paled as he forced himself to his feet, and clutched at his right arm. It was a tribute to Occa's work that the splint had stayed on as long as it had, but the bandages were fraying now and he was in pain. Zelda looked at him in fright, and he forced a smile, trying not to show it. "I'm ready," he said. "Do you know where we are?"

"Vaguely," Dark said, glancing around. "It all looks so similar... I think, we are somewhere near Dodongo's Cavern. If we can find that, I can lead us out. We are certainly nearer the surface than we were--do you smell it in the air?"

"We don't have your nose," Sofia said sourly.

"Well, I smell it. Fresh air! And a cool breeze, and snow! And what is so funny?" he finished; Zelda was giggling, amused to hear the shadow so cheerful.

"Nothing," she said, "nothing. Let's go!"

They set off at a brisk walk, pacing themselves now; they did not know how much further they would have to go. Death Mountain trembled again, and for longer, as they continued up the winding passage, and they looked at each other in unease and fear. What was happening back there? Was Sepultura dead? The Volvagia-thing--was it coming? There was a rending, crashing sensation from somewhere deep within the stone: too low to be called sound, it was more of a feeling in the chest and limbs.

"What was that?" asked Link, scowling at the walls.

"I think some of the lower tunnels are collapsing," Dark said. "Lucky for us that we are here!"

"Do you think the sorceress is dead?"

"I know not. On balance I think it unlikely. That thing in the burning lake was not the true Volvagia, and Sepultura has great power of her own." Dark paused suddenly--so suddenly that Link walked into the back of him. The shadow shrugged him off impatiently; he looked around in the darkness, narrowing his shining eyes.

"What is it?" Link said.

"I remember this place. I came here before. Look!" He pointed; ahead they saw a lighter stretch of tunnel.

"Is it the way out?" Zelda asked excitedly.

"Not yet. But I think we will try it."

They walked on; after a few more minutes, Link cried out in surprise. "Carpet!" he said. "The floor is carpet!" He stamped on it to prove his point. The walls were of smooth, worked stone; the tunnel was wide and well lit. It felt more like the basement of a castle than the underground.

"Just along here," Dark said. "Come on!" He broke into a run; the others followed as quickly as they could. They caught up with him outside a stout wooden door. He reached out and turned the handle; the door swung open quietly. Within was an opulent room, swathed in silken hangings, with richly ornamented furniture--a delicate filigree table, two or three heavily gilded chairs, and a painted screen. The floor was littered with papers and trinkets thrown down with no regard for their value. "Sepultura's chamber," Dark said, looking round at them with a bright, mischievous smile.

Link swooped on a table with a cry of delight. The serpentine dagger lay there, still sheathed! He snatched his beloved weapon and held it tight in his left hand, grinning from ear to ear. "I didn't think I would ever see this again," he said.

"Here's your bow, Link!" Sofia said joyfully as she unearthed the weapon in a corner. "And Dark's sword! It's all here!"

The room shook suddenly and chips of stone showered them. The bowl of glowing stones swayed wildly, throwing their long dark shadows against the walls. Dark glanced nervously toward the door. "We should go," he said. "I do not trust these tunnels any longer--they were too hastily dug."

"Then let's go," Link said, looping the sword-belt over his shoulder. "We have what we came for."



The mountain trembled again as they left, and trembled harder; Sofia fell against the door frame with a sharp cry of surprise. Dark looked worried. "We have delayed too long," he said. "Hurry!"

"Is it going to fall in?" Zelda said.

"I hope not!"

They began to run. Somehow or other, Dark managed to lead them straight in the labyrinth of tunnels--although he paused often and stared about him, clearly baffled. They turned back several times from dead ends, but always they seemed to be making progress, moving up and out. Soon even Sofia could feel the fresher air.

"We're nearly there!" Link said.

The tunnel ran up along an incline for several hundred feet; so straight that they saw the far end approaching steadily. Dark was the first to reach the top; he leaped down out of sight, and they heard him laughing. "I know where we are!" he called back. "This is it! Dodongo's Cavern!"

Link stumbled to the top, out of breath again with the long run, and paused there to look around. There was a steep slide down of around ten feet, onto a surface of smooth black stone. Little mounds like islands rose up out of this solidified expanse. It was dark within, but light shone at either end where fire-stone torches stood. Dark leaped up onto one of the islands of rock and stood there looking back at them with his eyes glowing bright. "Through here," he said. "Then a door and a winding passage, and then we come out into the main cavern."

"And then what?" asked Sofia, breathless.

"Out!" he said. "Come on! Follow me!" He leaped away, bounding from platform to platform.

As they reached the other end of the long room, there was a fearsome sound from within the mountain. A long crack ran like a bolt of lightning across the roof, and the tunnel through which they had come vanished in a sliding crash of rubble. Dark hauled the door open and darted through. "It's collapsing!" Link cried. "Run, quickly!"

It was as Dark had said: there was a long rock passage that twisted from side to side. It was different to the tunnels--it seemed natural, undug. The floor was of soft deep sand which made each step an effort. They stumbled past the skeleton of some dead beast with a long jaw and a mouthful of knife-like teeth, half buried in the sand. A tumbling fragment of rock hit Zelda on the shoulder and numbed her entire arm; she did not cry out. There was a short tunnel of absolute darkness, and then a light; and they stood all four upon a ledge, looking down into a great natural chamber in the rock. This was the main entrance to the mines, and torches burned bright; iron tracks had been laid across the floor, and disappeared into great dark holes carved in the back wall. When last they had been here, they had come through too fast to see anything; now they craned their heads, seeing that the entire back wall was composed of one huge skeletal head with yawning, bristling jaw. Link could have stood upright in an eye socket.

"What in Farore's name was that?" he said, staring.

"A Dodongo," Dark Link said.

"But it's huge! It's the size of a house!"

"Don't worry," he replied, laughing. "It is long dead. Come on, now--let us waste no more time!" Dodongo's Cavern seemed firm, but there were still tremors deep within the mountain, shaking its bones. He jumped down from the ledge to land on hard compacted gravel. They went with him across the floor of the cavern, and struggled up a steep slope onto solid stone. There was another exit here; a short, wide tunnel filled with round black plants that rustled in a blessedly cool breeze.

They stood there for some minutes, just looking. At the end of the tunnel was an arch of deep blue spangled with stars.



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